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How to Murder a Naked Woman

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Success Stories

by Eliza Hemingway

ISBN 0 9698170 2 9
Arts Angels Publishing, 2005
232pp, paperback
Retail price $24.95 (Canadian)

A startling typo on the flyleaf of my review copy put me off opening this book for quite a while. (Reviewers, just like the general public, don’t always read the books they are sent in the same order they receive them.) When I forced my way past this obstacle and began to read properly, I regretted my failure to start sooner. For one thing, it was interesting reading, a real page-turner. For another, Ms Hemingway’s advice actually seemed to have the potential to help me.

Eliza Hemingway has had more success than most self-published authors. Her first book was accepted by the first publisher she took it to, when she was still in her teens. I’ve heard Val McDermid, another author who had difficulty in repeating an early success, comment that "I didn’t know what I was doing right". That lesson is underlined here. How to Murder a Naked Woman, contrary to the image conjured up by the title, is not about how to write crime fiction. It is not a "how-to" book at all, but uses Ms Hemingway’s personal experience to help equip would-be writers (the naked women of the title) to face the world and fulfil their promise. Perhaps the most accurate description of it would be a self-help book specifically for writers.

Ms Hemingway’s first success, like my own, came with non-fiction, in her case an account of her appalling but sometimes comical experiences as a student nurse. (Reading the summary, I found myself wondering whether these events could conceivably have happened as described; if not, she has the world’s greatest imagination.) She speaks to a Canadian audience, as a Canadian born in England – and, judging by some of the references, her memories of the old country go back a long way. One thing that grated slightly was the repeated blaming of other people for past misfortunes: Eliza’s art teacher, the management of the hospital where she worked, her mother, her sister, and so on. Writing as a form of revenge is good therapy for the writer, but one would have thought that someone of this level of experience would have got it all off her chest before now.

Whatever I may think about that, and whatever I may think about the need for better proof-reading in self-published books like this one, I couldn’t fail to enjoy it. Don’t take the inference that I agree with all the advice the author offers. Personally, I don’t think that short story competitions are worth spending a lot of time on, or at least not unless the short story is your preferred genre. On the other hand, advice that is true for British readers is not necessarily true for Canadians, and one may assume that Ms Hemingway knows her market.

On the occasions when she does offer tips and advice, it should not be mistaken for anything other than her particular way of dealing with certain situations. Some people may work well with a PC; others may prefer to write longhand, and this should not be treated as "wrong" or as a peculiar habit. Similarly, although it can be useful to draw up the skeleton of a story or novel before starting to write, not everyone works this way. I do not think that Eliza Hemingway really means to sound prescriptive. I admit I was quite shocked at her suggestion that no one could genuinely enjoy the works of "Jane Austin" [sic] (which, apparently, are about embroidery). It gives the impression of an author who is very opinionated, but a page or two later I came across this paragraph:

"Just as the reader is about to doze off, lulled into complacency, here comes the worst bit of controversial nonsense they have read in a long time. The reader does not agree with the writer’s opinions, in fact the reader disagrees so much that they simply have to go on reading the claptrap just to go on disagreeing with the writer. Good writing, eh?"

Well, it worked for me…

If I were to give advice, it would be to read this book as a book, from cover to cover, than to try to extract the "advice" from it. It is much more enjoyable that way, and this is how I think a new writer will get most benefit from it - as an ideas bank, rather than a writing manual.


Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher