When it is Right to Bow Out

(This is, word for word, the announcement of our withdrawal of The Dead Beat from Not the Booker Prize. Thank you to everyone who supported Cody. No doubt many of you will have thoughts, but for Cody’s sake, and in the interests of dignity, I would be grateful if you demonstrated your love for her and for her book with a simple upvote for the announcement here. Thank you)

To call us a small press would be a gross overestimation of our size, so entry to many prizes is beyond our reach. Not the Booker Prize has, therefore, been red ringed on our calendar since we first took on The Dead Beat and started getting it ready for publication over a year ago. We loved the rambunctiousness of it, the hackles it raised on the way, and ultimately the great discussions it led to.

 

The press is just one part of eight cuts gallery, which exists to promote amazing work in the arts in exciting ways, Principle among these are the press, our online exhibitions, and our live shows. But what each element of what we do has in common is a belief that the very best art is a celebration of life. In all its complexity. And, contra Wilde, in honesty. That belief, and a refusal to compromise it in any arena, is built into the fabric of everything we do.

 

As a result, we realise that many places we go we will raise eyebrows and maybe the odd hackle. As the guy who runs eight cuts, I set out always to meet those hackles with genuine respect for the person behind them, with dialogue in pursuit of understanding, but not by compromising what we stand for. I believe that we owe it to the small niche of people who would love what we do to place integrity before superficial manners and compromise that aim at superficial civility. And I believe it is part of the respect I owe interlocutors not to sweep disagreements under the carpet or assume they will act in a belittling way to genuine offers of dialogue.

 

That said, when all attempts at conversation are met with stony silence and comments that insult readers, such as the third one on this thread, gain 22 upvotes, it is clear that I have made a miscalculation. I am big (no, really, I’m 18 stone) enough and ugly (no, really, my danholloway avi is pukka, I am) enough to take dislike of us and what we do on the chin. And Cody well, she’s 7 stone and doesn’t look a bit like me, but anyway she doesn’t mind bad reviews.

 

But I did make a miscalculation about Not the Booker, for which I issue a wholehearted apology to Cody, and to those people who knew neither me nor her but read and reviewed the book in good faith, and loved it. By targeting Not the Booker, I have brought those readers and reviewers ridicule – not at all from Sam, but from commenters and people who have come across the book through Not the Booker. The assumptions of log-rolling and the names and insinuations that have been levelled against people who genuinely believe The Dead Beat to be as special as I do are immature at best, deliberately hurtful at worst, but most likely lie somewhere between the two, either in what Jack White would call the “sea of cowards” or the smirking hipsterdom of “I can snipe smarter than you.”

 

Most of all, I apologise to Cody. Not because I entered her book for a competition where she ended up with a bad review. We talked that through, we know this is a book people will get or not get, and I knew that Sam’s review would be a fair, balanced reflection of his opinion. And I was right. Rather, I misjudged the mood of these forums, their willingness to meet dialogue with dialogue, to accept differences, and most of all to talk about the book rather than sniping at the author or readers. As a result I have exposed her to comments that no author deserves to have levelled at them, I have let attention get diverted away from her incredible book, and I have misdirected energies that could have been spent reaching out elsewhere.

In order to allow Cody the space she deserves, it is both with regret, and not with regret, that I withdraw The Dead Beat from Not the Booker. I hope there is time for the 7th placed book to be included. I am very proud of what we have achieved at Not the Booker, and of how we have conducted ourselves. I know others will dissent from that opinion, as of course they are entitled to do, but I believe when looked at from a distance the forums tell their story.

The Dead Beat is withdrawn from Not the Booker, but eight cuts gallery’s doors remain permanently open to everyone here. We invite you to try before you comment, maybe come and see one of our live shows – we will happily waive entry fees and offer a free paperback if you turn up for anyone from these forums so that you can see just what we do.

Thank you to Sam for Not the Booker, to the readers who have voted for us despite the abuse aimed at them, to all those reviewers everywhere who love Cody’s work, to everyone who believes in the power of art to celebrate life, and most of all to Cody for producing such a perfectly-crafted exemplar.

 

 

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19 Responses to When it is Right to Bow Out

  1. J Farfort says:

    Dan, it’s easy for anyone to write a sneery comment whilst hiding behind a laptop, yet it’s harder to write a lyrical, and thought provoking book such as ‘The Dead Beat’

  2. danholloway says:

    Thanks, J. I’ve been reading Jack White’s comments on the subject today – man, I love that guy (and The DEad Weather are the best live band ever – so sad I’ll never see The White Stripes). I think the most cowardly – and it’s the same on Amazon – thing, and the most hurtful, is up- and down-voting, because of the anonymity. It’s like every single day at school when you’d try and talk to people and they’d turn their back on you and make out how they loved talking to everyone but you

  3. Viv says:

    Such a sad thing.
    I’ve been following at a distance(been away and disconnected from internet for a week or so) and hoping things go well.
    There are people who make a policy of going round giving books bad reviews, just to make their own look good. It bemuses me why people do such a thing.
    Courage, mon brave.
    xx

  4. danholloway says:

    Thank you. It’s not bad reviews that bother me – no problem with that at all. It’s the snide personal comments and insults aimed at readers, and the general culture of thinking it’s cleverer to snipe than to engage in conversation. It’s bully behaviour.

    • Viv says:

      It is indeed bully behaviour. You may have seen in the news a young man jailed for trolling Fb pages etc of dead teenagers. It’s part of the same animal.
      I’ve read the review, now, though I have yet to read the book, and it shows some of that snipiness too. Going to read the comments now too.

  5. Jo Carroll says:

    Dan – this is written with such dignity – but then that is what you do. Forums can be such strange places – and it’s sad to see this book become a casualty of them. Hope Cody is ok.

  6. Sorry you felt you had to make this decision – a shame, but I see why. Some of the comments were pretty mean-spirited and petty (although I’ve seen worse!). You handled it with dignity; as ever. Don’t know if you checked back on the comments after your withdrawal post, but there’s been comments in support of both Eight Cuts and The Dead Beat.

  7. danholloway says:

    Viv,that’s sad. I have come across some pretty despicable behaviour on a writers’ site with members who had died, but whose profiles had been left up out of respect at their family’s request. I will say I don’t find Sam’s review snipy and his behaviour behind the scenes has confirmed my belief that he is a truly decent person.

    Jo, thank you.

    James, thanks, I will go and read the comments. I haven’t been there since posting as my mum has just started chemo and my time and attention have been elsewhere today. If people have been supportive I really really want to say thank you, but I don’t want to aggravate other people and bring unwanted attention Cody’s way, so I’ll have a think what to do.

  8. You and Cody have my unqualified support for ever, and no Booker or Not The Booker will change that, because I know what’s behind the books and other items of art: honesty and integrity.

  9. marioninnyc says:

    While I didn’t notice any snark aimed directly at me, a snippet of my review of the work was quoted in a blog that was linked to the comments, and described as “the sort of orgiastic songs of praise which no disinterested reader can take seriously.” I wouldn’t have described my review as “orgiastic,” but as the blogger said, “tastes vary.” My point is, while I respect Dan’s decision to withdraw, and am not second guessing it, I think those of us who supported the book could have taken the heat.

  10. sjmckenzie says:

    help a newbie out…I’d like to actually read the comment thread – is it just the one attached to http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/09/not-booker-dead-beat-cody-james?

    Or is there another thread with more bitchy comments?

  11. Dan Holloway says:

    SJ, there are some interesting comments on that thread, and at least one of the paragraphs in this piece (the one about upvotes) refers to the comments on the Not the Booker thread, but that is by no means the only place involved. Cody has asked me not to post any other links, and I respect her request

  12. sjmckenzie says:

    OK…

    Just for a bit o’ fun here. I thought I’d try a parody. Because I found the review kinda funny too:

    Say what you like about Sam Jordison’s review of Cody James’ The Dead Beat. There’s no doubting his sincerity. His review is sincere. There’s real warmth in the first paragraph, in which he tells you what the book is about, and the character’s names. There’s real generosity in Jordison’s assessment of James’ descriptions of the house they share. And there’s real repetition in the sentence construction, creating a rhythm of initial praise leading to the inevitable ‘but’ at the beginning of paragraph 2.

    But this sincerity is also the reviewer’s biggest weakness. I couldn’t help thinking about the (bloody famous) writer Oscar Wilde when reading this review. Not because they have anything in common, but because of his famous line “a little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal”. Jordison has made the mistake of letting his review get in the way of a good review. In concentrating so relentlessly on his credibility, he’s neglected the well-being of his readers.

    In almost every paragraph he turns to a new feature of James’ style he dislikes, reverting to citing the “show not tell” rule of writing, as if James was attempting to follow this and was unable. It quickly becomes monotonous. Perhaps such repetitive, hollow despair is a function of working for the Guardian. Perhaps Jordison is to be commended for typing out the quotes so accurately onto the page. But that’s a generous reading.

    Meanwhile, it’s impossible to show such forbearance towards another of symptom of his demonstrative writing surfeit: The review suffers from adverbitis. Seemingly every other statement and action has to have a qualifier. “In concentrating so relentlessly” instead of just “in concentrating” is but one example. Elsewhere he replaces literary criticism with manuscript assessment, or plain old copy editing, even reverting to criticizing the writer’s punctuation. I hope he gets paid the correct rate for this valuable service.

    There are other uncomfortable quirks. After having made the point about James’ excessive verbiage, he makes it again, with another quoted example. Why? Why so many quotations from the text? Why the repeated use if the rhetorical question? The review is only 1 page long, but would benefit from being 20 shorter.

    But at this point, I should pause. There is some good writing in the review. Ultimately, I felt sorry for Jordison and I wanted him to get better at reviewing. In spite of everything, I was made to care.

    So, bookending with positivity to create the appearance of balance, I will say that the good news at the end is that Jordison has potential. The Guardian is to be applauded for keeping him on. The bad news is that this review is far from a masterpiece. There’s enough here to make you hope that one day he will write a good review – but also to wish, sometimes, that you weren’t reading this one.

  13. Dan Holloway says:

    🙂 I don’t know if you saw, but Sam’s latest Not the Booker review was a very witty (if very tough) tke on the book’s narrator, very much in this style.

  14. sjmckenzie says:

    No, but I do now. I’m not sure about witty, but at least it isn’t ploddingly sincere like the Dead Beat one.

    Wonder if there’s a word count target for these articles.

    Anyway good luck with the book.

  15. danholloway says:

    Thanks. We’ve withdrawn the book from the shelves at Cody’s request, save for those in bookstores, and will be giving them away to people who donate to anti-bullying charities. Full details here
    http://forbookssake.net/2011/09/26/beyond-the-valley-of-the-trolls

  16. sjmckenzie says:

    Nice piece. Indeed, when people tell you to toughen up, they often just want you to shut up.

    And my own question about the Dead Beat situation: why the hell do so many people seem to think that freedom of speech starts and ends with their own opinions?

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen people, works and ideologies openly attacked in public internet discourse, and when the attacks themselves are challenged, the participants cite some feeble, badly-constructed notion of “freedom of speech” or “critical space” which they think is there to protect their right to hang shit on things they dislike without any comeback. Someone is arguing me with! It’s censorship!

    I guess people involved might like to think this is a slightly different case because the participants are self-styled literary critics but I think underneath, it is the same. Anyway, I would have thought a genuine literary critic would relish the opportunity to have a detailed interaction with the author about their work. If you don’t want to engage, then why post criticism about the work on a public forum? And if you yourself are so thick-skinned, then why get all antsy when the person responds?

    Plus I can’t see any real value in commenting on works of art that are so clearly outside of the genres you personally enjoy. I refrain from commenting on individual Dixie Jazz records because i dislike Dixie Jazz in general so what use is a critical review by me? It would be like: “This should actually be folk music. Then it would be better. Because I like folk music.”

    I’m going to crawl off back to my lair now.

  17. Only just catching up with this. So sorry it’s come to this for you and Cody. Give her my best. I salute your integrity, dignity and big heart. And I was sorry to read that your Mum is ill – that kind of thing puts other stuff into perspective.
    Take care and keep up the good work.

  18. danholloway says:

    Thank you, I’ll give her a hug from you 🙂

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