Saturday, 30 June 2012

Why I'm grieving for a magazine

I heard some news yesterday that left me seriously upset – The Word Magazine is closing down.

This probably sounds a little pathetic to a lot people, but I'm feeling something like grief. I've read every issue of the magazine since I picked up a copy in 2004, had a subscription for the past four years, listened to all its podcasts for the past five, and logged into its website nearly every day. It's been part of my life and I'm going to miss it terribly.

It's been the regular filler for chunks of my time, anything between fifteen minutes and two hours, when I want to flop out with something that entertains yet stimulates me. The magazine focuses mainly on music but also covers movies, TV, books and often strays into technology and social issues. The podcasts have been lovely, light hearted chunks of conversation between the staff and various figures from music and the media. The weekly email has introduced me to lots of entertaining snippets from the internet, and the giveaway CD lots of great music that I wouldn't otherwise have heard.

On top of that the website has been something special. Its blog section has allowed the readers to take over, starting their own conversations – sometimes serious, sometimes flippant – that often draw hundreds of comments. It's pulled off the stroke that gets the best out of the internet, creating a community of people with similar interests who enjoy conversing with each other. For a middle aged bloke who doesn't do regular evenings in the pub in any more – and I'm sure it's the same for many of its male and female readers – it's given me the joy of jumping into fun conversations whenever I'm in the mood. And I have been to a couple of its readers' mingles, and found them to be lovely occasions.

No-one's sure how much of this may continue in another form, but the magazine has provided the focus and after one last issue it won't be with us any more, another victim of the business model for publishers has fallen apart. I've got every sympathy for the guys who set it up – Mark Ellen and David Hepworth – and all the people who work with them. They've done a great job and I hope they can earn a living doing something similar.

It's nothing like as bad as losing a person that you love, but I'm losing something that I've treasured over the past few years, and it's going to leave an ache that won't go away for a long time. That's why I don't think there's anything silly in saying that I'm beginning to grieve for a magazine.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A bearded bishop and a big society

I'm never sure what to make of religious leaders getting involved in politics. I can understand the case that if they want their faith to be relevant to the real world, and the instinct to tell them to butt out of stuff that's not their business.

It gets more difficult when one day they say something that annoys me, and soon after come up with a statement that gets me nodding approval. As with last week, when the CofE claimed that gay marriage would undermine its status for us hetrosexuals, and today when the Archbishop of Canterbury has reportedly said that David Cameron's big society is a load of old tosh, designed as an excuse for the state to stop supporting people who its support.

Overall I find Rowan Williams an agreeable character. He's had to fudge a few things to keep the CofE together as the gap between its liberal leanings in most of the world and its bigots in Africa gets wider, but I'm sure it's loyalty to the institution that drives him; and I suspect that if it comes to the crunch he would be ready to wave goodbye to the ones who want to stay in the 19th century.

I also go along with his view on the big society. It's another twist on the Conservative preoccupation with shrinking the state, cutting the tax bill for rich people, and leaving more vulnerable people dependent on charity.

But I'm wary of making myself a hypocrite by saying that it's alright for the CofE, or any church, to give Cameron some stick in public but that it ought to stay quiet about an issue like gay marriage where it's lining up with a lot of conservatives.

So I think the church should say its bit about big social issues, even if it's straying into politics. Us liberal types can always argue when we don't like what it says, and the fact is that in Britain the various churches, even the establishment CofE, don't have the weight to swing an issue one way or the other.

I just fear what would happen if some of the evangelist churches here might get well organised and start chucking their weight about in the political arena. You've only got to look at the States to see how intolerant and nasty it can get. As long as our wooly old CofE and people like its bearded archbishop are the main religious force in this country it's better for all of us. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Why has the CofE got nasty over gay marriage?

I'm an atheist, so maybe this is none of my business. Then again, I'm English, and the Church of England is the officially established church of the country, with a bunch of its bishops sitting in our legislature, so it is my business. And I reckon it's the business of anyone who wants to see this become a more civilised place to live. Why has it become so snotty about the idea of gay marriage?

My first reaction to the CofE's warning that letting gays marry will spoil it for us heterosexuals who have tied the knot was mild surprise. I thought it had grown up over the fact that there is a large minority of people who fall in love with others of their own sex, and had quietly accepted the idea that they have the same rights as the rest of us. After some thought I became mildly annoyed. Doesn't the church, or at least the cabal in Lambeth Palace who wrote the relevant statement, realise that the majority of people have got over the homophobic thing?

Then I thought of the reports that David Cameron is in favour of it gay marriage, even prepared for the government to legislate for it, and I got really annoyed. I had found myself taking sides with a Conservative prime minister against the cuddly old CofE. That made me really annoyed. I've got used to thinking the church was the part of the establishment that spoke out against the excesses of Conservative governments, and don't like to think of it redrawing lines to put us liberal types alongside Cameron and his mates.

It's nonsense to suggest that allowing gay people to marry will weaken the institution for the rest of us. People regard marriage as a serious business and won't stop because the option becomes open to a group who were previously excluded. There's something profoundly daft in the idea that millions of marriages would suddenly be in crisis if churchmen can marry gay people.

I suspect that the little group who put out the statement know that as well, but they're more concerned with staying sweet with the reactionary minority of Anglicans in the UK, and the vocal bigots who seem to hold the reins of its diocese in Africa. But in placing an emphasis on internal politics they're shackling themselves to social attitudes that prevailed a hundred years ago but have thankfully been disintegrating here over the past twenty.

Despite being sceptical about religion for a long time I've usually found the CofE quite agreeable. Over the past few decades it's had a 'live and let live' attitude, hasn't been too sanctimonius and some of its people have done good work in communities around the world. And I know that some of its clergy are really angry over what happened last week.

But this is making me wary. I still believe most Anglican clergy here are tolerant, open minded types, but if the church makes too many accommodations to its overseas homophobes it's going to be tainted with their bullying bigotry. Then it wouldn't have a place in a civilised country.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Self-published and satisfied

I'm currently feeling very pleased with myself as I've finally made my collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, available as an e-book on Amazon.

It's not what I dreamed of for a publishing debut over the years I slogged away along the traditional route, but I got fed up with trying to impress people in the business a few years ago. I've got enough confidence in my work to know that it's better than a lot of stuff that does get published, even some of the books on the bestseller lists. But I'm not famous for something else, I don't know lots of people in the industry and I've never had the shred of luck that comes with a manuscript falling onto the right desk at the right time. And self-publishing seems to be following the route set by the music industry in using the internet as a route to get new work out there – good and bad – without the approval of people who often get it wrong. So I figure my book has as much legitimacy as any fiction a big company will publish by a comedian/actor/politician or the brother-in-law of the woman who runs the marketing department.

At the moment I'm also feeling very well disposed towards Amazon. It makes it easy for writers to self-publish for Kindle; I had to spend some time fiddling about with an HTML version of my manuscript, and it's one of the few times that I've actually read terms and conditions from beginning to end, but I expect it would have been much harder to do everything for myself, and the book's now available to anyone with an internet connection and a credit card.

The next step – making a hard copy available through Amazon's CreateSpace – looks more daunting. I spent some time on its website this morning, realised it all works from the US, and shuddered at the thought of having to deal with the US tax authorities, who seem to have a reputation akin to the Stasi. Also, the first effort to format the book didn't work, and I suspect that getting the ODF document into shape will have me growling at the computer and muttering a few profanities.

But I don't mind. The book's out there, people can find it, and I've broken through that mental barrier between being an aspiring fiction writer and someone who does it for real. And I know that I've already sold some copies.

All I've got to do is get lots of people interested in buying the book, hopefully on both sides of the Atlantic. That could be even harder than writing it, but facing up to that is a lot better than the thought of more approaches literary agents. I've got a target market among atheists and a strategy for tapping it into it through social media, I've started to hone my tweeting skills, set up a website, and begun to blow the trumpet at anyone who may be interested.

This is fun.