Ten years of the Woolamaloo

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.

My turn to answer questions for a change

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.”

“Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so…”

I noticed a spike in one of my photos from this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe this week and wondered why:

Fringe 2010 - like a puppet on a string 08

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.

Change over

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.

Neil’s blog is nine

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.

Blogging meme

Normally I’m not mad on memes, those pesky little things that go round blogs and seem to be the web equivalent of the supposedly funny jokes or pictures that used to get faxed from office to office. And I got tagged twice with this same meme, as Ariel tagged me at the FPI blog for it and Big Dumb Object tagged me here at the Woolamaloo, no fair! But since this particular meme was to do with blogging I decided I’d take part; I considered being lazy and just repeating the tip I added for the FPI blog – don’t be afraid to voice your own opinion, regardless if it flies in the face of many other opinions, as long as you can defend your reasons for it. But then I decided I’d go for another tip, a nice simple one, and add it to the previous ones on the list:

-Start Copy-

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends! Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. ***** -http://www.neonscent.com

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. ****** -http://www.bushmackel.com

3. Don’t let money change ya! **** -http://www.therandomforest.info

4. Always reply to your comments. ***** -http://chattiekat.com

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ****
-http://chipsquips.com

6. Don’t give up – persistance is fertile. *** -http://www.velcro-city.co.uk

7. Give link credit where credit is due.*** -http://www.sfsignal.com

8. Follow your own path. Do anything you want to, it’s your blog. **
-http://www.bigdumbobject.co.uk

9. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can blog today. Backlogs are the primary cause of Bloggers’ Block. * -http://www.thegenrefiles.com

10. Don’t be afraid of giving an honest opinion when you post, even if it is different from most others, as long as you can explain your position and give a decent reason for it. http://www.forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/

11. Using some visual material can really make a post look more attractive – pictures, photographs, video embeds and so on, and also help break up larger posts, such as interviews and reviews to make them more readable instead of offering a huge chunk of unbroken text. Just bare in mind not to over-use pics and to keep them relevant to the article. And cute kitty pics are always popular :-) http://www.woolamaloo.org.uk

-End Copy-

 

After adding my tip I’m supposed to tag up to another ten victims to pass this on to, which since I already had to do this over on the FPI blog is pushing it a bit, but anyway, here are a few more potential victims: Padraig, Katie, Von and Moggy, Dan Goldman, Hal Duncan, the Silvereel.

 

Filming in the Gardens

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).

Blogging anniversary

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.

CNN

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.

I’m appealing

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.