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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. ****

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. **

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 🙂 https://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.


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 woolamaloo.org 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.