Saturday, December 02, 2006

A story

I haven't been too bothered about the kerfuffle started by Rachel Cooke in the Observer, dissing online reviews in favour of newspaper ones. For me, the Guardian/Observer have long ago stopped being an essential cultural lead. But I've always had a bit of a disdain for journalists anyway. This is not me being bitter that I'm not a writer for the 4th Estate - in fact I've hardly ever tried to get anything in a newspaper, and then its been against my better judgement. What I've found is that journalists I've had some dealings with are almost always very disorganised; unreachable when you want to speak to them; but insist on an instant response when they want to speak to you. A few years ago I was asked to contribute to a debate on the digital opportunities for writers, for the defunkt City Life, and after a phone conversation, also sent it in an email. The misquoting was ludicrous, lax, lacking sense. And there was no excuse for it - my words were there in order, ready to cut and paste. Another time, I almost did some writing for Janet Street Porter when she was editing the Independent on Sunday. I'd come up with some story ideas; they'd been passed on to a particular editor, who rang me up desperate to get in touch - having presumably been told to by JSP - and then, when I fleshed out the ideas and sent them through; nothing, despite repeated phone calls. "Did you get them?" "Oh yes, they're here, I've got your email but I've not opened the attachments." "So, you've not read them?" "No." "But you asked for them..." etc etc. But my worst story, I'll leave till last. In 1999, having completed my MA in novel writing, and combining finishing of the book with some voluntary work, I was, for a period on the dole. I'd paid my stamp for a good nine years, so was totally entitled to this "Job Seekers' Allowance." I found myself, rarely, at a rather high-brow (and low drinking) literary party in Clapham. Imagine how lucky I thought I was, when, in the kitchen, I got talking to someone who was the then new fiction editor of the Observer. How fortuitous!. "I'm writing a novel," I said. "But what do you do?" she said. "Like I said..." "But where do you work..." "I'm actually unemployed at the moment." "That's just diabolical," she said. "You're scabbing off all of us paying our taxes." "I'm finishing my novel, I'm doing voluntary work, yes, I'm going to get a job when I've finished..." I spluttered. "That's not just good enough," she said, and left to chat up my mate. It was quite amusing to think of her, a few years later, when this journalist moved on to one of the few well-paid jobs in British poetry! I wondered what she said to all the poets she was now meeting. "What do you mean? You've never wonderfully bohemian!" Despite my day job's being anything but ideal; I don't think I'd ever have had the appropriate levels of shamelessness to be proper journalist.

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