Thursday, 19 October 2006

Sarah Waters' Publishers - Again

Following this episode and after hearing nothing from the publishers, I visited Little Brown's website (Little Brown is Virago's mother company) and sent an email of complaint to all the directors and head of departments whom I thought could have anything to do with this.

In response, I have received the following email:

I am writing to introduce myself as Group Marketing Director of Little, Brown Book Group, a job that encompasses the marketing, publicity and design departments.

I was shocked by the contents of your email and can only apologise that you received such correspondence from our company. You are right to regard this as poor business practice; it is highly unprofessional and in no way reflects the high standards of business conduct that we seek to achieve.

I must further apologise that I am at a loss to explain the circumstance of the email since the person in question left our employment on Friday 29 September. I would like to stress three points: (1) that Clara Womersley is a person of excellent character, that she left our company on very good terms and that her email therefore comes as a great surprise; (2) that the relationship between Clara and Sarah Waters was formal and professional and could in no way be intended to convey the suggested behaviour of Ms Waters; (3) that Sarah Waters insists on seeing all correspondence - by mail or email - that is addressed to her and answers it personally or via our publicity department as soon as she is able.

Sarah is one of the warmest and most down-to-earth authors I have worked with and I would hate you to have been given the impression that being shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize would make Sarah think any differently about her readership, which I know she cares for very much.

I am copying in our publicity director [name deleted], to ensure that your original email is forwarded to Sarah. I must warn you that this year is exceptionally busy for Sarah and that she has already decided what type of events she can feasibly fit around UK publication, publication of her many foreign editions, and - of course - her writing. So please can I ask you to be sympathetic if the answer is a 'no'.

I must thank you for bringing this matter to my attention and end by apologising again that you received such a reply from our office.

Yours sincerely.
I find this reply quite satisfactory even if it doesn't explain what happened.

In a separate email from the publicity director who also apologised, I have now learned the Sarah Waters has agreed to attend to the events I have invited her to. I am just not too sure how they want to proceed for this to happen. Trust me, I will keep on nagging them though...

For the rest of the story, click here and here.

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Bad Cops

Following up on this post a few weeks ago, the Advertising Standards Agency has ruled that a Gay Police Association ad breached advertising rules

An ad placed by The Gay Police Association in the Independent, that used an image of the Bible next to a pool of blood to highlight homophobic attacks, breached decency, truthfulness and substantiation clauses of the advertising code and must never be used again, The ASA ruled this week.


Among the 553 complaints to the ad, headlined ‘in the name of the father’, was that it was ‘offensive and derogatory towards Christians’, could ‘incite violence towards people of faith and fuel prejudice, particularly against Christians’ and ‘implied the teachings of the Bible and Christianity were responsible for and condoned violence against homosexuals’.


They accepted that the imagery and headline used were primarily Christian, but argued that accompanying text made clear the issues referred to were not exclusive to Christianity. They said it was never their intention to castigate and describe all followers of religion as homophobic.

They pointed out, however, that most of the incidents they recorded were weighted against Christianity, while approximately one-quarter referred to Islam and the Muslim faith. The GPA said the campaign was a one-off and they had no intention of using the ad again.

The Independent said they regretted any offence the ad caused.

They said it was published in the Diversity supplement of the newspaper, in an issue devoted to gay rights, timed to coincide with the Gay Pride march. Following complaints from readers outlining the deep offence felt by some, they took steps to try to make amends: they published a letter of complaint they had received and also commissioned an article for the next Diversity section, which included quotes from complainants and the GPA, to air the matter fully. Additionally, they said they had written to each of their complainants apologising for any offence caused.
A (quick) perusual of the full ruling by the ASA, does not make the condamnation of the ad quite as bad as it is reported in the above article...

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Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Taking On the World

The following post is part of the biggest blog in history (an initiative of the British Library) where it was originally posted.

'One Day in History' is a one off opportunity for you to join in a mass blog for the national record. We want as many people as possible to record a 'blog' diary which will be stored by the British Library as a historical record of our national life.

Write your diary here reflecting on how history itself impacted on your day - whether it just commuting through an historic environment, discussing family history or watching repeats on TV.
More details at History Matters.

Today marked another episode of what seem to be the running theme of this week: getting frustrating by other people’s incompetence.

First thing on Monday morning, I had to walk into town (about 30min’s walk) to get to the Charing Cross branch of HSBC to try and get back my Debit Card. For some reason, the traffic was very bad and the buses were jammed.

My card had been swallowed up by the bank’s cash machine the day before when the said machine decided to crash as I was trying to get some money (the one next door did the same to another customer). The woman at the bank was not very helpful and simply informed me that they could not give my card and that it would be destroyed. Fuming, I went to a branch of my bank to order a new card.

Last Friday, I had rang my Council to try and sort out a problem with the recycling collection. For the past four weeks I had remembered to put out my recycling bags and box three times on the designated day and the collection had not taken place. I was told that a special collection would be taking place on Monday. When I got home, at about 10.40pm, after a rehearsal with my choir, the rubbish was still on the door step, uncollected. This is not the first time I have had problems with collections not taking place and had I had a car at my disposal, someone would be collecting the things from the Town Hall’s own door step this morning.

We I got at work this morning, I rang the Council to see what was happening and I was told that they actually had until Thursday to do the collection (normal collection day is on Friday) and that I should leave my stuff out until then.
Every time I ring them I seem to be getting a different version of things. I told the woman who answered me how frustrating I find the whole episode. I added that I was one of the people who actually want to recycle and that I was now considering giving up. How do they expect to engage people who are not convinced by recycling when they would face so much problem doing is beyond my understanding.

Today I am also hoping (without holding my breath) for a response to an email of complaint I sent yesterday to most of the heads of department at Little Brown (a publishing house). Some time ago, I had sent them a request for one of their author, Sarah Waters (shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize) to consider attending a meeting of the reading group I moderate and perhaps also an event organised by the community group I co-chair. In response, I receive a rude email from one of Little Brown’s staff: “rather sit on hot coals??!!” Not a commercially viable way of treating their customers, in my view.

With all this my blood pressure must be running quite high today and running the risk of soon being able to blog about the NHS and how useless they can be if things carry on that way…

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Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Foley Scandal

Catching with the current sex scandal (very complete wikipedia entry there) rocking the (pretenciously named) "God's Own Party" only a few weeks before mid term elections, I have to admit to being slightly confused.

Mrk Foley (52, single, apparently more or less openly gay) is basically being accused of having had fairly explicit online conversations with teenagers (about 16 years old) working as pages in the US Congress. Large extracts of the messages have been published in the media (see link above for examples). Apparently no sexual encounter ever took place.

This is perhaps not of the highest morality but I can't really see what is actually wrong here. The teenagers are supposed to be chosen from amongst the most clever of the whole country and reading the extracts they very much seem to know what is going on here and they don't really seem fussed about it. Foley is not forcing them to respond to his questions and if they weren't happy with the turn of the said conversation they could have easily skirted the subject or logged off.

This is however what the media seem to be focusing on.

The real problems in this story, I think, from a "corporate" point of view, is that the situation is wholy inappropriate; just like it would be with any individuals conducting a sexually explicit relationship at work.

There may also be worries about some power pressures underlying the relations (powerful older man v inexperienced young men keen to keep a prestigious position), which would probably then fall under anti-arrassment laws.

There is the hypocrisy of Foley who was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which introduced legislation targeting sexual predators and created stricter guidelines for tracking them.

But finally and probably more importantly, there is the behaviour of the GOP people who have known about this for years apparently and did not really bother to do anything about it. They are now walzing back and forth between having knowing known and not having known trying to pass the buck to someone either higher or lower than them... Not a very dignified behaviour for memebers of the party who like to take the moral highground.

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At Last!

Ireland did it, Scotland did it too, the UK are about to do and Italy have done it... Now it is France's turn to ban smoking in public places. At last! The last time I was there, I almost died in a club: Everybody seemed to be chain smoking.
This week, after a five-month governmental inquiry, a parliamentary committee approved a proposal to ban smoking in public areas.

Under the measure, cafes, hotels, restaurants, discos and casinos could designate spaces for smoking only if they could be “hermetically sealed areas, furnished with air-extraction systems and subject to extremely rigorous health norms.”


France was also in the forefront in the anti-smoking movement in Europe, passing the toughest legislation on the Continent in 1991. Smoking was banned in most public places, including restaurants, except in designated areas. Tobacco products were required to carry health warnings. Cigarette advertising was banned in 1993. But there were loopholes, and application of the law has been uneven. The new measure is even stronger by making it difficult — and expensive — to create separate smoking areas.

President Jacques Chirac, who at one time smoked up to three packs a day, declared a “war on tobacco” in 2003 and imposed steep tax increases on cigarettes. Today, nearly 80 percent of the French support the idea of a smoking ban in public places.

Still, about 12 million of the French — about 20 percent of the population — are smokers, according to official government figures, and more than 70,000 people die in France every year from smoking-related illnesses and secondhand smoke.
It is interesting that the same arguments against the ban are being used in France as the one used in this country: infringment of the smokers' civil liberties and economic repercutions for businesses. No mention of the non-smokers' civil liberties which have been trampled for centuries. As for economic repercutions, I don't think there is any credible reports of any such things where the ban has taken place.

Bring it on!

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Debate: Religious Rights vs Gay Rights

Religious Rights vs Gay Rights: Should the Gay Police Association be prosecuted for inciting religious hatred?

The Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) is hosting a panel discussion around the threats to prosecute the Gay Police Association (GPA) following its advert linking religious belief to homophobic incidents.

The panellists will consider the issues the advert raises and discuss the rise of religiously-motivated homophobia in general and the increasing clash between religion and gay rights.

Date: Friday, 13 October 2006
Time: 7:30 PM
Venue: The Library
First Floor, Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL
Nearest Tube: Holborn

ALL WELCOME - Free Admission. Wine/Fruit Juice Available.

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Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Sarah Waters' Publishers

I like Sarah Waters' books. I have read two of them so far and have her other two on my shelves for future enjoyment. As moderator of a reading group and co-chair of an LGBT Network, I recently sent a letter to Virago (her publishers) asking that my email be forwarded to her in which I suggested her attending a meeting of the group and an event organised by the Network.

I did the same thing at the same time for Jake Arnott (author of The Long Firm trilogy and Johnny Come Home) at Sceptre. Someone quickly phoned me to tell me that Jake does not have email (something I know to be true) and asking me to send a letter to be forwarded to him.

Virago's reply was quite different. I very quickly received an email from one Clara Womersley with the very curt few words:
rather sit on hot coals??!!
No signature nothing else.

I know that Ms Waters has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (as I am typing this, I am hoping she will be the winner to be announced in a few minutes), which make her an important figure of British literary life, but I don't think this is a good enough excuse for her publishers to alienate her readership and major fan base.

My response was as follows:
Dear Ms Womersley,

Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to deal with my request, as you have obviously done.

I fear however that a very important part of another conversation you were having with a friend or colleague might have been sent erronuously to me and was therefore lost to the benefit of the rightful recipient. I hope this email will allow you to correct this.

I looking forward to soon being able to inform the combined memberships of the Network and the reading group (over 200 people) of the good news that Ms Waters has received my request and is considering it.

Your faithfully,
In return I received Ms Womersley's out of the office reply with contact details for one of her colleagues. I fowarded the whole lot to her without creating the smallest reaction.

I will carry on trying to contact Ms Waters by other channels and when I finally meet her I will be sure to let her know how her people treat her public, like the bitter queen that I am!

(Unfortunately Sarah Waters did not win the Prize)

For the rest of the story, click here and here.

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Monday, 9 October 2006

And Fame for Slightly too

Today Slightly is away... He is in Brussels to help the EU select a logo to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. You can read about it on his blog, of course.

What he doesn't know (yet), is that the gay blogosphere is talking about him...

And, yes, this is all my doing... I sent out the press release... I know he is already hating me for that. :O)

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Fame at Last!

I was quite pleasantly surprised this morning, as I was trawling my favorite blogs that one of my pictures (posted on my flickr account) had been given the grand title of "Picture of the Day" for 03 October on the London based and London centric: Londonist...

The comment accompanying it ran as follows:
Zefrog's simply titled Road starts right in your face and just keeps on going.

With so much of London being iconic and often built on a huge scale it's refreshing to find someone not afraid to get down on their hands and knees and take a snap of something we all take for granted.

I am now officially good at "get[ting] down on [my] hands and knees"... Take note, gentlemen!

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HIV is Gay Too

Following last week's ill judged attempt by the Lib Dems to fight homophobia by branding it "gay" as in uncool/naff, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center are following down the same route with a campaign claiming that "HIV is a gay desease".

I think there is a tiny but VERY important word missing here: "also".

Yes, many sufferers of AIDS happen to be gay and yes, there is a general apathy in the community in regards to prevention but there are also millions of straight people who are ill and this sort of campaign is, I think, only giving credence to that good old right wing religious view that HIV and AIDS are the "gay cancer" and gay people's fault.

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Monday, 2 October 2006


Following Friday's debacle, Saturday brought four hours of relaxed, companionable wanderings between the Royal Academy of Arts, Wong Key, Any Amount of Books, Caffe Vergnano and St Martin in the Fields. A refreshing change.


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