The Waiting Room by FG Cottam

A ghost story about a disused railway waiting room haunted by shell-shocked soldiers from the First World War? Featuring an intrepid ghost-hunter and his attractive assistant? A bit like that particularly creepy series of Sapphire & Steel that gave us all nightmares when we were little? That's got to be great, shiversome fun, right?

Wrong. Because The Waiting Room is a tedious mish-mash of clich├ęs and absurd 'plot' developments, written with little technical proficiency. If I'm going to read a book with a dire plot and unbelievable two-dimensional characters, I at least want the author to be able to avoid a full page of nothing but subject-verb-object sentences. Unfortunately Cottam fails in that regard. I want them to know - what with them being professional novelists and all - what the word 'protagonist' means. But apparently Cottam doesn't; it's misused twice in The Waiting Room. I want them to at least have done some basic research about the sorts of lives the characters lead and what would and wouldn't be plausible for them - but no, Cottam refers to his main character having appeared in two TV programmes which would never in a million years have been made, far less broadcast, as they would have contravened every broadcasting rule in the book and seen their makers fined out of existence. I'd also kind of hope that the author might be able to write snappy, convincing dialogue. But guess what? The dialogue in The Waiting Room is abysmal. Everyone speaks in the same portentous, ludicrously unrealistic manner, from an 11-year-old boy to a rock star to a Belgian priest (a character who seems to serve no purpose whatsoever except to be a transparent stereotype). I believed in none of them, still less gave a damn about their welfare.

I believe I mentioned the plot. The initial premise, the aforementioned haunted railway station, seemed fun. Sadly it was all downhill from there, meandering into a confused mess of vague occult practices, time-slips and a largely arbitrary appearance from the ghost of Wilfred Owen. Oh, and when Owen crops up, the main character drops into his casual conversation a few biographical details off the top of his head in one of the most amateurish pieces of exposition I've ever seen outside a bad amateur writers' group. As a particularly avid admirer of Owen's work, I just winced at the pointless references to him. I got the impression that the author studied him for A-level and wanted to show off about it, because his fleeting appearance here really serves no other purpose.

Admittedly there are some creepy moments. The character of Patrick Ross, a soulless remnant from the trenches somehow resurrected shortly after his death, really is utterly horrid and genuinely scary, despite some glaring unfilled plot holes that arise around his existence. And some of the scenes in the waiting room itself are - well, the ideas are scary. But they're mostly so badly executed via Cottam's plodding, lumpen prose that the atmosphere is simply sucked out of them.

All in all, pretty dire. Watch that series of Sapphire & Steel instead.


  1. I am reading The Waiting Room at the moment, and am actually struggling with the intial concept? How is the building actually related to the ghost? And where on earth does Wilfred Owen come from? It clearly lacks plot and research. I love the idea but unfortunatley Cottom fails to portray it.

  2. Yes, I totally agree it lacks plot. A lot of things seem to happen for no good reason!

  3. Owen because he fought with the 2cond battalion Manchester Regiment in the assault on the Sambre Canal in which both he and Patrick Ross were killed, weeks before the German capitulation. All there on page 85 of the paperback edition. Owen was Ross's commanding officer. He knew Ross personally and his ghost chooses to warn the Strides through the poem Strange Meeting. Arrogance or stupidity to review a book you have not read properly? Both, I'd say

  4. I'm afraid you completely missed my point.

    I realise you gave reasons in the book for Ross knowing Owen. My point was that including Owen as character at all, regardless of the reasons you gave for Ross happening to have known him, seemed to me like a very clumsy device that added absolutely nothing to the book whatsoever. My point wasn't "FG Cottam doesn't tell us how Ross knows Owen". My point was that including Owen at all really grated on me because that particular aspect of the story, for me, stuck out like a sore thumb.

    I'm sorry that you're annoyed by this review, and I can absolutely understand that nobody wants to read a bad review of their work. But arrogant and stupid? No: I just didn't like your book. Coming across people who don't like your work rather comes with the territory of being a novelist, don't you think? People will read your books and talk about them and however wonderful some people think they are - and clearly some people do, as you've had several published - others won't like them.

    I did read your book properly, because I wouldn't ever review something I hadn't read properly. 'Reading a book and disliking it' is not the same as 'Not reading a book properly'.

  5. Wow, Arrogant and Stupid - strong words to describe what seems, to me, to be constructive criticism. As an author, if you can't deal more positively with critique then maybe it's time to consider a different career!?

  6. Given the trashing to which you subjected The Waiting Room, I doubt you've any inclination to sample another of my books. If you dislike the inclusion of real historical figures, you'd best steer well clear. Michael Collins features in Dark Echo; Rupert Brooke plays a cameo in Magdalena Curse and Aleister Crowley is a major character in The House of Lost Souls. That's giving you fair warning. I can do no more.

  7. My issue isn't historical figures appearing in books - I've read and loved plenty of books in which that happens - it's the way in which that device is executed. And let's be honest, that was hardly my only issue with The Waiting Room anyway.

    You know, despite my 'trashing' of The Waiting Room, I still might have been inclined to give your work a second chance and read another of your books, as I do often do that with authors. As I said in my review, I liked the overall idea behind The Waiting Room, and I think you did a really excellent job of making Patrick Ross a genuinely chilling character. You write in a genre I usually enjoy a great deal, and every author has their off-days. So, I might have given one of your other books a try - I noticed Brodmaw Bay on Amazon recently and thought the set-up sounded really promising.

    Now? Yeah, not so much. I can't say I'm really interested in reading something by an author who trawls the internet looking for reviews of their own work and then calls people arrogant and stupid because they didn't like it.

    Clearly, lots of people love your work, have reviewed your books very positively and continue to buy them. Very few people are able to do what you do for a living - you have one of the best jobs in the world and you appear to be successful at it. If I were you I'd focus on that rather than taking exception to one review by a non-professional reviewer on a blog with zero influence that's read by about twenty of her mates. Not everyone will like what you do, and it really shouldn't matter a great deal to you that I - one reader, chatting about books on a read-by-nobody blog - don't.

  8. Patrick Ross can see the future. Not his own future - but the future in which Mallory and Irvine will conquer Everest, Owen will become a famous war poet and Elena will be the bob-haired flapper who finds Bruno's deposition.
    I needed for Creed to know the exact time, date and location of the action in which Ross was killed. Without that information, I couldn't have ended the novel in the way I did. So I put Ross at the heart of one of the saddest and most wasteful engagements of the war; about which a great deal of detail is known.
    I don't trawl the net looking for bad reviews. Someone who thought yours a bit vicious brought it to my attention. I take the rough with the smooth philosophically, on the whole. But saying I included Owen in the story because I studied him for A-Level - and wanted to show off about it - struck me as gratuitous. I did my A-Levels more than thirty years ago.
    I wouldn't quarrel with your absolute right to express any opinion you want about what you read, so long as you don't complain when your doing so provokes reasonable comment.
    Anyway, the 20 of your mates who read your blog might find this spat quite amusing.

  9. I didn't say you did include Owen because you studied him at A-level. I said that the way you wrote that aspect of the book, to me, gave that impression, which is a completely different thing. Of course I don't believe that's literally why you included him. But I do feel that the way you executed that part of the book has that sort of feel about it, and as I said in my review, I found it grating for that reason.

    I have no problem with 'reasonable comment'. I do have a problem with accused of not reading a book properly just because I disliked it. Of course I read your book properly (although frankly I wish I hadn't; I'll not be getting those hours back). Frankly, your response suggests you didn't really read my review properly, but I wouldn't for a moment suggest you were either stupid or arrogant. A little thin-skinned, perhaps, but ego is often a fragile thing.

    Nice friends/acquaintances you have, that draw your attention to 'vicious' reviews... especially if you react to them like this.

  10. Just finished reading this book. Enjoyed it muchly. Can see why the writer included Owen but I didn't like it. Felt book could have got by without.

    Must say, my enjoyment of the book has been enhanced by stumbling across this debate :-)

    Best wishes to both critic and author

  11. Best wishes to you too and thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the book - taste in books is such a personal thing and even if I hate a book, I'm always pleased when others can enjoy it. Books are there to be read and enjoyed, after all, even if they won't be enjoyed by everybody. :)


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