I don’t want to spend too much longer discussing Stephen Leather. This is likely to be my last post on the subject for a while, depending on what other worms crawl out of his woodwork, but it’s fair to say the conversation initiated by his appearance on the ebook panel at Harrogate remains ongoing, and I wanted to do a quick follow up to the post below. With a nod to the comment Sandra Ruttan made on that, this one is going to be dialled slightly further in the direction of irate.
First off, there has been a lot of coverage. To my mind, the three most thoughtful and reasonable pieces have come from Max Dunbar, James Oswald and Stuart Neville. Stuart’s is particularly good, as it concentrates on his own experience of being pestered by sockpuppets. I was also rather intrigued by this article, principally because Leather responds in the comments below, saying:
“You weren’t even there. Steve Mosby also misunderstood my comments on forum postings, Sock puppets was his phrase, not mine.”
I want to clarify this, as Leather is technically correct. He described the behaviour he indulges in while doing promotion, and I said “You mean, you use sockpuppets?”, and he basically had to agree. But yes, the phrase itself was mine. It seems tiresome to point out that he and I were not the only people in the room, and that a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” defence can only take you so far, but we are where we are. (I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask him on stage if he used these sockpuppet accounts to review his own work, but unfortunately I had to wait until a quiet moment during the signing. You will see he indicates in the comment thread on the post below that he does not).
If the sockpuppetry was not much remarked upon during the panel, it has become a focus since. The author and journalist Jeremy Duns is – I think it’s fair to say – not a man to let things lie, and he did some digging around Leather. Unconnected to the sockpuppetry, there is this comment. It’s not strictly relevant, but let’s just say that it’s not only consistently twattish but, especially taking the context into account, breathtakingly cruel and unpleasant. Jeremy also called out https://twitter.com/firstparagraph as being a fairly blatant Leather sockpuppet. But it became even more interesting when he discovered the twitter account of a writer called Steve Roach.
(I’m going to preface this by saying I feel a bit sorry for Steve Roach, and I understand why he is unhappy. His books look interesting, and he deserves better than the treatment he’s received. If the facts are as they seem, he is a victim here, and I have no wish to make him feel more of one. At first, for various reasons, Jeremy thought Steve Roach might be a sockpuppet of Leather’s. It would certainly have been an elaborate disguise, but the apparent reality seemed just as bizarre. And yet it appears that reality is true).
Here is a storify I put together of Jeremy’s tweets from last night, which summarises the situation. Basically, it appears that Roach locked horns with Leather over his promotional tactics, and Leather responded in various ways, including setting up fake Twitter accounts, which he then used to taunt Roach with and promote his own work. When Roach – overwhelmed by this – conceded defeat, Leather ‘graciously’ allowed him to take over one of the accounts in his name. You need to read the link to appreciate this properly. Roach confirmed it in a phone conversation with Jeremy, and also alludes to it fairly explicitly in this thread.
Okay. There are some people who will be saying “big deal”. I understand that viewpoint, as it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. But I’m not interested in whataboutery at the moment, so those people should feel free to leave now.
Buckle yourselves in.
Stephen Leather is one of the bestselling writers in the world. Steve Roach is not. Assuming the facts above are true (and there is sufficient evidence that they are), then given the power difference and behaviour, let’s call Mr Leather what he is: a fucking bully.
Why does it matter? Beyond the obvious, three reasons:
1. Jeremy tweeted this last night: “We writers are colleagues. Play fair with each other, play fair with readers, don’t be cruel and vicious and so on. Obvious, surely?” Yes – surely. I’d actually extend it beyond writers to people in general, but the point stands. I don’t see myself in competition with other authors. I love the atmosphere at a place like Harrogate, where writers are friendly and supportive. In the unlikely event I’m going to attack the work of someone else, or the person in question, I like to think I’d have the modicum of integrity necessary to do so openly under my own name. And I would never promote myself under an alias because, aside from anything else, it would be illegal to do so.
2. Leather is in a position where he can influence people. He is one example, but there are other authors who engage not only in this behaviour but provably in others too: knocking down their supposed ‘rivals’ with one-star reviews, and the like. This is not how professional writers behave, for the simple reason that it’s not how decent people behave. This is not how you treat people. And yet if high-profile writers are not called out on it, there’s a danger the behaviour will be increasingly emulated and normalised. Let’s not send out the message that it’s okay to be a cunt so long as you sell.
3. The irony is that this all stemmed from a panel on which I suppose Leather and I were nominally presented as being on opposing sides of the ebook argument – that he would be for, and I against. The truth is that I dislike ebooks personally, but have no problem with them as a format: whatever works for you as a reader. And beyond a few caveats, I have little against self-publishing either. I know many writers who have been unable to either get or keep a traditional publishing contract for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of their writing. And so it actually dismays me to see people like Leather held up as self-publishing gurus and heroes, as though all that matters is money and sales and not how you get them. It is precisely behaviour like this that will make it harder for self-publishing to shake off whatever stigma it still has. It is good for nobody except the person doing it, and don’t let the people responsible kid you otherwise.
And finally – last but certainly not least – an enormous round of applause for Jeremy Duns.
Now, pictures of kittens…