Just realised I totally missed my own tenth anniversary – the Woolamaloo Gazette traces its roots back to a satirical email spoof newsletter I sent out at college parodying current events and culture in the early 90s (when the internet was still the internet and not even the web yet) and the name stuck when I started blogging in early April, 2003. I was just looking back through that month’s posts and I see multiple discussions of books, from history to science fiction, from Richard Morgan’s then brand new novel to a chat with Iain Banks who at the time had just told me his next book was non fiction, a book about whisky (and for once he was delighted to do the research needed for his writing!), there was a lot of movie talk, discussion about work and a large chunk of satirical posts about then current political events. Ten years of the Blog They Couldn’t Hang – and oh boy, did some rather unpleasant people (who I still think had their own agendas for their nasty actions) try to hang it and me, but it backfired on them in spectacular fashion, and deservedly so (with no small amount of thanks to many people who supported me during that upsetting period). So over ten years of the Woolamaloo Gazette as a blog and over twenty since I first coined the name for those satirical newsheets I emailed around the college and to friends in other institutions. Feels odd but also a little satisfying.
Over the years I’ve been pretty used to posting questions to writers and artists for interviews, but in something of a change about for me the guys at Geek Native asked to interview me in my guise as a blogger of all things comics and SF on the Forbidden Planet blog that I set up (counts, is slightly shocked) almost six years ago now, discussing the FP blog but also the importance of blogging and web presence in general for companies, publishers and creators:
“Q3: How important is it for a writer to have a blog? Is it a distraction, just part of fan service or something more significant?
I think it is extremely important writers and artists have some sort of web presence where they can interact a bit with readers, be it a general website and maybe a twitter feed, a blog or whatever. I know some authors and artists aren’t mad on it – it depends very much on individual tastes and persuasions, after all, and not everyone feels it is for them, just as some authors aren’t that keen on doing readings in bookstores and festivals; some are fine with that (I’ve worked with authors who can talk happily to small group of 20 readers through to some standing on a theatre stage with several hundred to talk to quite happily), others really don’t like it at all.
But the fact of the matter is promoting yourself and your book/comic/movie/animated mutant atomic penguin cartoon is part of the game. It has been for as long as I’ve been in the booktrade and is increasingly important – the appearances at signings and readings are important and, perhaps even more importantly now social media is so embedded in everyday life (even when many of us are out and about and away from a PC we’re still plugged in), the digital promotion and web presence is pretty vital. Some authors and artists still seem happy to have a simple ‘about the author’ on their publisher’s site and that’s their choice, but many do dip their toes into blogging or Twitter and find that it’s a good way to interact with fans, a good way to build up interest and the all important word of mouth about new work they have coming and also to reach readers who may never otherwise be able to interact with them – after all, even if you are an author who does carry out a lot of public engagements at bookstore readings, signings, book festivals etc, at the end of the day only so many can get into these events and many more may live nowhere near where they happen. But distance and audience size restrictions mean nothing in cyberspace.”
I noticed a spike in one of my photos from this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe this week and wondered why:
Turned out it was being linked to from several websites, including this Japanese one. I’ve seen my pics borrowed numerous times on other sites – including, rather pleasingly, the New Yorker book blog at one point – but I think this is the first time (that I know of anyway) that I’ve been used on a Japanese site. Truly I am a cosmopolitan chap.
You might have noticed a big change in the old Woolamaloo Gazette – it’s now moved over to a full Word Press set up and since WP does things a bit different behind the scenes from Blogger, when it imported the several years worth of posts from the original Woolamaloo blog (which has been going for a good, long while now, after all) it’s more than probable that some things like some links, video and photography emebeds that were fine in the old platform may not work properly in this new one, so if you see some odd looking setting on older posts, that’s why – if it was a link, photo or video you really wanted to see let me know and I will have a look and see if I can update it to work on the new Woolamaloo platform. Many thanks to Darren T for the invaluable help in moving everything over.
The national treasure we call Stephen Fry has progressed from starting his own blog to now doing a Podgram – essentially a podcast in MPEG-4 format as opposed to an MP3 so there is video as well.
Neil Gaiman’s blog celebrated its ninth anniversary yesterday, I notice – that’s quite a long time in blogging terms and in terms of author’s sites is even more impressive. Many authors and artists and bands these days have their own sites and blogs (some designed and maintained by my good mate Ariel, in fact) but Neil’s been doing it longer than most (actually I am trying to think which published author has been blogging publicly the longest now – anyone know?). To celebrate the anniversary he and his web elves are going to make one of his books free to read online for a month – and they are asking fans to pick it out. Neil being Neil he has thought about it and offers up some advice for picking one from the four on offer (the brilliant American Gods, the very funny Anansi Boys, the recent Fragile Things and the far-too-good to be just for kids Coraline):
“What I want you to do is think — not about which of the books below is your favourite, but if you were giving one away to a friend who had never read anything of mine, what would it be? Where would you want them to start?”
One of the things I like about writers blogging – and Neil’s web journal in particular – is the way it allows them to interact with readers and I like the fact this interaction is being celebrated by asking those readers to pick a book of his that might get others to look at his work. Its an interesting move because it will generate a lot of online discussion and linkage for his site and interest in his books, it might introduce new readers to his material in a painlessly free manner and, as Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross and others have proven, putting up free digital version of your work (they have done it under the Creative Commons license), far from harming traditional sales seems to work to boost reader awareness and interest in your work and so help sales.
I’m not sure which of the four on offer I’d choose myself – I think American Gods is a splendid story with some great use of myth, a book which could work for readers who don’t normally go for science fiction and fantasy novels in the same way his Sandman series worked for people who normally didn’t buy comics (and my signed copy of American Gods is one of the prizes gems of my collection). But it is very long and that might make it hard to read on a screen. Anansi Boys is very funny and a bit shorter while Coraline is deliciously creepy in places and there is the movie version coming up and – oh smeg, I can’t decide! But it is still a good idea.
And on a personal note I’m still indebted to Neil as one of the writers who spoke up for me on their blogs back when I was going through the whole Waterstone’s firing thing a few years back; he said something like if he had his own bookstore he’d like me working in it, which is one of the nicest compliments a bookseller can get and that I was ‘opinionated but in the good way’ which seems like a reasonable description. Anyway, happy ninth anniversary to Neil and his web elves.
I was asked recently to do another interview about blogging for an upcoming TV programme. They wanted to avoid the normal static interview so opted for asking me questions while walking alongside me with a camera in Princes Street Gardens, which was fine, except being a sunny, spring day the place was full and, not unnaturally, everyone was looking at us (is it for the telly? Who is he?). I’m pretty far from shy but neither am I a total extrovert (regardless of what some folks think! I think I am a bit of an introverted extrovert actually, which, if it sounds like a contradiction in terms is fine, because I’ve always enjoyed being one of those) but jeez, talk about self-conscious! This is why I much prefer doing radio (plus I have a good body for radio) or being on the other side of the camera.
Anyway, it seemed to go well and I managed to forget about everyone watching us as I got onto my High Horse and discussed freedom of expression in blogging and tried to relate it to the growing culture of censorship we seem to be experiencing from governments and corporations alike. How much of it ends up in the cut I have no idea, although the folks making it did tell me they had interviewed someone at the LSE before coming to see me and he had apparently been interested in seeing my interview because that case still comes up; I quite liked the idea of my overly-opinionated blog posts being referenced in an academic essay, it appealed to the part of me that is the Eternal Student (frankly I’d be happy spending half my life studying one degree after the other if it was feasible, purely for the pleasure of learning and applying it). It does all make me wonder what my old computer mediated communications lecturer would make of it all; I’m sure Mad Dog McMurdo would probably find it amusing.
Apart from some mild embarrassment though it seemed to go quite well and they will let me know once it is all put together, etc. Not sure I actually want to see it since frankly I avoid being in pictures for the most part, but I know my mum will want to see her wee boy on the screen; before anyone asks, I am not available to join other Z-list celebs on I’m A Talentless Twat Get Me Out of Here or Big Brother, although I am available to kiss Shilpa Shetty. Talking of which, how mad was that reaction to a very showbiz kiss? I’m told that public kissing is frowned upon in much of India; I know one shouldn’t disrespect different cultures, but burning effigies because someone kissed in public? Good grief, get over yourselves you stupid, uptight numpties!!! Can this really be the land that gave us the Kama Sutra?!!? And you just know most of the guy burning those effigies and professing outrage at this kiss would bloody love to get a chance to snog Shilpa, hypocritical tossers.
Funny thing was, as we were setting up to film I got a phone call from my Norwegian friend Vidar; by coincidence he and his friend were lying on the grass in the Gardens enjoying the sun and nursing hangovers and had spotted us, so I went off to join them afterwards. When they asked us what it was I told them we were location scouting for a new Scottish porno movie “Tossing the Caber”, but alas these days I suspect I would be relegated to a bit part (mind you, depending what bit it could still be interesting). Since it was a warm, sunny evening I ended up doing the Annual Rite of Spring, which involves paying homage to the return of the Earth Goddess in the time honoured Celtic tradition (we went to the Pear Tree and sat out in the huge, cobbled beer garden for some al fresco drinking).
Bobbie Johnson wrote a feature in the Guardian at the weekend celebrating the tenth anniversary of blogging (ironically just as I was celebrating the fourth birthday of the Woolamaloo blog), running through various events, from the first blogs, to the appearance of Boing Boing, politicians joining the blogosphere, blogs from inside Iraq, regimes trying to censor blog and imprison their writers, the first high profile ‘doocing‘, the recent case in France with Petite Anglaise (who I’m glad to see won her case against her employers) and hey, what do you know, a mention of myself and a certain sandal-wearing Evil Boss at the Bookstore That Shall Not Be Named. Funny old world. The Guardian, along with the Scotsman, was one of the first print newspapers to pick up on that case, here it is a couple of years on still being mentioned there.
You may recall that a few weeks ago I recorded an interview for CNN for a programme on the freedom of expression online. I haven’t actually heard from them since then as to when the programme was going out, but this morning my chum George got in touch to send me this link to CNN’s page, where, lo and behold, there is an article based on some of the interviews in the programme, including myself. I do hope this doesn’t mean I’ve missed the programme!
My friend Cheryl, on reading this, sent me a link to an interesting related item where Brian Turner is facing a possible court case by a nasty company who want to sue his company and him personally over comments by disappointed customers of that company on his discussion forum. Nothing derogatory, just complaints from unsatisfied customers – however this company seems to think that customers are not allowed to make comments and anyone who allows them should be bullied (and let’s face it, that’s what this is – bullying people and abusing their freedom of expression). Good luck to you, Brian, but a shame you need to go through this. As I said on the CNN interview, one of the biggest threats to our freedom of expression online today isn’t from governmental interference but from corporations. Corporations that haven’t realised that this kind of action backfires on them because it will line them up for ridicule and criticism online and that isn’t going to help you get new customers.
Okay, that’s a matter of opinion, I grant you! But I refer not to my own (obviously wonderful) personal charm but to the fact that the union and I have drafted and sent in our appeal letter after I received my official notification of dismissal. Looks as if the appeal will be before the end of the month, quite possibly on the 25th of January. Which is, by coincidence, Burns Night, and also the night our SF Book Group was due to meet. If the appeal fails then the next step would be an industrial tribunal.
I’m glad to say the regulars of the Book Group still want to meet – obviously outside of my former bookshop – so we’re still planning to get together to discuss Susannah Clarke’s remarkable debut novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (great review here by Andy Sawyer on TAO). Again I’ve had terrific support from them and it is rewarding to know they want to continue the Book Group.
At the end of the week I was on a phone interview for a radio show in Eire and then was interviewed by a journalist from Italy and also a journalist from Germany. As if this were not enough I’m informed by a person I worked with many times over my years in the book trade that the story also made the lofty heights of the Dundee Courier! Quite a number of fellow bloggers have been continuing to mention the events on their own blogs – again I simply haven’t had time to go through everyone’s and post the links here (I have managed to read through them though – thank you all again for sending them).
I have now had comments on the blog and direct emails from every continent on our little wired planet with the exception of Antarctica (the penguins will be preparing for the Antarctic winter so will have little time for emailing) and the story has gone through a number of languages – it really is quite remarkable.
I’ve been receiving comments and direct emails from a quite incredible number of people from around the world. Some of the most recent have come from Italy, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Australia, China, all over the USA, Canada and Belgium (Michiel told me that a Belgian paper De Standaard not only published the story they ran a Dilbert cartoon next to it! Priceless – obviously they got the joking tone, unlike the company).
I was writing yesterday about the way in which I have always loved the connections you can make via the web. Distance and geographical borders are no impediment – communications flow as fast as Einstein’s rules will allow around the world. It looks as if even language is no longer the barrier it once was – barriers can be surmounted when we really feel we have to, physically and spiritually. It’s stimulating and humbling at the same time.
I’ve always enjoyed being part of the online community and the SF community, but never as much as now, despite the worries and travails which come with all that has happened. We may not think about it every day, but we should pause and consider from time to time just how marvellous it is that we can reach out to one another across distance and time. If it makes me feel like this I wonder how valuable it feels to those who are infirm or disabled or housebound? Those in more isolated areas?
Here are just a few of the latest links:
Fohla Online (Brazilian newspaper).
Nu.nl from the Netherlands.
The Blogger’s Rights Blog.
And closer to home here in Bonnie Scotland (and it is actually nice today – cold, crisp, clear, sunny and calm after the gales and storms. Not superstitious, but I do hope that this is a good omen!) from Scotland’s other quality broadsheet, The Herald, which has some very interesting angles on it on blogging, privacy, freedom and companies – worth reading for any bloggers actually (thanks to Bob for the link).
This link isn’t about me (good, some folk will say!), although it came to me via a nice letter of support (and some nice suggestions) from Jason, who is a presenter, journalist and musician. He is trying something very interesting in terms of making music and downloads which he hopes will benefit the victims of the recent tsunami, which has been another instance of the web and blogs being used to effect good.
Very busy – right from the off as I had a reporter and photographer literally on my doorstep first thing this morning. A little later as I was finding out what an odd experience it is to look at or read about yourself in the papers (and it is odd) and I had several more calls. A very nice lady from my MSP’s office called to say someone from the BBC had tried to reach me via them and she put us in touch. A little later another call and then as I was preparing to head out to the BBC’s new Edinburgh studio (down by the Parliament, across from the Scotsman’s new home) yet another, both from other BBC radio stations and programmes, so I ended up doing three short interviews in a row at the Edinburgh studio for BBC Scotland’s Newsdrive, BBC Radio 1′s Newsbeat and Radio Five Live’s Drivetime. The irony is the last time I was in a BBC Edinburgh studio was to discuss literature and I had been asked in as an expert bookseller from a well-known company. Fate, it seems, never tires of playing silly buggers with all of us…
As if this were not odd enough for me, I decided to walk back since the foul weather had abated. I got as far as the Cowgate when a woman in a car passed by looking at me. She pulled in, got out and crossed over towards me. I noticed the Real Radio logo on the car – it turned out she had been trying to get in touch with me earlier, but of course I had been out at the Beeb. She recognised me as she passed from the morning papers and so there was another quick radio interview, just like that. Isn’t life strange – but would we have it any other way?
Back home and a few more calls and an enormous amount of emails and new comments on the blog, including some more media enquiries. I’m still trying to read through the latest batch of emails and comments. They are incredibly diverse – a spectrum of folk across the online world, from lecturers to booksellers, mountain climbers to lawyers, from China to Texas, Norway to Australia. The inter-connected ‘global village’ – a cross section (one person, Eric I think it was, even quoted a suitable piece from de Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac in his comment – my all-time favourite film – plus one of my favourite poets, Edwin Morgan, does a killer Scots translation of the play!). If there are any anthropologists reading this, I imagine there’s a potentially interesting paper in both the differences and unities among bloggers and other online dwellers and events like this would be a good place to start the study. Cyber anthropology, anyone?
I would dearly like to be able to respond individually to each person who has taken the time and trouble to contact me, but there are too many to keep up with right now – it really is overwhelming in all senses, but also quite wonderful. Rest assured that I thank you all very much (and for the person who asked what sort of fashion victim I was with beard and bandana I’d have thought it was obvious I was a buccaneer you cheeky scamp – as my cutlass was out of shot and the parrot had been eaten by the cats I understand your confusion, nameless one, arrrrrr).
The fact that so many diverse people from around the world have taken time in their lives to offer sympathy and support even although they have never met me is uplifting; it is also a nice illustration of the way in which technology allows many of us to connect with others. I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of the web (even back pre-web when it was just a mostly text-based internet many of us enjoyed online discussion groups). I’ve connected with a number of folk through the web over the years, some of whom have become very dear friends and who I would never have met otherwise. It’s also been nice to hear from some folk who found that they enjoyed the Woolamaloo in general, never having heard of it before recent events (a point I’ve tried to make – this was just one among tens of thousands of blogs).
Common themes emerging seem to be about the possible erosion of the freedom of speech and expression (considering what it cost for us to have freedom of speech this is most understandable, as is the desire to protect what was so dearly bought) and the intrusion of the corporate world into the personal; how far should a company have influence into the personal life of staff? Where do you draw the line? How much of your life is your life?
Quite a few folk have commented on how they have experienced similar problems with other companies. Two folk here in the storm-lashed UK have told me that they lost their jobs over their blogs, so the news articles aren’t quite right on the claim some made that I was the first to be ‘dooced’ (as the term now is) in the UK – JGRAM has his blog on his upsetting experience here. Another contributor going by the wonderful moniker of Dykenee Crossroads (superb!) told me she lost her job in September 2003 because of work mentions on her blog. I suspect that there will be further problems in the future, which is probably one of the reasons the media have become so interested. The public reaction and the inter-connection and support of bloggers and other web users shows that it is something of a Pandora’s Box for employee and the employer and both have to be careful. It can be scary, but I still say there’s a lot to be said for being a Virtual Citizen.
The online version of today’s Guardian article, with related blogging articles.
The Scotsman article (I’m indebted to one contributor who drew my attention to the adverts beneath it – have a look!) and also the Edinburgh Evening News – BTW the Scotsman group generally requires you to register to use all of the facilities, but it is free (and useful) – go to www.scotsman.com to register.
I’ll need to try and post some more links as time allows (job searches and application forms to fill in, talk to bank etc).