Nick Briggs kicked off an interesting discussion the other day, when he mentioned in Big Finish’s Vortex magazine that Paul Magrs’ story The Boy That Time Forgot wasn’t one of his favourites. Paul, quite understandably, was a little put out at this, and Nick apologised, but explained that he doesn’t want to become one of those people who is always so on-message that nobody ever believes a word he says. It’s interesting, I think, to find that balance, between being honest about stuff, and being positive.
My rule is to avoid expressing negative opinions on anything that anyone else has written in public whenever possible. The reason is simple; negativity has a habit of lingering, it gets repeated, it gets exaggerated, it gets taken out of context, in a way that positivity never does.
Which is a problem, because quite often I will change my mind about stuff, and find that I quite like things I didn’t like before. I don’t want to be beholden to opinions I expressed five, ten, twenty years ago; I don’t want opinions to be ascribed to me that I don’t necessarily agree with. Because people will always think ‘Ah, but the negative opinion is what Jonny really thinks, the positive opinion is just him saying that to get work.’ (Which it very well might be, but I’d quite like any positive opinions that I say just to get work to come across as genuine!)
The other thing is that, as a punter, I find it very dispiriting when one writer or performer I like sees fit to say something disparaging about another writer or performer I like. It’s as though I’m being asked to take sides. Blur or Oasis, both good, so why do I have to choose?
Another reason for avoiding negativity is that, in my experience, it can stop you getting work. So there is a simple formula that writers use when dealing with these questions. It has been passed around in secret for years but I will share it with you.
1) If you liked the piece of work, for goodness’ sake, just say so.
2) If you didn’t like it, lie. Say you did. What harm can it possibly do? Or say you haven’t seen/heard/read the piece of work yet, but that you are greatly looking forward to it. Lie, lie, and lie again!
3) If you can’t bring yourself to lie, then maybe you can think of someone you know who did like the piece of work? A child, perhaps, or an elderly relative? Or somebody you overheard on the bus? Then mention them instead. You’ll see writers use this one quite often; ‘My seven-year-old son thought it was terrific.’ (It's their coded way of saying, 'But personally I thought it was bloody awful.')
4) If you can’t find anyone you know who did like the piece of work, why not praise the person’s professionalism in general terms? Say that you’ve always found them very diligent to work with and that they deserve every success.
5) If you can’t honestly say that either, then you’re going to have to resort to the lowest possible form of praise possible. Say that the writer in question is a very nice person in real life.
6) If you can’t even honestly say that the writer is a very nice person in real life, then for goodness’ sake, why are you bothering to be honest? Go back to point 2 and lie!
7) I’m not sure how, if you’ve been following this formula, you’ve ended up here, but if you have, there is an old adage; if you can’t say something nice say nothing at all, and as a very wise man once said, you say it best when you say nothing at all.