Picture the scene: it's ten to five and I think I'll just have a quick peep on my home e-mail inbox from my work pc. Shock. Horror. Panic. There's an e-mail from Real Writers. It's my appraisal for Twisted Garlands, which has been the cause of me checking my home e-mail from work every half-an-hour for the last two weeks!
I shut web-mail down quickly without opening the e-mail, switch off the computer, pick up my bag and coat and fly out of the office as if I'm being chased by the devil.
It takes me twelve, long minutes to drive home: the traffic's backed up and I'm mightily impatient. It seems like at least an hour.
When I get home I'm hoping no-one's there. No such luck. Technoson and hubby sit in the lounge watching a DVD of "Only Fools and Horses" and laughing their heads off.
I switch on the computer and go into the kitchen to make a cuppa. When I come back I sit down at the computer desk.
"Haven't you had enough of bloody computers?" nearest and dearest says. "Give it a rest, for god's sake!"
I take my cuppa to an armchair and sit down like a naughty schoolboy caught looking porn, pretending to watch, and laugh at, "Only Fools and Horses". I want to look at the appraisal - and yet I don't want to look at all.
Finally, I end up alone in the lounge and creep furtively over to the computer desk. I read the first sentence, remembering what Mercedes said about critiques always lulling you into a false sense of security with a positive opening statement.
"First of all, and possibly more important than you realise, congratulations on a near-flawless command of grammar and syntax."
I hardly dare read on any further. OK, I think, turning my attention to a labrador's head on my lap, looking up at me with huge brown eyes that are saying 'scratch my ears, right now', what she's really saying is that I can string two words together text-book style but forget the creative bit.
I read on. It isn't too bad. In fact when I get to the bit "you gave me such arcane details as hyphenated compound adjectives, correctly used semi-colons, and, joy-of-joys, properly placed commas" I begin to feel quite heady! Then I hit the second paragraph.
"I suspect you're still at a fairly early stage with this work."
Huh!! No I'm not! I've sculpted and painted; shown not told; extracted adverbs and too many adjectives; injected smells, light and shade, hot and cold, and even counted the number of words in a sentence to make sure it's not more than fifty!
Oh dear. She still thinks it's in the raw.
(We'll skip the bits about the synopsis. It's only a few words - I can mend that later. It's bad, really bad.)
Then we really get into the appraisal. What Lynne is saying is so right. I can actually see that she's right - I need to work on viewpoint and balancing the narrative. She makes some really positive comments about the bits I, too, feel I've written well - so as I read on I'm pleased that I'm getting such constructive feedback. The bits I feel are weak, she feels are weak too.
This is really OK, I'm thinking to myself. I give myself a little pep-talk as I read. This is what I needed and exactly what I wanted when I forked out the £50 for the appraisal. Then Lynne wonders if I haven't already stopped reading and hurled the appraisal at the wall. No, I think. Why does she say that? After all, what she's saying is true. She's not trying to piss on my bonfire, just help me, a novice, to become a real writer.
Then I get to a lovely bit. I can see she really means it - about my inspiration and energy coming through in my writing. Then she says she was disappointed when the 10K works ended mid-scene because she wanted to know what came next. I want to give her a hug for being so nice.
The appraisal concludes with "I'm sure that, give or take the odd technical detail such as viewpoint, I've said nothing you weren't already aware of at some level. Everything I've mentioned can be resolved; it's all part of the process of becoming a writer".
Then she says that I clearly know my market and can write engagingly for it.
Lynne - if you ever read this - you're a star. Thank you for returning my baby to me as a toddler, having learned it's manners!