Dealing with 1* Reviews: Or, Chin Up … You’re Not Alone

By Margaret Whittock

Whether you’re a songwriter, poet, a writer of fiction or short stories (and all the genres in between), one word may well strike terror into your heart: ‘review’. For we women writers, publishing our work has often been likened to giving birth. And in a sense that is so. You’ve spent a long and perhaps laborious time creating what you hope is something beautiful. Now you’re finally ready to present it to the world.

That’s where the analogy ends. For the most part, there won’t be a queue of people lining up to criticise your beautiful new baby. They will come to admire, to compliment. And to begin with that may well be true of your novel/song/story/poem. Friends and family will no doubt be delighted at your success, some will have accompanied you on your long journey. They will be very happy to write you a good review perhaps regardless of the standard of the work. That is understandable up to a point. But do not let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. Be prepared for more ‘honest’ independent reviews that if your book sells, will undoubtedly come your way. Which of course, is perfectly acceptable … you open your work up to general criticism when you go public. However, internet reviewing, such as Amazon’s, has emboldened many so-called reviewers to write spiteful comments anonymously online. They know they’ll never have to face the writer therefore find it easy to be rude.

Recently I received my first 1* review for a novel written and self-published a few years back. Such was my distress it remains difficult for me to admit to this horror in black and white (I’m writing through gritted teeth). I’d gone online to read a recently received 5* independent review, then noticed this other, posted before Christmas. Devastated, both by the one star, and by what this reviewer had written, I no longer saw all the other good reviews I’d received. They might as well not have been there. Staring me in the face was this vile blot at the very top of my review page, the first thing a prospective buyer would see. Moreover to think of someone posting this before Christmas, a gainful time for most authors, was upsetting in the extreme.

Oh yes, I fully admit it: I cried; I obsessed; worst of all I stopped writing, considered giving up altogether. After all if my novel was as bad as this person was claiming why bother to write anything else? Clearly I was a failure. And whatever I did over the next day or so this nagging thought remained uppermost in my mind.

Then I did two things. I went online and looked at the reaction of other authors to such reviews. And I talked to my writer friends. I discovered I wasn’t alone. Most authors, it seems, have had to deal with poor, even vitriolic reviews, over the course of their writing careers. Of course they do … not everyone is going to like what we write, no matter how good we think our work is. Examining fellow authors’ reviews online quickly indicated this did not apply only to indie authors like myself but also to better-known traditional authors. In fact I was able to look at the review page of the person … a woman, I suspect … who’d written my 1* review. I discovered I wasn’t the only writer she’d rubbished. I was just one of a list that included some famous authors. Needless to say I’m unable to identify this person. She uses a pseudonym, it would seem, and is careful not to reveal her identity in any way.

It’s at such times you discover who your friends are. My writer friends provided me with hope and encouragement. One, a well-known historical writer and blogger is going to re-review my book for me and will tell me honestly if there is veracity in what the 1* reviewer has written (and this author had a 1* review posted on her page on … yes, wait for it … Christmas Day!). Meanwhile I take heart from the words of Stephen King, who tells us (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft):


“You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”


From my other reviews, it seems I did manage to please some of the readers. I hope I’ll go on to please some more.

Thanks to the support I received I’ve gone back to writing determined not to let the views of one person destroy my confidence (though it’s taken a jolly good bashing). Yes, of course the reading public has absolutely every right to comment on purchased … and often expensive … books. Not every person will like everything they read, and that includes me. There is, however, a constructive way to write reviews while still pointing up flaws. A book … whatever the genre … takes a long time to write, often years. Much hard work goes into the research behind it. So I can’t see that there is ever an excuse for vitriol and spite. Unfortunately, should you go online and read some of the reviews I’ve read, you’ll see that these are not uncommon.

When I read ‘my’ 1* review my initial reaction was to go online with all guns blazing and react to what the reviewer had written. Never, ever do this … you will simply open the floodgates, particularly if your review has come from a so-called ‘troll’. A recent online article from The Write Life confirmed what my writer friends have invariably advised. Deal with 1* reviews thus:


  1. Ignore it (never respond to a vitriolic review … you are simply inviting more of the same);
  2. Ignore it;
  3. Use it as motivation to make your next article or manuscript even better.


That is what I hope to do.


Margaret Whittock is the author of three novels, short stories, and magazine and journal articles. For more on dealing with trolls see her blog, Dark Mourne Rambling @

Find more on all the author’s work on her website:


My writing journey and The Artist’s Way, by Camilla Reeve

I started writing poetry about thirty years ago. My first marriage had just ended in divorce and I was keen to meet new people but still feeling raw. A friend suggested I leave dating for a while and join a writers’ group instead. So I tried attending the Room on the Roof group at Riverside Studios. They made me welcome and kick-started me writing poetry. For ages I poured everything onto the page – all my angst and my tentative hopes for happier times in the future. Goodness knows how many fairly dreadful poems I wrote in that first couple of years.
That kept going till, just as an experiment, I tried writing a short story. To my horror the poetry instantly dried up. Where had it gone? And when, two years later, I tackled writing – or trying to write – a novel, my ability to write short stories disappeared as well. It seemed like my brain was wired so I could only work on one sort of creative expression at a time – so frustrating. Poetry had become such a valuable outlet. The blank page had been like a totally accepting friend I could communicate with, but now I felt completely blocked.
Then, during an evening class on novel-writing, I heard about Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way”. Julia had seen lots of creative people who either couldn’t start writing or for some reason had stopped and wanted to get past whatever stopped them. She swears by two techniques both of which I’ve found invaluable: Morning Pages and The Artist’s Date.
The Morning Pages technique requires you to write about 3 x A4 sheets of diary every morning, just brain-dumping anything and everything that drifts through your consciousness – such as whether you like the new type of cereal you tried at breakfast or you’re overdue for a dental appointment. You can include more creative thoughts if they come to you and my Morning Pages very occasionally leads to a poem. But their real purpose is to help you clear away the log-jam of uncreative, often gloomy or cross, thoughts clogging up your mind. That makes room for creative ideas to come to the surface of your inner “well”.
The Artist’s Date technique is to go out alone, every so often, to have some fun – maybe visiting a food market and trying different types of cheese or sitting in the park watching the clouds drifting across the sky. If you’ve been working hard on a manuscript or some other creative project and are feeling exhausted and demotivated, that’s a good moment to go on an Artist’s Date. The idea is to play rather than work. Julia advises against treating it as a day to write. Instead you are filling up the creative “well” inside you that I mentioned earlier.
Do check out her website and watch the free videos she offers about both these techniques. Or borrow her book “The Artist’s Way” from the library. And I hope you find her ideas as liberating as I have.
Camilla Reeve is a published poet and novelist. She recently relaunched her small independent publisher – Palewell Press – and is currently looking for submissions, especially from authors writing about human rights, social history or the environment. If that’s you, why not send 10 pages of your work to ?

From Blood Sisters by Margaret Whittock

Chapter Two

Drip, drip, drip … the sound, regular as a metronome, kept time with the throbbing in Lucinda’s head. Slowly, painfully, she unwound herself from the foetal position she had curled herself into for protection. Hauling her body up against the bed she listened intently, but all she could hear was that irritating noise.
Time to examine the damage: her skull felt stiff and sore where the kicks had hit home, there was a throbbing in her shoulder which made it difficult to raise her arm. Wincing, she touched trembling fingers to her cheekbone: sticky, congealing blood, a lump the size of a golf ball. Experience told her she would have a black eye in the morning. More excuses for the neighbours. What would she say this time … a car accident? She’d already used that one. Fell downstairs? Walked into the door? Each excuse was more ridiculous than the last. What did it matter? Nobody would believe her anyway. They’d all have heard the shouting. But they would pretend to believe her. Things were easier that way. With the passage of time she would believe it herself and that was the most important thing of all.
She limped awkwardly across the landing and listened again. Where had he gone? Finally, the source of the sound: it was the bath tap dripping. With one hand she eased open the bathroom door, her other raised in a gesture of self-defence. No need. He was in the bath, fully clothed, unconscious now from the effects of the alcohol he’d consumed. With each breath he took the water rose a little, slopping over the edge of the bath to the floor where a substantial pool had already formed. The bath tap was still running, ever so slightly, the drips pinging into the already full bath. One part of her began to worry about the pool of water, how it would soak through the floor, staining the newly painted kitchen ceiling below. The other half of her brain concentrated on the comatose figure in the water. How ridiculous he looked, a graceless male Ophelia, his clothes floating out from his bulk like a dark shroud. His chin and mouth were below water level, he breathed noisily through his nose.
Lucinda stood and considered. One little push and he would be under. She’d seen him like this before. He wouldn’t wake up. Some months earlier he’d come home from one of his all-night drinking sessions barely able to stand, incapable of lucid speech. He’d torn off his shirt and thrown himself down on a deckchair in the morning sun. He’d lain there until teatime. When he eventually awoke he was so badly sunburned he’d had to take two weeks off work, covered in some hideous ointment that had made his skin go black and peel off. She’d pretended that she’d tried to waken him but she hadn’t of course: sweet retaliation.
The house was freezing. There must be a heavy frost tonight she thought, registering the icy patterns on the windows; so beautiful, like great crystal roses. She padded across to the bath and looked down at him, hatred and disgust making her stomach churn. The pool of water chilled her feet. It was cold too. She had forgotten to switch on the immersion heater in readiness for his return, the cause of the argument in the first place. Lucinda shivered and bent over the bath. Placing her hands on the top of her husband’s head she began, ever so gently, to push.

Blood Sisters is Margaret Whittock’s second novel. It is currently available as an ebook on Amazon, at:

Discover more about the author and her work at:

You Inside My Head by Rhianon Ryan

Did you wake up safe today?

did I hell  

Did you shed a tear today?

did I hell

Did you take your pills today?

did I hell

Shall we take our pills today?

go to hell

Let the sky be blue today

what the hell

Put on bright attire today

give ’em hell 

Still the grey is here today

off to hell

In my head i see you now

do you hell!  

Derailed by Kathleen Cornelia

Cleveland, Ohio was not a tourist destination in October of 1966.  The city was a festering sore oozing from the July Hough Race Riots with the pus of its rage exploding throughout the streets.  The Railroad station abutted the gutted Hough, the black section of the city.  White faces had evacuated to the suburbs and further.  Oblivious to anything but jubilation from a weekend of partying at the University of Dayton, I exited my train and searched for my Buffalo bound transfer.  The board read:  “Buffalo: Delayed”  “Expected: 5AM”  It was 10:10PM.

I was white, female and eighteen with “new to travel” written across my face.

The platform emptied except for a grimy guy who seemed to have found something to occupy himself.  Me.

My eyes darted up and down the shuttered doors of the lobby shops until I saw the mecca of a lit diner.  Tugging my weighty suitcase, I scurried ahead aware of feet padding behind me.  Panting, I plopped myself on a stool at the diner counter.   “Grill’s off and we’re closing in 20 minutes” said the waitress. “Got coffee, tea and pop.”  The grimeball seated himself at the end of the counter, eyes glued on me.  I ordered a Pepsi while time ticked away my options.

In the corner phone booth a receiver-less cord dangled from the phone base like a beheaded prisoner. It would be twenty years before people in peril could dial “911” on mobiles.

My panic was interrupted by a male voice behind me.  “Excuse me” but we think you might be in trouble.”  He was an older man about twenty- two or three dressed in khaki trousers, white shirt and a blue bomber jacket.  “We think that guy over there is following you.”  “He is” I blurted out trying to assess how serial killers dress.  After hearing my plight Mr. Clean made me an offer.  “We’re seeing our friend off in five minutes and we think you should leave with us.”  I looked at the corner booth with a uniformed Army guy and another guy in jeans and denim shirt.  I looked back at the searing eyes of Mr. Grimeball.  The denouement behind Door One was apparent. Door Two, unknown.  I tried not to think of my dismembered body as I left with the guys.

Scott, Mr. Clean, dropped off his remaining buddy at an apartment on a street where windows were still in tact.  He turned to me, “How about a tour of Cleveland?”

“Don’t you have to work tomorrow? I questioned him, suspicious of his gallantry.  “I do” was all he replied.  My knees were slamming against each other, my hand grippng the door handle.

At  4:45AM he pulled into the Cleveland Train Terminal.  “God, thanks” I began.  We’re not done yet he said.  The conducter yelled “all aboard”. Scott followed me on the train depositing my suitcase in the rack.  “Promise me one thing” he said, “Don’t ever tell your mother you did this” and he vanished down the platform.

Sudden Death by Rhianon Ryan


Night time’s dark is with me

Cold creeps under the blue serge I wear,

As I approach another nameless door

Outside she stands, fear in her eyes

I reassure, splintering glass into the hall

Opening the door.

I rush to what I see,

hear the scream fly past my ears

A man older than her years

Lying prone upon the floor,

His eyes stare cold at me, all life signs ebbed away

His hands once warm have the cold strength of death

His spirit flown.

So as not to take his image home

To haunt my dreams

My hand closes gently his frozen vision,

No pennies to pay old ferryman,

I reach my hand to hers, hold her close

Grief convulses her,

She Ieans to hold the lifeless form

Of her lover, her husband, to say farewell.

The black hats are called

Sudden death hidden in a bodybag

I will see his eyes for several days

And only I will know

I will be expected to forget

But you remember every one …


A Walk in the Desert by Jean Ashbury

A dust devil rose from the desert floor like a phantom. It approached with the speed of a Cairo taxi and found me in its way. That morning began with silence so dead I yelled to prove I was still alive. Fog hung over the dunes. Winter chill nipped my nose and stung my fingertips. Around me, slithery trails and birdlike tracks told me desert creatures had checked me out while I slept.

I emerged from my sleeping bag dressed in a week old stink of clothes. I shook my boots and sent scorpions scuttling, tails curled and sting ready, before shoeing my blistered feet. Wood smoke drew me to our dawn campfire. I sat beside it like a half wrapped mummy thawing back to life. Over gallons of sugary tea, Mahjdi and his desert ‘commandos’ discussed the day. Our walk to the White Desert near the oasis of Farafra would be long, exposed, and incinerator hot so we must fill up like camels before heading out.

“You OK?” Mahjdi looked at me with concern.

I’d been trouble all week, passing out with dehydration, and whining about sunburnt lips, heat rash and bruises from camels. All week his espresso coloured eyes had asked, Why did you come? To unclog my brain was my silent answer. I was convinced that ten days on the Great Desert Circuit from Luxor to Cairo, stopping off at four oases to walk in the desert and sleep under the stars would do the trick. Just a tough holiday, I thought. But in Luxor, the guides’ briefing to our small band of trekkers rang alarms—“Drink, pee, drink. Cover up or you’ll fry. Don’t wander off anywhere. This is the Western Desert, not the Costa del Sol.”

When they finished, I realized I was on an ‘expedition’. Days were spent walking between dunes where footsteps left no trace. Where we went looked like where we’d come from, and every dune appeared the same. My skin flaked like old bark, and my constant mirage was cold beer with condensation running down the glass.

We set out that morning in icy light. Mahjdi was on straggler duty with me and my camel, a beast the colour of bleached rope with burnt tufts. Though slowest in the pack, her lolloping gait was still too fast for me. I kept in step with the spindly calf toeing behind as if in high heeled shoes. Midday heat shooting off the thermometer caught us strung out on the razor edge of a crescent dune. One sleek side sloped to the ground, glassy crystals glinting amid golden grains of sand. The other side rippled with waves as the seashore does when the tide flows in. Some poetry sprang to mind, but this was no time for words. I guzzled tepid water and taking my boots off soothed my feet in sugary sand cool as the sea.

Shimmering heat haze guided us to the White Desert. Light, diamond hard, played on giant white monoliths, mushroom sculptures and creamy boulders strewn on a bed of sand the colour of cooked pastry. It could have been a meringue cake made by gods. I sat beside my hobbled camel eating falafels (chick pea fritters) and listened to the rushing wind. That same wind had sculpted these chalky shapes when an ancient sea floor dried up. Beside me, sea shells from millenia ago stuck out from a limestone wall. I picked up a fossil of polished black stone spiky like a mace, my souvenir of time past.

And then they came—a corps de ballet of dust spouts and with a principal dancer, desert gatekeepers demanding an entry fee.

Djinns. Spirits of people dead in the desert. They will pass Insha’Allah,” said Mahjdi.

Tucked into the side of my camel, I remembered the houses and telegraph poles I’d seen sticking out under marching dunes, and hoped Mahjdi’s Allah would be merciful. Whooshing threats to bury me, the djinns rained over for a lifetime with a blizzard of grit and sand. When they were spent, my eyes, ears, nose and every part of me was filled with sand. Not the soft mush of sandcastles, but sharp particles of rock that turned me into human sandpaper, scraping and grating between teeth, between legs and under armpits.

I was alive, though, and I thought I heard the universe click. I’d beaten the desert.

Later, at peace in my musty sleeping bag, I recalled legends I’d read about the Western Desert, of lost armies and mythical creatures. I watched the sky turn pink then orange then become black and clustered with stars. I felt every tingle in the air, and just before I fell asleep, I added my legend to the list—I was here.

Old Bully Grief by Caroline McCarthy

Old Bully Grief

My grief saw me skateboarding at the supermarket

She peered at me through thick lenses

She asked what the hell I was doing

Sliding past the pickles

Over cavernous cracks in the floor

My grief watched as I locked eyes with the god at the end of the bar

She hid in silence as my eyes followed the curve of his glorious buttocks

Then she fell on me in a storm

Barged her dank breath into my face

And sent me out into the street


A child lost in a hurricane

My grief waited as I hid under my fuscia feather duvet

Too warm on my face

Turning the bright grey daylight

Into an embryonic hue

A sack for keeping my weeping in

Floating along a toxic canal of emptiness and pain

Torn by a scream

A harsh reminder

That life must go on.