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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker