Brian Viner: 'Like all columnists, I'd rather be abused than ignored by my readers'

Share
Related Topics

A few years ago in these pages I related an anecdote about a young curate and a fierce dog. It was a funny tale told to me by an elderly clergyman friend who assured me that he had been that very curate, and yet by an unfortunate coincidence the same story had appeared in the Independent's property section just the day before, presented by an estate agent as having happened to him.

I didn't know this until a few days later, when I opened an envelope to find my column and the property feature clipped together, with an arrow pointing at my picture by-line alongside the single word, "twazzock". This had been sent anonymously, so was vaguely unpleasant in the way that anonymous post always is, yet it also made me laugh. And at least it had arrived in the post, whisking me back to the 1980s when I first joined a local newspaper, and old-fashioned letters – or in extremis, telephone calls – were the only means of communication between writer and reader.

That all changed with the invention of the email. Folk who might not have got round to writing a letter, had only to tap their computer keyboards a few times to let a journalist know what they thought of his or her words. Sometimes this electronic feedback is aggressive, in which case the best course of action is not to reply, and certainly not to enter into sustained dialogue. Nobody wants a poison pen-friend. And yet it's often hard to resist. Not long ago, I received an email angrily calling me "incredibly self-possessed". I wrote back, politely saying "don't you mean self-obsessed?" No, my critic thundered, I mean self-possessed. "But," I replied, "it's a good thing to be self-possessed, it means being in full control of your faculties. I'm sure you mean I'm self-obsessed." "Don't tell me what I mean," came the reply, and so our correspondence continued, with me offering advice on the correct invective.

And now we also have the blogosphere, making it even easier than the email for readers to register contempt or, indeed, support. Either way, the journalist's work has never before been subjected to such an instant and public assessment which, good or bad, can be a hugely positive force, although there are also some remarkably intemperate people out there. Colleagues such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown know this better than I do; the abuse she gets is shocking. I write about more mundane matters, and am less pilloried. But not long ago I had to ask The Independent's IT people to remove a comment referring to me as a four-letter C-word that wasn't 'clot', after I'd owned up to being ... a Volvo driver.

All this was meant as a prelude to writing about the play by Pentabus Theatre Company based on my book Tales of the Country, now in rehearsal prior to its world premiere in Shrewsbury next month. I approach the subject tentatively, because last time I wrote about it, a blogger accused me of delivering the longest book plug he'd ever read. Still, if it's any consolation to him, Nick Warburton, who has adapted the book for the stage, liked the twazzock story so much that he has my character being called a twazzock repeatedly. In Shrewsbury, I'll be the one watching through his fingers. Which is also how I'll read the online comments following this column. I just hope there are some. All columnists would rather be abused than ignored.

Anyway, while I'm shamelessly if not twazzockly plugging my own books, I might as well mention the next one, about the British on holiday. I have two friends who run travel companies, and some of their stories make me realise that a journalist is mere grapeshot-fodder compared with the cannon fire these guys occasionally get from people dissatisfied with their holidays. Which is fair enough, if the complaints are justified. After all, a holiday is a rather more significant investment than a newspaper. But one elderly Englishwoman returned from a very upmarket African safari incandescent that she had found a frog on her verandah, and demanded a portion of her money back.

My other friend runs cycling holidays in Europe, and employs a dozen reps. Last summer, one of his reps found the stress of the job too much, so stripped off in the middle of an Italian piazza and set fire to his clothes. The hazards of writing for a living suddenly seem rather tame.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Account Manager / Telesales - £24,000 OTE

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Strong telesales or retail expe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

Recruitment Genius: Chief Engineer

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chief Engineer is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Web Marketing Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Renewable Energy compa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: stupid questions in opinion polls, in the House of Commons and in job interviews

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?