It’s someone who reads a draft of a book and gives constructive feedback to the writer.
There are no qualifications except you must be able to read.
They never get paid. The task is its own reward. Hopefully.
What sort of feedback should they give?
Did you like the book?
What did you like most about it?
Was there anything you didn’t like?
Try to say something about:
How should you reply?
You can use e-mail, comments on this blog, the contact form on my website or even the Royal Mail. Write to:
Geoffrey Monmouth, Warrington Business Centre, 67 Bewsey Street, Warrington, Cheshire WA2 7JQ
What should they not comment on?
They are not editors. They shouldn’t waste time on grammar, punctuation, layout or other details. It’s the big story that counts. Don’t try to be an expert. Think like an ordinary person reading a book. Professional editors may be used later, when the overall story has been sorted out.
Why are they called Beta readers?
Beta is the second letter of the Greek alphabet. That’s about as much Greek as I know. I don’t know why they call them Beta readers. If you know, feel free to tell me.
The BBC say they will be showing a new history programme for children. It will be presented by Danny Dyer of Eastenders fame. Many people assume this means dumbing down. Perhaps they have had a preview, but as I have not, I cannot say if that criticism is fair.
How do you define ‘dumbing down’?
The BBC say the programme is intended to be entertaining and amusing. They want children to watch it, but does this mean things will be oversimplified? You know, Good Things and Bad Kings. Will they select only the most ‘dramatic’ events? 1066, 1588, 1789, 1966? What sort of questions will they ask – and what will they avoid?
What did the Romans do for us?
Who were the real winners of the 100 years’ war?
Who gained from the Industrial Revolution?
Do I object to dumbing down?
Not necessarily. I object to fake news, old or new, which includes gross oversimplification. Let’s not underestimate children’s ability to understand and let’s encourage them to think. As I also object to making history boring, I applaud this attempt at making it fun.
Can we make it interesting without dumbing down?
Yes. I was in Pembroke shire in Summer and visited a lot of castles. Some of them will feature in my next book, Stallion Man, the third in the Highwaypersons trilogy. Nowadays, the information provided, in leaflets, on notices and in audio recordings, is interesting, accessible and mostly true. Living history exhibits and demonstrations were fun and informative.
How to avoid dumbing down
I must especially compliment Pembroke Castle and make special mention of the tour guide, Isla, for excellence in presenting history in a way that people of all ages and existing levels of knowledge could enjoy. I hope the BBC can do as well as them, and that’s a challenge to me as a historical novelist.
The Palaeolithic period is the Old Stone Age. In most countries it was replaced by the Neolithic or New Stone Age. In Britain, we had to be different. We had the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age in between. What’s the difference? Are archaeologists just splitting hairs? The words refer to the different lifestyles of the three eras. In the Old Stone Age, people were hunter-gatherers, i.e. they lived by hunting and eating fruits, nuts and berries they found growing naturally. They were nomadic, or semi-nomadic, following the herds in their seasonal migrations.
What happened after the Palaeolithic Age?
In the New Stone Age they became farmers, taking control of the production of their food, and became settled. In Britain, and a few other places, there was a period between the two, when people kept semi-domesticated animals, but still migrated with them, like the reindeer herders in Scandinavia today. The dates of these ages differed in different countries, because the changes in lifestyle didn’t happen at the same time everywhere. The British seem to have been among the last to catch on. Always keen to hang on to old traditions. There were probably objectors to cutting down forests and draining marshes. Destroying the natural habitats of mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers.
Why am I talking about the Palaeolithic Age?
Because that’s the setting for my next book. About 8,000 years BC, when people began to move back into Britain after thousands of years. Not the same people. During the Ice Age nothing had lived in most of Northern Europe, but the climate was changing, making the region inhabitable again.
Did I say palaeolithic detective? Really?
If Palaeolithic people were hunters and gatherers, there wouldn’t have been many detectives, surely? Not many criminals either.
Yes, but… selfishness and wickedness have always been around, and there must always have been some sort of rules to make society work effectively. And hunter-gatherers needed discipline to work effectively, otherwise it wouldn’t have been the sabre-tooth tiger that went extinct. Rule-breakers were a threat to the rest. Someone had to exercise authority.
Wasn’t life cheap in the Palaeolithic era?
Yes and no! Life was often short, for lots of reasons, and there were probably violent clashes between people-groups at times, but cooperation was essential to everyone’s survival. I suspect that a lot of conflicts were resolved peacefully, or by limited, ritualised violence. I think murder would have been punished. Presumably by death.
Weren’t palaeolithic people too superstitious for scientific detective work?
Up to a point, but people have always been rational, capable of understanding cause and effect. Some more than others. That’s why my hero is a bit different from the average person of his day, but only a bit. He was the one who made the lever deductions, but most of the others would get it, once he pointed something out. How he does it, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but he’ll need help. The help of a dog, a god and a flint.