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!

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.

My Interstellar Journey to the Forbidden Planet

I was invited down to London yesterday for a friendly chat at Forbidden Planet International after they had contacted me last week. FP are wanting to improve their graphic novels and SF books side of the business and wanted someone who could promote good books, select them and who was enthusiastic for the genre (there are plenty of folks at FP who, like me, are seriously into the books, comics, RPGs etc which they sell; they retail them but they are also fans). They had heard of me though all that had happened and liked what they saw – the kind words of support from you all has really helped here and again I thank you all.

I will be based in the Edinburgh branch and start on Monday 14th – so a nice Valentine’s present for me as Matthew remarked – with interaction with other crew and perhaps some branch visits etc as required. Obviously I am happy to be going back to work again – it is a great weight off me. I am even more delighted to be going to a better job (and better pay, thank you) where my enthusiasm, knowledge and skills have been actively sought and encouraged.

I am also over the moon to remain in the book trade and to be in a position where I can continue to promote good writing and exciting new authors. I’ll be doing online work and hopefully working with the store staff on in-shop material too. We have ideas to begin with but it is the kind of new post that is going to mutate as it goes along and I’m sure both FP and myself will be coming up with new directions and ideas for me to perform. Frankly I’m looking forward to that aspect of the post – it will be a lot of work but I’m sure if I can promote good SF in a mainstream store I can really do it here. The fact that the post is likely to grow and change as we think on new areas I can contribute to is great and I’m pleased that I’m still going to be a part of the SF community as a fan, a reviewer and a bookseller.

And no, I didn’t meet Leslie Neilsen or Robbie the Robot on the journey (and I was on the look out for Monster from the ID) and if I am honest it was inter-city rather than interstellar, but that’s artistic license for you :-). I did have a trip into deepest, darkest Essex to visit the warehouse. There were so many piles of Spike figures from Buffy that it would have had female fans of James Masters (and some of the boys too I guess) exploding from the groin outwards. There was an incredible Spider-Man which was basically a life-size decoration – I know one mate who would love it as an alternative garden ornament (beats the hell out gnomes, but harder to take on airplane rides a la Amelie).

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.

United we stand…

And since I’m posting links, here is an extremely relevant link, being the web site for my union, the RBA. I’ve been a member for many years now and have often advocated membership to folk who ask – the more members then the stronger the union and the more it can ensure the welfare of the staff (plus previous generations of our family were miners and would never forgive me for not advocating unions).

It also means you have someone in your corner should you find yourself in an employment dispute – how prophetic that I felt this given the circumstances I found myself in! I’ve certainly had good support right from the get-go – I felt so freaked out when I was first suspended and sent home and I can honestly say I felt some relief once I had been in touch with the RBA, so you’ll forgive me for quite shamelessly plugging them here. The genially smiling Dave who is on the main page is the man who kindly accompanied me and supported me through my recent hearing and was a steady prop to me on a stressful day.

Latest links

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). from the Netherlands.

Diverse Books.

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.

Busy day

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.

More links

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 to register.

BBC online article.

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).

Quick Links

Your ever-so handy, cut-out and keep list of links pertinent to the current shenanigans, very kindly compiled and listed by Olly – much thanks, mate.

The story goes national

Had the unusual experience this afternoon of modeling in Princes Street near my former bookshop for two broadsheet newspapers, the Scotsman and the Guardian, both of whom had contacted me independently after coming across the story (which is thanks to the many people who have been discussing it – Great Zarquon I’ve had emails from Canada, America, South America, Europe, Australia and even from China), so if you are in the UK you know which papers to look in and if you are outside then the links above will take you to the online versions of both.

They requested photographs, hence my modeling in a very windy Princes Street this afternoon, much to the bemusement and amusement of passers-by (well, we always aim to entertain here too) and curious looks from a few former colleagues through the window. I had prepared a cover story just in case – since so many magazines have been criticised for contributing to eating disorders through the use of painfully thin models, this was a reaction. Ladies and gentlemen, the new fashion model for Beer Drinker’s Monthly, sponsored by the Caledonian Brewery (I wish). The pull-out centrefold is, alas, just to fit in my tummy and my big mouth. I am a trifle worried about how many chins will be visible, but soldiered on nonetheless

The power of communication

Word of mouth has long been a method of communication which many people like – it’s personal and direct. In the Information Age we have electronic word of mouth: a message, if it strikes the right chord, may ripple outwards, forwarded on and on. That certainly seems to be the case here as other people around the planet, from around the UK, Europe, America, Canada, Australia and others have been commenting (mostly in a supportive way, thank you).

My blog was something I ran for fun, for therapeutic value and because I enjoyed the fact I entertained some friends with it and made new friends via it. Small-scale and mostly read by friends and friends of friends and the occasional person who would come across it somehow – just another (darkly humorous) blog among many tens of thousands around the globe. Now it is being discussed for good or ill by a large number of people around the world – other bloggers, fellow booksellers (in and out of my former company), publishers, fellow reviewers and writers and even journalists.

Neil Gaiman has just discussed it on his journal – very nice to see he remembers me and the enjoyable events we’ve held together in Waterstone’s in Edinburgh (the very first one in our windowless basement, full to capacity, just after Neverwhere came out, years back when I still had hair. For the second one in a nice, Georgian restaurant I had to make up the fliers myself – another piece of promotion I undertook myself for a company event to make sure it went well and readers knew of it).

Jo Best has written a fine article on the online journal Silicon.Com here and Tim Richardson of online IT journal The Register has posted another article here. Martin Waller has written a short article on the City desk of the Times (thanks to Olly for the direct link and also for pointing out Jo Best’s article is also here on CNET). I’ve had some more enquiries this afternoon and will keep you all posted. I’d like to add, for the benefit of anyone who thinks I am just trying to extract some sort of vengeance that this could all have been avoided easily and that I am mostly being approached by journalists who have read of this on another blog or Boing Boing or in one case I was told the reporter heard of it via a writer who brought it to his attention, so I’m not muck-raking or mud-slinging here – people seem to want to know about what has happened.

It is good to see how many people, many of whom I have never met or heard from before, are offering me their best wishes and sharing their outrage. Right now I’m getting ready for a trip to the Job Centre for my interview, searching every site I can online for work and desperately hoping to sort something out before I hit a financial black hole (oddly enough I really didn’t plan out my finances, such as they are – bookselling, like retail, not being a big pay industry – around losing a job after eleven years at the start of the New Year. Bizarre Kafka-esque black comedy notions are running through my head and the timing, being suspended right before Xmas, adds an almost Dickensian flavour to the proceedings.

When I think on what may happen if I don’t get work quickly I feel physically sick with worry – the many offers of support so many of you have extended to me, along with the help and love of friends and family who have been wonderful throughout keeps picking me up when the black waves of despair break upon my shores. The late, great Douglas Adams once said you should always know where your towel is – if I may extend the earlier metaphor, my friends and loved ones have picked me up and towelled me down.

Richard Morgan offers support

With the kind permission of author Richard Morgan I’m posting the text of a rather eloquent letter he wrote to my former manager and is copying to Waterstone’s head office:

Dear sir,

I am writing with regard to the dismissal this week of one of your long-time employees, Joe Gordon. As an author who has had dealings with Joe through author events and signings at your branch, I was stunned to learn about the proceedings. I can honestly say that in my experience, Joe has always behaved with the utmost professionalism and enthusiasm, and a brief round of conversations with other authors has only reinforced this impression. He is a valuable member of staff of the sort that any bookstore should count itself fortunate to have.

I understand that this dismissal has been occasioned by comments on Joe’s blog column, which I read on a regular basis and thus am familiar with. While I don’t wish to interfere in company business, I have to say I think this bears comparison with taking disciplinary action based on private conversation overheard in a pub, and raises some disturbing issues of freedom of speech. Waterstones is, after all, a bookseller, whose stock in trade is the purveying of opinion, not all of it palatable to those concerned. You sell books which offer serious critique of the corporate environment and government, but do not expect to suffer punitive action from government or corporate quarters as a result. You sell books which criticise and satirise religious and political groups, but you do not expect to be firebombed by extremists as a result. Surely Joe has the right to let off steam in his free time without having to fear for his livelihood as a result. The action that has been taken so far bears more resemblance to the behaviour of an American fast food chain than a company who deal in intellectual freedoms and the concerns of a pluralist liberal society.

It seems to me that this whole matter has been an unfortunate over-reaction with no positive outcome for anyone concerned. Joe has lost a job he liked and did well, Waterstones the company in general and your branch in particular will attract rather negative publicity from the incident, and there will doubtless now be all the lengthy confrontational unpleasantness of an industrial tribunal. In short it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. Surely there has to be a more productive way to deal with the issue. I worked for many years in management myself, and I understand well the stresses and complexities of situations like this. But given the value that Joe offers as a participative member of Waterstones staff, and given the issues of free speech raised, I would hope that some compromise more in keeping with a civilised society and an intellectually involved company could be reached.

Though I shall hardcopy this letter to you and Waterstones head office next week, I would appreciate your response to this e-mail as soon as you have the opportunity.

Many thanks.

Yours faithfully

Richard Morgan

Another author, Edinburgh-based Charlie Stross has also posted a very considered opinion on his live journal.


Since Cory Doctorow posted the dismissal story on the excellent Boing Boing yesterday there has been a lot more discussion on this matter (Boing Boing also has an interesting related article on companies who have fired staff over blogs – a worrying trend). Quite a few more comments posted here and a number of other web sites discussing the matter now.

I’ve also had some very kind emails expressing sympathy, outrage and support from a wide variety of people, many of whom I have never met, including some people who I can’t name because they work in the book industry in the UK (indeed some actually work for Waterstone’s all around the country) and I don’t want to cause them any problems – nonetheless it was very kind of you to get in touch with me, thank you. Kind words from several writers and editors I have worked with have helped cheer me up. One editor generously commented that I had helped increase the awareness and sales of some of their imprint’s writers. It’s nice to know that so many people appreciated my efforts in bookselling, even if my own company ultimately did not.

As the ostensible reason for my being dismissed was that my sarcastic rambling were bringing the company into disrepute (a rather flexible and nebulous term) this whole shameful debacle has been something of an own-goal for Waterstone’s. The thing is, they must have anticipated that the story would become more widely know if they fired me. Both my union rep and I pointed out that potential bad publicity could be an outcome if I was fired (in a general manner, we certainly did not threaten them with such a tactic).

As this move was supposedly because they felt I was causing harm to the company’s image why then would the company make this move which could only result in more discussion and coverage of their actions, which most folk seem to agree was heavy-handed? It seems to fly in the face of the argument that they were trying to protect their public image. Quite a number of people have expressed their disgust and their intention to go elsewhere for book purchases, so this whole thing has been an enormously counter-productive move and one which need not have happened had reason prevailed.

Among the latest folk discussing developments(not enough time and space to list everyone) are: The Community At Large, Scribbling Woman, The Republic of T (which also has an interesting piece on an international blogger’s rights ‘bill‘), Detrimental Postulation, Cyber Junky, Foreword.

More discussion

More discussion online here at Diverse Books and also on Edinburgers (where opinion is mixed, so let no-one accuse me of not putting in links which include people who do not agree with me – that is in the nature of free speech after all).

In response to some of those there who consider that I am to blame for my current woes, I would re-iterate once more that this is an incredibly heavy-handed response. I did not set out to attack the company in some systematic manner – if I had wished to do so then I could have; I did not. In fact I have over eleven years done much to publicise the company in a variety of ways, nor has my work quality been questioned. You would think therefore that someone with so many years of service would be treated a little more fairly.

Surely the sensible thing would have been for my manager to have a word with me and warn me that the company found this unacceptable? Bearing in mind there is no specific policy on blogs etc, only a very vague ‘bringing the company into disrepute’ which could be interpreted in any way the company sees fit. I and the union offered to cease if it caused such offence and to accept a warning and suggested a clearer policy be issued to guide other staff in the future, but this was disregarded.

There is also the issue of how the company became aware of a minor blog. They would not tell us, even at the hearing, who made the complaint and the nature of it. I think I should know who my accuser is and what they took exception to. Especially since the blog clearly states that it is satirical in nature. It raises issues such as why are companies monitoring their employee’s personal time online (the union has told me of another case where the same company has dealt harshly with a staff member over a web issue (not a blog)) and does a work contract hold sway over your personal life outside of work. I also asked if I were to repeat such a tale in the pub to a friend and the wrong person overheard it would that be a disciplinary breach? By the way they are interpreting the rules, it would seem to me it would, which would be a shameless invasion of your freedom of expression. In the event I did not receive an answer to that question either.

Regardless of personal feelings however, it was a very silly action to dismiss me in this manner since it has made things far more visible, which given the company did not want online discussion to begin with is ironic. If this has been dealt with in a quieter manner I would not now be urgently trying to find a new job and Waterstone’s could have saved themselves from bad publicity and from losing a long-serving and experienced member of staff who always tried to increase the diversity of the range, support good, new writers and encourage others to read them via reviews, author events, nmedia appearances and a book group. Now does that sound like the actions of someone who was setting out to really rip apart the company image? Complaining in a humorous way about a bad day at work is not exactly high treason now, is it?