Saturday, November 15, 2008

Did Waterstones Wimp Out ? You Betcha

Has Waterstones lost its spine? A contributor called Brett on the political blog Harry's Place certainly thinks so.

The British bookstore chain pulled the plug on a booksigning by South Wales poet and playwright Patrick Jones at the 11th hour because of threats of protest from Christian extremists. He was due to launch a new poetry collection Darkness is Where the Stars Are.

Stephen Green (right) and campaigning organisation Christian Voice vowed to disrupt the event if it went ahead, saying that the book was "blasphemous".

In the end the poet had to sign copies in the street.

So what was so controversial about the poems? Jan Fortune -Wood, commissioning editor at Cinnamon Press (which published the book) :
A few of the poems deal with Patrick’s strong views on religion, particularly the way in which it is often associated with military conflict, the subjugation of women or movements that exclude the ‘outsider’. These are issues that art should rightly be pushing to the forefront of debate in a liberal society and there are people of faith who are concerned with such issues as well as humanists and secularists.
William Crawley on the BBC website says :
Mr Jones is plainly a poet who addresses political and religious themes in his work. In this collection, some poems explore the portrayal of women and some deal with the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. He uses language that is, at times, raw. He would not be the first poet to address these themes or to use raw language.
But as Fortune-Wood goes on to say :
Debate is not served by caving in to extremists, who do not even represent the majority of Christians, let alone the values of civil, liberal society, but proceed by threat and intimidation.
Surely a bookstore has a duty to support its authors - from whom it makes its money, after all, and it's necessary to stand up against all who would silence a writer's voice. (Or the space for other voices shrinks away too.)

It's the job of the British police to offer protection against intimidation and thuggery, should the bounds of legitimate protest be overstepped.

You can hear both Jones and Green talking on the BBC Wales website.

Here is the publisher's statement :

If you feel strongly about the issue, do drop an e-mail to Gerry Johnson, Waterstone's Managing Director at . (Be polite, please!)

You can also support Patrick Jones by buying a copy of his book from Cinnamon Press or from Amazon. (Mine is on the way!)

Postscript :

Carrie Dunn on the Guardian blog calls Waterstones "cowardly".

(Thanks, Jilly Kidd, a Second Life friend, for bringing this issue to my attention yesterday.)


Amir said...

Bumped into Neil Khor yesterday and he said something very similar is happening to his book on Gerakan, with some bookstores bowing down to pressure and thus not stocking it. Some background info here.

animah said...

Can't imagine it happening here. I doubt any large malaysian book chain would suddenly disallow a book reading on say, malaysian politics, by the author and contributors.
Can you imagine that?

Anonymous said...

I intend to order a copy of the book for myself but, if anyone has an address for the leader of Christian Voice, I could order one for him or her as a present at the same time. Amazon would gift-wrap it.

Walker Moore said...

Meh. This is Waterstones. Probably the most self-serving & unethical High Street book store in the UK. I am not at all surprised that they would cowardly self-censor & stifle art in order to protect their brand image... particularly after the uproar Christian Voice managed to generate when they last imposed their views on the nation. (Look up Jerry Springer: The Opera.)

I just hope they realise that, for many of us, their brand image is now forever tarnished for giving in to a bunch of bigoted fundamentalists whose views are so extreme that they even think a man should be allowed to rape his wife.

If anybody wants to buy Patrick Jones' book, please... buy it from Amazon UK. Their price is lower than Waterstones', the postage is free, and you'll be supporting an organisation that doesn't limit freedom of artistic expression by pandering to a bunch of irrelevant religious thugs.

bibliobibuli said...

anon - he says the poet sent him and email with the poems in. the poet denies it.

walker - so happy you drop by :-D

i did order mine from amazon

Cinnamon Press said...

Thanks to everyone who has ordered a book - from anywhere at all, but if you haven't got your copy yet do order it direct - from - we are running a campaign 'buy a book - annoy a bigot' to show these extremists that their attempts at censorship will backfire.

You can also keep up with events at the book's own webpage

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

i won't buy a book just as a protest. then in the future, it would just encourage authors and publishers to deliberately create controversies to sell a book. and i won't support that.

i'd buy a book only if it is a good book.

so Cinnamon Press shouldn't have such a campaign. they should instead, tell people of the merits of the book and offer it based on them. the book should speak for itself in all ways, not the controversy.

don't get mad. it's my opinion.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm buying it 'cos i'm so curious ...

Anonymous said...

"it's necessary to stand up against all who would silence a writer's voice."

Do you not reserve the right to silence a writer's voice in this blog?

bibliobibuli said...

i'm moderating comments at the moment. editors do it all the time *LOL*

let's see what other readers think.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm moderating comments at the moment. editors do it all the time *LOL*

let's see what other readers think.

KittyCat said...

Censorship in the UK? Unbelievable! I loved Waterstones when I visited London a couple of times...

Btw, do you do memes? Here's one on ABC list of favourite books

Anonymous said...

Crappy poet eggs on nutters to come and have a go at a bookshop event without mentioning his intent to the shop, and moands when he gets cancelled? Idiot - he deserved to lose the gig. It was a cheap stunt worthy of, oooh, let's say Christian Voice.

There's a good discussion about this over at Forever Delayed, the Manic's website, which posts a couple of the poems in question. They are, sad to say, rubbish.

Walker Moore said...

At least it's not government censorship, kittycat. Just a large book chain cowardly sacrificing an author's freedom of expression to protect its own brand image.

Also, Waterstones stores may have a cosy image, but their prices are considerably higher than the competition (once all the nearby bookstores have vanished anyway), and their gift card scheme is nothing but a money making racket. You can't transfer money from one card to another, nor can you use two cards for one purchase, so most recipients of gift cards end up writing off amounts of less than £1-£2 once the card expires.

The above examples illustrate the contempt Waterstones have for both authors and customers, and is why I refuse to shop there anymore.

Oh, and I told you I was still dropping by Sharon. :D

bibliobibuli said...

anon - pls give link to manic's site

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

the link is here.

Anonymous said...

there y'go.