A Judgement Call by Helen Rolfe

My idea for this blog post came when an agent suggested that I target a particular line of books with my work. The trouble is, I don’t actually read that line and as shallow as it sounds, a lot of it is because the covers have never appealed to me enough to make me pick one up.

When I walk into a book shop I’m the typical consumer in my late thirties (I can say that for at least another ten days or so!) and I instantly gravitate towards the colourful, bright jackets. So, the first thing I did when I heard from this agent was to go out a get a few different books in the same line and no matter what I thought of the covers, read them from start to finish. I asked myself not only whether my own novel would be a good fit but also whether I had been neglecting some great reads along the way.

I was presently surprised at the content. There were similarities with the type of novel that I’m trying to write, the storylines were appealing, and I can see why others would enjoy reading them. But they have a certain style that just isn’t me, neither as a writer nor a reader.  So, it looks as though my judgement was spot on this time round.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphorical phrase that means so much more than its literal translation. It also means that we shouldn’t prejudge, but it happens all the time. I had a big wake-up call a few years ago when I found out the life story of a neighbour whom I had prejudged. Months later I found out what he had been through, including the death of a child, the death of his wife and being held as a prisoner of war for many years.

Take the lives of celebrities as another example. We see the glamour, the money, the exciting lives that they lead…and then magazines run a feature showing the same celebrities with…gasp…no make-up! We see them underneath the stardom that they can hide behind, we see them as the normal people that many of them are, but how easy is it to jump to conclusions?

When I studied my Graduate Certificate in Writing, there was a heavy focus on research for writers, and for good reason. I wanted to talk about research in this post because it ties in with making judgements without sufficient knowledge, and without research our stories can never hope to be as accurate and as rich as we would’ve hoped. Helen Phifer’s The Ghost House is a good example of this. Helen took a job with the police force in the hope that it would help her writing, and look at the richness of detail in her novel. Helen’s research lets us into the world of the police force from the everyday tasks they must do – some less appealing than others – to the intricate work at a crime scene, and the banter inside a police station. Had she just used her imagination for her story then it may have hung together, but would we as readers have been as drawn into the story and fully immersed in the worlds of her characters? I doubt it.

On the flip side, prejudging can work in our favour. Maybe there’s a place you thought that you’d hate but went there and loved it; or, a person who you disliked when you first met them and they turned out to be one of your closest friends. I’d love to hear from everyone to find out whether prejudging has left them pleasantly surprised, or whether, like my example above, they have learned that we need to see other peoples’ side of things before making a judgement.

Helen R x


5 thoughts on “A Judgement Call by Helen Rolfe

  1. I learnt as a social worker not to pre-judge people. Before I started in that job all I had in mind about the clients I was to work with was the screaming headlines of the tabloids yelling about these people who are no good, sponging on others, shelf fulls of DVD’s etc. But when I met them and got to know them I learnt that most of the time that is not true. It might be true of a few, but most certainly not all.
    So has it taught me not to judge? Well, a bit, but there are many times I slip up and have to give myself a talking to, especially in the realms of my daughter’s friends!

  2. Great post, Helen. I think I can have a habit of pre-judging people… I love people watching for a start and make up, jobs, lives and stories for all of the people that I see based on their appearances. I am also quite bad in that I tend to compare myself with others and assume that people’s lives look more ‘perfect’ than mine from the outside, but you never really know what goes on behind closed doors and should count your own blessings, rather than envy others. I will keep reminding myself of this and thinking about your post to keep me on the straight and narrow! x

  3. Hi Helen, I’m really slow in replying to this because I thought it was a great post and I wanted to come back with a brilliant example of pre-judging people to match the post so I’ve had my thinking cap on. However, I haven’t come up with one. Instead, I’ve realised that I do it constantly with people but I have the tact and sense to do it in my head and “allow” them to prove me right or wrong by their actions. As a recruiter and trainer, I constantly meet new people and form an instant impression of them. In recruitment, I have to be very careful not to let this cloud my judgement. Typically my 1st impression is right … but I have 20 years practice! I’ve often recruited someone and known they probably wouldn’t last long in the job and was proved right when I find myself re-recruiting for that role less than a year later. However, I have had some people surprise me and it’s good to be surprised from time to time.

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