Saturday, May 09, 2009

Alan Moore speaks

I was kept very busy this week finishing editing and setting up my mate Pádraig's incredibly Massive Mega Moore Marathon - its a new (15, 000 words or so, phew!) interview with Britain's Wizard in Extraordinary, Mr Alan Moore. In fact its so big I had to break it into three sections across three days on the Forbidden Planet blog - part one is mostly concerned with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, especially the new third volume Century, the first volume of which comes out this month (Century 1910), the second next year (Century 1969) and a final part which is set in the present day after that.

It will surprise no-one who knows Alan's work to learn that the subjects and themes and references covered are diverse, from the Threepenny Opera to Jack the Ripper and Monty Python. Part two is where Alan talks about future projects and other works (including doing some work for a local youth culture mag which included Alan telling the kids the truth about drugs! Brilliant), taking in magic and James Joyce along the way, with the third and final part, which I posted up yesterday, is where Alan graciously agreed to take some selected questions sent in by readers of the FP blog. Its enormous but fascinating reading - many thanks again to Alan and for it.

On a related note, earlier this week we found out that media analysts Cision had posted a list of the top fifty blogs in the UK. As you might expect its dominated by politics blogs and blogs from established traditional media like the BBC and the Guardian. And in there at number 31 a solitary entry from the worlds of comics and science fiction - the Forbidden Planet blog. Needless to say I am surprised and delighted - I started that blog just over four years ago, now we have several contributors and its grown a lot (so much so that its a real juggling act for me to balance keeping the blog fires stoked and working on the main webstore; usually that means I end up doing a lot in my own time to keepit going, as do some of the contributors). And its nice that its grown so much since I started it and that a lot of folks in comics and SF communities check it out, but to see that its in the top 50 of all UK blogs? That its up there with Guardian blogs? Wow. Just goes to show that if its done correctly (and honestly) a good blog presence can be more effective (and cheaper and more enjoyable for you and your readers) than huge amounts of advertising. That's the sort of thing that can happen when you embrace blogging culture as a company instead of screaming hysterically at it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Liveblogging from Bristol

My friend and regular on the science fiction and fantasy convention circuit Cheryl Morgan is embracing more comics culture (well done, Cheryl) and is liveblogging and Tweeting from this weekend's annual Bristol International Comics Expos, one of the major comics gigs in the UK (and usually a lot of fun), with guest input from Paul Cornell and Tony Lee and hopefully some others. Some other chums, the guys from the excellent Geek Syndicate Podcast, are also hoping to do live audio blogging and mini podcasts through the con, assuming the tech holds together.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, April 27, 2009

You swine!

Doctor Monastashus van der Koala, head of medical studies & sneezing at the University of Woolamaloo has been updating the Gazette to recent international epidemic news. He points out that while the mainstream media has been covering (or stoking public panic about, depending how you view it) the Mexican Swine Flu outbreak across the world (he advises worried readers that if going to a Mexican restaurant do not dance a salsa with any pigs who are present, no matter how friendly they are or how big and jolly their sombrero), he alerts us to a similarly name disease which has so far been ignored by the meedja: You Utter Swine Flu. This is a contagious condition which manifests itself in sufferers growing pencil moustaches and enduring uncontrollable urges to perform Terry Thomas impressions and generally act like utter cads. You have been warned.

You know I just realised when I got the WG back on the air tonight that I had forgotten my own sixth anniversary - the blog version (it previously existed as spoof newspaper articles done one emails from '91 onwards) of the WG started on April 7th, 2003. I notice that by coincidence back then I was writing a satirical piss take about the media's ridiculous bird flu coverage (or panic inducing nonsense) which had everyone convinced the world was about to end any moment and lead me to a new hobby which involved standing close to visiting Asian tourists in Edinburgh and doing an elaborate sneeze and dropping feathers to scare the hell out of them. Now today its Swine Flu. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose. I do wonder if both stories could dovetail - if some flu ridden birds and pigs, high on Lemsip, got down together and bred could they produce a hybrid strain of bird-pig flu and thus the world ends in a cloud of sneezes, feathers and the smell of bacon. Well, maybe when pigs fly. Which if the birds and pigs get it on could happen.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

off the air

Apologies to anyone who swung by over the last week and found some odd 'parking' site instead of the Woolamaloo Gazette - my domain registration had expired but the company had my old email and so I never got their reminder (they used to send snail mail too just in case but obviously not any longer). At first I thought I had a hijacker at first, but it had just been parked as a now not owned domain, but I got it sorted out (after a lot of long waiting on hold) and with some help from my mate Darren (who set up the original cogs and wheels once I bought a domain back at the start). Anyway, finally notice as of this evening its back up (and with it my regular email which comes through the same domain), which feels good - hated not having the Woolamaloo on the air, even if I don't write quite as much on it as I used to.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Happy 4th birthday, Forbidden Planet blog

The Forbidden Planet International blog I set up a few days after starting work there turned four years old today. Its vastly jumped up the Technorati rankings since it started, had some nice things said about it by a lot of folks, we've posted a ton of reviews on all sorts of comics, graphic novels and SF&F books, news and interviews with authors and artists from those who create in their spare time at home right up to the giants of the medium like Alan Moore, and hopefully we've done something I've always enjoyed doing and that's introducing readers to books and graphic novels they might not have picked up otherwise. I've been a bookseller for years and written about books and comics (and movies for that matter) for about as long but that's still one of the best feelings, when someone tells you they picked up something new that they might not have read because the saw it mentioned and as a result they found something new that they discovered they loved. I still get a buzz from that.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

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 norm
ally 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.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Stephen Fry blogs

UK national treasure Stephen Fry has started blogging, his first post on a subject he shared with his friend the late Douglas Adams, his love of gadgetry (link via Richard's Fictions)

Labels: , ,

Saturday, July 28, 2007

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. ***** -

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. ****** -

3. Don’t let money change ya! **** -

4. Always reply to your comments. ***** -

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ****

6. Don’t give up - persistance is fertile. *** -

7. Give link credit where credit is due.*** -

8. Follow your own path. Do anything you want to, it’s your blog. **

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

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.

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 :-)

-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.

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bloody blogger

Some of you may have noticed that I hadn't posted for an entire week then suddenly two posts with old dates crop up. Blame bloody blogger. Ever since the new version came in there have been problems (and not just for me judging by some of the forums I had to search for help since Blogger now makes it very hard to get in touch directly for problems, not very user friendly) and this isn't the first time the admin side says my post has gone up but nothing appears on the live site. In this case it took exactly a week for material I wrote last Friday to turn up and I'm not happy about that. I've been talking to a good friend about what would be involved in moving to a full Word Press set-up like I use on the FPI blog but keeping my domain, which I can't do with the free, basic version of WP. But if blogger is going to continue to be so unreliable and to make it so hard to get in touch with their help folks when it is going tits-up then I am going to have to think about changing one way or the other.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 04, 2007

Gag that cartoonist

Yvonne sent me a link to this Daily Dilbert by Scott Adams, which I am guessing may refer to the recent case of the cartoonist Matt who works on the webcomic Three Panel Soul with Ian who was fired from a government job because he and a colleague were talking about hobbies and he said he enjoys paper target shooting. As R Stevens from Dieselsweeties notes, he wasn't talking about guns and people, shooting people or anything of that nature, in fact he was saying he thought it would be good to have guns which would be harder to use to keep people safe. He was fired because his colleagues are now apparently scared of him.

That may sound like nonsense to some who will be thinking hey, he must have done something else, but given that since Columbine a number of US schools have expelled kids who have done nothing wrong except wear a black duster coats (thus probably alienating the kids and giving them a real grieveance to hold, ironically) and an English major at college was harassed by campus police because he had written a horror story so the dumb-ass rentacops on campus assumed he must be a homicidal maniac, and suddenly it looks a lot more plausible. The great American official logic at work - don't do anything to control access to weapons, just fire people you don't like; of course, if Matt was a violent gun nut then surely this would have provoked him to march down to his ex employer and shoot all the former co-workers who got him fired??? Behold the one thing scarier than nutters with guns - the average fucking idiot...

But as Yvonne points out, this Dilbert cartoon also has a certain resonance to something closer to home, about a certain bookselling blogger fired by his version of Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss, Evil Boss and his equally Evil Sandals, for mocking him and, of course, by firing him allowing him to step up the mocking to outright Defcon One Intercontinental Ballistic Lampooning launches. Stupidity rules, alas, but at least we can take the piss out those stupid smeggers!

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

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).

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

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.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 21, 2005

On the nature of appeals

Well folks not quite there yet, but we're almost there. Paul, my RBA union rep called me this morning to say that the company had been in touch again. We actually received a letter regarding the appeal last week but as it was subject to ongoing negotiations between the union and the HR dept I hope you'll all understand I couldn't really talk about it on the blog, although it was a positive letter.

From this morning's call it sounds like we're hopefully going to be wrapping this whole episode up very shortly and, I am pleased to say, in a manner which is mutually amicable. Sorry to be such a tease, but I promise I will post to let you all know the full outcome as soon as I can, but I did want you all to know that it seems to be going very well from both sides.


I had a most peculiar email the other day there from the National Library of Scotland. They, along with the National Library of Wales and the British Library are involved in a project called the UK Web Archiving Consortium, archiving (as the name rather implies) selected sites from the various kingdoms which make up the UK. They were asking for permission to archive a version of the Woolamaloo as a Scottish site of interest.

Well, as you can imagine I was as surprised as the man who ordered smoked kippers for breakfast only to be given a suffocating fish and a packet of ciggies. My poor flabber has been somewhat gasted, to say the least and I think I will humbly respond in the affirmative, while maintaining my right to mutter 'wow' and 'huh?' as the occassion warrants. Tell me, guys, is it just me or is that one of those events that just makes you go 'what?' in a bemused fashion?

There was also a little flurry of press attention again at the end of last week. I'm told I was in the List (the indispensable Glasgow & Edinburgh what's on guide, which also has a very good comics and graphic novels section in the books review pages) and the Edinburgh Evening News ran a nice follow up story covering my move to Forbidden Planet. You can't see it on the online version but the picture clearly had the Gandalf standup lurking in the background. I'm sure Sir Ian wouldn't mind.

BBC Radio Five Live had me for a short interview which was more on work and blog matters in general rather than my own experience specifically and a photographer from the Independent came to take a pic for an article being written by Michael for this Wednesday's edition, which again is on blogging and work issues and not just on me (which I'm sure is a relief to everyone tired of reading about it). I still feel a bit silly posing for pics and it is still very odd to read about or see yourself in the papers. Perhaps I should get a stylist. Although I suspect I'd require an army of stylists to try and do a make-over on me and even then they'd have their work cut out. Oh well - to thine own self be true as they say.

And in a bit of late-breaking news my old mate at Nil Desperandum who works for a major mental health charity tells me that The Third Force, a weekly newspaper from the SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) featured the old Gazette this week as well. I'm still rather amazed at the way this has gone around.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, January 27, 2005


One of my friends phoned me this morning to tell me to check out the Glasgow-published Herald. There was an article expanding upon a join letter attacking Waterstone's over-reaction to my blog sent in by Ken MacLeod, A L Kennedy, Iain Banks and Neil Davidson.

I was unaware of this happening - Ken had hinted that there was some form of joint letter by authors in the works, but this was a (pleasant) surprise. I've had so many folk from around our little, wired planet offering support and it is still incredibly uplifting to see something like this; to know that people will take some of their own time to help someone else. I feel humbled and uplifted at the same time and very, very grateful.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Well, the appeal was yesterday afternoon. Ironically the location was at the branch down in Leith (the harbour area of Edinburgh), which I was instrumental in helping to set up back in the autumn of 2003. Last time I was there I had any number of bods from our head office coming up to view it and shaking my hand while congratulating me and my little team for the very good work we had done. Odd way to return.

We kept things short. We contested the notion of 'public domain' since there is no way an obscure blog can be compared to the likes of writing in a mainstream publication or mass media outlet - it is (or was) hard to find unless you knew what you were looking for and the supposedly offensive articles spread throughout large amounts of other material even more difficult to locate (assuming you knew to look for them to begin with).

We also pointed out that no customers had ever complained after reading it and that indeed I knew friends who read the blog and still shopped at Waterstone's and writers who would attend events and buy books there, so the idea that I was somehow destroying the company's image was ridiculous - they read it and still shopped there.

The new item was the recent news I received from my previous manager who left over a year ago. He kindly contacted me after reading about it all to say he was surprised that the blog should suddenly become such a bone of contention as he and the then Area Manager both were aware of it way back then (2003). So why was it okay then but suddenly a firing offence in December a year later?

And again if the company was taking such exception to it, why not take me aside and talk to me about it?
Understandably this meant that the folk conducting the appeal were unable to give us a decision since they will obviously need to look into this and discuss it, so at the moment the union and I are waiting to see what develops. It would be nice to think that the company will be reasonable since no-one wants to go down the route of an industrial tribunal, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, January 06, 2005

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want rain without thunder and lightning.”
Frederick Douglass

Over the course of the Woolamaloo Gazette I have posted on a wide variety of subjects; sometimes on books, movies or simply the city of Edinburgh; often on topical and troublesome ones. This however is one of the most difficult I have ever had to write. Shortly before Christmas, in the spirit of that season, my manager at Waterstone’s asked me to come into the office. Within a few, short moments I was told that for comments I had posted on this web site I was now subject to an enquiry to determine if I should face a disciplinary hearing for ‘gross misconduct’ because I had ‘brought the company into disrepute’. I was informed (more than once) that this could cause my dismissal. I was suspended on pay and escorted from the premises of the bookstore I had worked in for eleven years.

Because of the holidays the disciplinary hearing was not held until yesterday, Wednesday 5th. I could not really talk about it here while the process was ongoing – I am now free to discuss what happened for the brutally simple reason that Waterstone’s dismissed me from my job yesterday. They took great exception to my mentioning of work on my blog. They said I had violated the rules and brought the company into disrepute. I think by their actions they have brought the UK’s biggest book chain into disrepute.

Anyone who has been a regular reader of the Gazette will know that I do occasionally mention my work life, although it accounts for a fraction of my written output. Like many folk I am not always happy at work (I have good days too, I don’t go in miserable all the time as I’m sure former colleagues would attest if they could) and me being me when I mention bad days or annoying occurrences I do so in my own satirical, sarcastic, comedic style. I often put many things into a basic narrative form, add characters etc. So I would coin terms such as ‘Bastardstone’s’ and have a character called ‘Evil Boss’ (my equivalent to Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss – in fact I compared head office directives to being in a Dilbert cartoon). I once referred to a chum and former colleague, Olly, when he found a full time IT job after his graduation as being a successful member of the Escape Committee at work. This was brought up at my hearing yesterday. My protest that this was (to me a bloody obvious) spoof on the Great Escape didn’t seem to cut any ice. This will give you an idea of what I faced.

I pointed out that I had not set out to deliberately ruin the company’s image. In fact I don’t think I have even inadvertently; if I had wished to do that then I would have been running less satirical and far more biting comments on a rather more regular basis, rather than commenting from time to time about a bad day at work, a grumpy manager or the like. You’d think I had run a sustained propaganda campaign of subversion.

I pointed out that I did not let my annoyances get in the way of performing my duties at work (indeed no complaint was made about my work) and that, like many bloggers it was therapeutic to vent steam outside of work. I pointed out that I posted these comments in my OWN time, writing in my OWN home for my OWN blog. It’s not linked to any official Waterstone’s site and does not reflect their opinion but mine. The site clearly says (twice) on the header that it is SATIRICAL and that it is my ‘mumblings and rants’. I expressed my own OPINION in my own time, something I am legally entitled do (the European Convention on Human Rights, part of Scots Law since the devolved parliament was brought in expressly guarantees this right). I told them I felt they were violating my civil rights. I told them I have informed my MSP because of this.

Long before full universal suffrage in this country we still had stinging satire (recall those Punch cartoons among many others) – it is an accepted part of our culture and one of the ways individuals have to remind large organisations, be they companies or governments that we too have a voice and a right to use it. People have used satire, sarcasm and humour to make points for centuries. Today that freedom is enshrined in law.

I pointed out that I had over my eleven years promoted Waterstone’s in many ways, sometimes on my own time. I have organised and hosted more author events with more writers for the enjoyment of more book-buyers than I can recall. I have written for the guide books which Waterstone’s had printed on various genres. I have appeared in print media and broadcast, talking on the BBC in my own time about literature, introduced as an expert bookseller from Waterstone’s in Edinburgh. That’s publicity you can’t buy. I had contributed to the Edinburgh International Book Festival when Waterstone’s still sponsored them. I told them that there were numerous authors who would tell them that I had been an excellent ambassador for the company. I even defended them when the company was attacked in the Scottish press for not supporting independent Scots publishers (oh the irony). None of this seemed to matter to Waterstone’s yesterday.

I asked why, if the company did not like me commenting about work on my blog they did not simply have the branch manager have a quiet word with me? Should that not have been the proper way to deal with this? I told the hearing that if this had been done I probably would have refrained to keep the peace. My union rep also brought up this point. We did not get a proper answer to this question. We asked how the blog (which is not exactly high profile) came to their attention and who lodged the complaint. They didn’t know. Enquiries were made during and adjournment. We asked again afterwards. We were told that they were not at liberty to tell us this. So I do not know who my accuser is, which seems rather unfair to me.

I pointed out once more that I was outraged that a company seemed to think it had the right to tell an employee what opinions they could articulate in their own time. I asked if I repeated some of the articles they found offensive in the blog to a friend in the pub would that not also be defaming the company by the logic they were employing here? I was not answered. I pointed out that this was like the Thought Police and invasive of my rights. I was told that if I discussed anything to do with work then I was representing the company and must conform to their rules. Obviously I dispute this strongly – this is like saying we have a new feudal system where companies are the lords and employees are mere serfs who they own. How can I possibly be considered to be representing the company on my own site in my own time? In fact do not most companies around the world have riders attached to their email saying explicitly that any comments within are not necessarily those of the company? So why do they assume I am talking for the company on my own site in my own time? That makes no sense to me.

I am not a serf; I am not an indentured servant. I am a free man with the right of freedom of expression. The company does not own me, body and soul – conforming to their rules at work is to be expected, but in your own time and space? How can anyone be expected to go through their personal life in fear of saying the wrong thing? No-one should.

This has left me dreadfully upset. That a company I have given so many years to could treat me in such a brutal manner is despicable. That a book company thinks so little of the primacy of freedom of expression is alarming. I pointed out that Waterstone’s has stated publicly several times in the past that as a bookseller they believe in the freedom of expression and not in censorship. In fact a campaign was mounted a few years back which had banners along the lines of ‘what did Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot have in common? They feared the power of the written word. Celebrate Freedom of expression with us.’ Some folks may recall it. I asked if this was actually meant or was it simply cynical marketing? I was not answered.

I have never been fired in my life until now. I have never even been unemployed – I worked my way through college (that’s when I began at Waterstone’s). Now I find myself having to urgently try and find work at short notice, I find myself worried about my financial security, my bills, my mortgage and how to get another job after eleven years of service and where that will be and when. I find myself having to consult with my union over what appeal or action we can now take against this company for their despicable, dishonourable actions.

Fortunately my family, my friends, fellow bloggers, fellow reviewers and writers have been offering me sympathy, advice and support. Times like this, they say, are where you find out who your friends are. Well, I have found out I have a lot of immensely good friends and they have lifted my spirits remarkably. I’m not alone.

And other bloggers and readers, new to this site, you too should pay some attention here because I’m not alone and these shameful actions affect more than just me. These actions have implications for everyone who blogs and works, which, let’s face it, would be thousands of us. If my rights to the freedom of expression can be ignored in this manner then so can the rights of any worker’s. You also have to ask yourself who is listening to you? Who is reading what you write and passing judgement? Is it acceptable for companies to be monitoring what their employees do in their own time? To act as if your employment contract controls every aspect of your personal life outside of work?

The free expression of opinions and thoughts is the most primal of our democratic rights. Our entire culture is based around it. The book trade could not exist without it. The internet would not exist without it. Blogs would not exist without it. Once upon a time a man was executed for translating the Bible into English – considered a dreadful heresy and, more importantly, a threat to the power and control of the authorities of the time. Eras change, but the notion of powerful groups trying to subvert the ability of others to communicate remains constant. That’s why we have laws and rights.

Freedom of speech, freedom of expression. These are not idle words. They are not some dusty old phrases liberals like to mention from time to time. They are as vital to our free, democratic way of life as water and air.

The word is already spreading beyond my family and friends. A lot of people are thinking about this and asking themselves if this is a company they want to deal with. That is not for me to say; it is for them to decide - but you should certainly be made aware of their actions when deciding.

Other friends and bloggers have already spoken out on this and I wish to thank them very, very much for their kind words and generous support. Friends closer to home have dragged me out for food and drink and movies to cheer me up. There’s nothing in this life like knowing you have people who care for you and will always help you. It’s humbling, it’s inspiring – it sustains you when all else seems dark and I thank you all so very much.

There are more than I can properly thank here, but here are some of their writings on the subject already expressed: Ariel; Matthew; Lili; Nil Desperandum. Many more have emailed me. I really can't express my gratitude enough to you.

Labels: , , , , , ,