The Likeability Factor

I got together with two friends for a visit last weekend. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while; we have a wide range of interests and busy lives, so we had lots to catch up on. Eventually, the conversation turned to books and movies . . . what we were reading, what we were watching. And since the Academy Award nominations had been announced earlier that week, we began discussing which of the movies we planned to see, if any.

This year, there’s one movie I’m not sure I’ll watch: The Banshees of Inisherin.  Written and directed by Martin McDonagh and starring Colin Firth and Brendan Gleeson, the movie is set on a remote Irish island and tells the story of two lifelong friends who drifted apart after the end of the 1923 Irish Civil War. It is not, by all accounts, a feel-good film. It is described, at best, as bleak. It’s also a movie that seems to evoke particularly strong emotions. Those who love it rave about it. Those who hate it do so with a passion.  

“I wonder how the screenwriter feels?” I wondered aloud to my friends. “To have produced something so many people dislike?”

“There’s no guarantee something you create will be well-received,” one friend responded.

“And it’s been nominated for an Academy Award,” my second friend added. “So not everyone disliked it.”

They were both right. However, too many negative reviews of a movie, a book, an art installation or any other creative venture can mean the difference between success and failure. And by success, I don’t mean public accolades and praise, but the kind of success that allows an artist to make a living, even a modest one, and carry on with their craft. For a writer, a book that draws significant negative reviews won’t sell well, which could mean no contract on their next book. These two women aren’t writers, but they’ve been my friends long enough to understand some of how publishing works. They were sympathetic.

After a minute, one of them said, “Maybe society needs to reframe the idea that disliking something is bad.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know what they say – if everyone likes you, you’re not living an authentic life.” She paused just long enough for us to reflect on that. And then she said, “Maybe it’s the same for art. If everybody likes what you produce, how authentic can it be?”

I know, intellectually, that tastes vary. Not everyone will love the same book or movie or song. The same food, the same colour, the same breed of dog. And yet, as a creator, I want people to love what I produce. So, if I’m truly honest with myself, anything less than that feels like a failure.

But my friend helped me see a simple yet profound truth: Something that is truly authentic is never a failure. It may not appeal to the masses; it may not be a critical or commercial success. But it can still be meaningful, it can still touch people, it can still convey feelings and reveal big truths. In the same way that authenticity in relationships is where we find our true joy, authenticity in creativity is where we find our true success.  

I still don’t know whether I’ll watch The Banshees of Inisherin. Apparently, people leave the theatre crying, and I don’t need sadness in my life right now. But I do need authenticity. So maybe I’ll pack up my Kleenex and go.

More Happy News

forest logo framedI’m delighted to have The Art of Getting Stared At included on the White Pine list for this year’s Forest of Reading in Ontario. Established and administered by the  Ontario Library Association, the program encourages children from kindergarten to grade 12 to pick up a book.

The White Pine is a teen reader’s choice award and thousands of teens in grades 9 – 12 read the books and vote for their favorites. And they have ten wonderful titles to choose from. To check out the shortlisted books, go here:

On another note, I had a great time at last night’s Victoria Book Prize Society gala even though The Art of Getting Stared At didn’t win in the children’s category. That honor went to Chris Tougas who won for his delightful picture book Dojo Daycare. Chris had the audience laughing as he read his text. If you have preschoolers in your life, do pick up a copy of his funny story. They’ll love it! dojodaycare framed


It’s Nomination Season

langston_ArtofGettingStared_pb‘Tis the season for book award nominations and The Art of Getting Stared At has garnered two this month!

The novel has been shortlisted for the inaugural Amy Mathers Teen Book Award, a national award honoring excellence in teen/young adult fiction. Only five books are chosen annually and The Art of Getting Stared At made it this year. Nominated in the same category are Blues for Zoey by Robert Paul Weston,  The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts, The Gospel Truth by Caroline Pignat, and What We Hide by Marthe Jocelyn. The winner will be announced at a gala in Toronto November 18th. For more information on the award, which is part of a series of awards distributed by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, go here:

And locally, The Art of Getting Stared At is a finalist for the Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize which is under the umbrella of the Victoria Book Prize Society. Also nominated in the same category are Shack Island Summer by Penny Chamberlain and Dojo Daycare by Chris Tougas. The winner will be announced at a gala in Victoria October 14th. For more information on this award, go here: