What’s A Book Festival Actually Like?

This article originally appeared on writing.ie, who couldn’t have recruited a more grateful set of fingers for Twitter shenanigans than mine, last weekend, at a most splendid book festival. When not live tweeting some of the events, I took some time to soak up the atmosphere. So if you’ve ever wondered what a literary festival is actually like, here’s my take on it. On another note, I have been longlisted for the Littlewoods Blog Awards Ireland 2016 in 2 categories, which makes me very happy, and not my usual surly self at all. Woo-hoo!

What's A Book Festival Actually Like?
The writing.ie team, from left: an annoying blogger, Sunday Times bestselling author Sam Blake and particularly lovely blogger Margaret Bonass Madden from the Bleach House Library


A Crime World Away From It All – Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival In Harrogate

Is the real world getting you down?

Did all four wheels just fall off your car and get crushed by a steamroller? Has your boss just announced a corporate restructuring of exactly one employee – and that employee is you?

Or are you simply one of the many people for whom turning on the news these past months has felt like playing Russian Roulette with your will to live?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time you turned to crime. Fiction, that is. Crime Fiction. And without making any more glib remarks on the state of things at the moment, there is a lot to be said for literary escapism in times of trial.

A literary festival can be an even better getaway-from-it-all than a book, and crime was the genre of choice for attendees of the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate on the weekend of 22nd July. Authors, reviewers and readers congregated in this renowned Victorian spa town in North Yorkshire to steep themselves in the dark underbelly of society we cope with the best: the kind that’s made up.

What's A Book Festival Actually Like?
Spot the difference ……………..Pic (and genius): Margaret Bonass Madden

 Festival highlights included one-on-one interviews and panel discussions featuring Val McDermid – described as the ‘heart and soul’ of the festival, and who kept everyone laughing from start to finish – along with Linwood Barclay, Tess Gerritsen, Martina Cole, Jeffery Deaver, Peter James, Gerald Seymour, Paula Hawkins, and Clare Mackintosh, who won the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year on opening night for her debut I Let You Go. New and established authors alike discussed their inspirations, routes to publication, and what makes people so fascinated with crime fiction in the first place.

From the ballroom of the Old Swan Hotel (where Agatha Christie famously went missing for 11 days in the 1920s) which hosted panels of internationally renowned authors, to the tents outside serving food, drink and books, to the lively conversations buzzing all over the grounds, to the readers dotted all over the sun-lit lawn, hunched over their ill-gotten gains as though any interruption might be rewarded with a death stare – it was all about the books.

Every good festival has sideshows, and Harrogate was awash with publisher parties and book signings, reader competitions, forensic investigations, and even a table quiz worthy of a criminal mastermind. In the Secret Garden (or at least it was secret until writing.ie got there) publisher Bonnier were celebrating several Sunday Times bestsellers in less than one year of operation, while Pan MacMillan, stable of blockbuster authors such as Peter James and David Baldacci, were to be found in the Library, with the candlestick. Or was that the canapés?

What's A Book Festival Actually Like?
It’s all about the reading

It’s hard to imagine anything better than hundreds of people coming together for the weekend to form a temporary yet cohesive village of crime lovers, hell-bent on discovering new talent, connecting with established authors, and hanging tough with other like-minded folk who love nothing more than stories about killing, maiming, psychological abuse, and the renegade heroes and anti-heroes who set the world to rights in weird and wonderful ways.

So why do we love crime fiction so much?

It may be because it contains a kind of universal human experience – a dark side of humanity which is apolitical, and to which everyone on the planet can relate. It’s genderless, too. Crime is a genre where people don’t seem to care about whether or not the writer or protagonist has a Y chromosome. Possession of this same chromosome doesn’t appear to have much to do with how these books are critiqued, packaged, or shelved, either. In short, there is no greater leveller than the evil guy or gal who is creeping through the dark shadows behind you. Whether they’re lurking down a dark alley, or under our own roof, we don’t seem to be able to get enough of that delicious fear we can put down whenever we want.

The book signing queue, just before it got ugly


As was pointed out by more than one author over the course of the festival, we are all by nature voyeurs, with an insatiable curiosity for other human beings. In real life, true stories have the power to do harm; but great fiction takes us back, as close as we can bear, to the monsters under the beds of our childhoods. We like to be frightened, but only within our control.

It’s no wonder that regardless of blockbuster trends, crime fiction is consistently one of the two most popular fiction genres on the planet (the other one being romance). Because when we need to mentally get away from it all, there’s nothing that can transport us like a made-up murder, or a fictional felony. It deserves to be celebrated, and boy, do they do it in style in Harrogate.

What's A Book Festival Actually Like?


We Have Fast Fashion. Now It’s Time For Fast Fiction

 We Have Fast Fashion. Now It's Time For Fast Fiction

Fashion and fiction have a lot in common. Both can be expensive to create, but cheap to reproduce. Both are supposed to respond quickly to changes in demand. Both begin with ‘F’. And both look dodgy in certain shades of pink.

Both depend on retailers to get to their end user. And whether it’s because of internet culture or not, these days, retailers are acutely aware that when customers want things, they want things now. They don’t want to wait for things to be manufactured or tested or delivered or marketed. If they see something they like, it had better be available immediately, or else they’re off somewhere else, and good luck to you, Slothface.

This Is Me Talking About Fashion Like I Have A Bloody Clue

Once upon a time in the fashion world, collections appeared on the catwalk, orders were made, and clothes were delivered to retailers six months later, whereupon they were purchased by naked people who, up to that point, had nothing to wear. In fact, the world was full of naked people, waiting for these so-called Ready-To-Wear items. (I myself remember awkward corporate meetings with homely men in birthday suits*. But that was before Facebook. And selfies.)

Now, following seismic changes in the fashion industry, ‘Fast Fashion’ means that when someone sends their stuff down the catwalk, it’s available to customers within weeks. For the labels who are able to do this, it’s very successful, business-wise. (I don’t know if it means that small children in Bangladesh are working 19-hour days in production, and I’d rather not go there, to be honest, but for the labels, at least, it’s working.)

We Have Fast Fashion: Now It's Time For Fast Fiction

Now This Is Me Applying My Shaky Premise To Books Etc

Can anyone tell me why the hell it takes a year to get a book to market through a traditional publisher?

Seriously. Anyone?

Why, if someone can showcase clothes which have been imagined, designed, altered, approved, produced, and fitted in at least one (teenytiny) size to send it down a catwalk – only to deliver in bulk, and in different sizes, to shops all over a country or continent six weeks later – does a book take a year?

This is not about how long it takes to write a book: even I wouldn’t be stupid enough to deride the time required to do that. This is about how long it takes to get a book, which is already written, into the hands of readers.

So let’s look at some of the excuses, and make snide remarks about them, shall we? Grab a coffee. Blow your nose, if you like.

  1. The book has to be edited properly

Okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s going to the best editor in the world, and she needs time to make it the best book in the world. Plus, she’ll have to go back to the author with rewrites, and the author has to do them, and go back to the editor again, and then she’ll have to go back to the author again, and then the fox and the chicken go into the boat and the bottle of writer’s tears stays on the shore.

How long should this take? Two months? Six? Eleventy?

I don’t know much about editor workloads, but if a book is such an unholy mess that it takes six months to edit and rewrite, I would posit that either the deadline was unrealistic to begin with, the author can’t cope with the changes, or the editor really shouldn’t have been given another three books to work on at the same time.

Even if I’m being reasonable about it (a departure for me I know), delays can happen in some cases, but not in absolutely every case. Something is very wrong here in business terms. Unless an actual editor wants to step in here and explain.

  1. The book needs to be designed

Refer to point 1. The book is being edited. What’s stopping the cover art, blurb, title, and typeface being sorted during this time? Was it the rumour that the book was being edited from an erotic romance into a gardening manual?

  1. The book needs to be marketed

Yes, there needs to be a strategy. Advance review copies, absolutely. Website schmoozing, yup. All of that. If only there were people experienced in the marketing of books to do those tasks while the rest of the book was coming together, eh?


We Have Fast Fashion. Now It's Time For Fast Fiction
“Will I release it in June or July 2022? Or is that jumping the gun? I do hate undue haste” Pic: musee-rodin.fr
Break out the bottle of writer’s tears again. It’s all down to the team you get behind the book, I know. And having enough people in that team.

But indie authors do all of those tasks, by themselves, sometimes every three months, when they’re feeling obscenely prolific. They schedule designers and choose covers. They schedule editors and do rewrites, often while writing other books. They market their books and take out ads and do sales promotions, sometimes while still learning how to do all these fiddly, tricky things.

You might make the argument that quality suffers somewhere along the journey of the one-man band. But indie authors are not on trial here. They are a shining beacon of productivity in an otherwise dank wasteland of long lead-in times in fiction. If they can do it, a full team of professionals in a traditional publishing house should surely be able to get a book out in three months, if not six weeks.

Could I Just Get To The Point, Please

The main point (knew I had one somewhere) is that if fashion can do it, so can fiction. Just a few years ago, the fashion industry would have argued that fast fashion was impossible. Logistically insane. Technically undoable. But you know what? Then they went and did it.

Publishers are always banging on about how difficult things are: how hard it is to predict trends and pick bestsellers years in advance. You know what would make that easier? Only having to pick them a few months in advance.

Fiction has already become cheaper (ask any mid-list author). Cheap fiction needs to be fast. It needs to be responsive and flexible. But most of all, it needs to be out there, in the market, where it’s wanted. It’s not doing anyone any good, stuck on the world’s slowest production line.

*BUSINESS suits. I meant business suits. I think.

What To Lie About Reading This Summer

What To Lie About Reading This Summer

A couple of years ago, I did a simply marvellous post (says I to myself) on summer holiday reading lists, and why the recommended beach reads in newspapers – usually detailed in breathless column inches by authors currently on the promotional circuit – are a load of tosh.

The thing about holiday reading lists is that they are lists of books people haven’t read yet, and therefore are full of the sort of books which people won’t actually read. Books to make you look cool; to make you look clever, or deep – you can put anything you want on your holiday reading list, safe in the knowledge nobody will catch you out. Because who’s going to follow up, right?

It’s the insecure author’s holy grail in the print media, where they can promote their own books, by lying about reading books written by other people. But I reckon the rest of us mortal folk are missing out on a trick. Not being quoted in newspapers doesn’t mean we can’t also go around lying about what we’re reading this summer. Why should authors have all the fun?


Picture the scene. You are at the sort of party (let’s say it’s a book launch in a fancy shop) that Tark and Mara would actually turn up to. In fact, there they are in the corner, sneering at the umbrella plants. You try not to stare. You are thrilled to see another well-known author standing by the Mind Body & Spirit section, talking animatedly. You sidle up to eavesdrop.

Well-Known Author: …for a writer’s  residence in Stockholm, and then I’m off to Antibes.

Big Fan of Well-Known Author: Oh, how lovely! And what will you be reading on the beach this year?

Well-Known Author: Well, don’t you know, I’ve already packed my books, and I’m not off for another month! Ha, ha! I’m hilarious, I know. My non-fiction pick will be Thomas Piketty’s latest economic treatise. Can’t get enough of that man’s brain.

Big Fan: Oh, yes, I keep meaning to read him, he’s on my list too.

Well-Known Author: Then I’ll be re-reading the bible, for some poolside reflection. Even though I’m not religious. Obviously.

Big Fan: Marvellous.

Well-Known Author: If I feel I need a bit of light relief, I’ll read some Sam Beckett. He’s so funny.

Big Fan: Hysterical.

Well-Known Author: And I’ll finish with some Henry James, because you do need a bit of froth on holidays, don’t you?

Big Fan: I always thought so.

Well-Known Author: And what will you be reading on holidays yourself?

Big Fan: Well, I always bring the complete shortlist for the Booker prize each year.

Well-Known Author: [irritated] Do you, now?

Big Fan: I like to know what’s going on in contemporary arts.

Well-Known Author: [gritting teeth] You’re so brave. I’m terribly clingy with the classics. I’m just so afraid I’ll end up with a dud, otherwise.

Big Fan: [sighing] I know. But it’s worth the risk sometimes. I always pack Middlemarch as a backup, just in case.

At this point, the Well-Known Author narrows his eyes and rummages in his pocket for a concealed weapon. You move away quickly and make for the Crime section.


In case this doesn’t give you enough ideas, I’ve helpfully compiled a list of some of the top books people are claiming they’re going to read this year, along with reasons to lie about reading them. You can thank me by lying to me about how much you love this blog, if you like.

  1. Middlemarch  (George Eliot) – Fiction

No kidding. This comes up year, after year, after year: this is the novel which liars always say they’re going to read during summer. A novel from 1871, famed for its length. FFS.

  1. The Girls  (Emma Cline) – Fiction

This has been described as “shockingly assured for a first novel”, a quote which itself deserves an award for Arsery. It also seems like a popular pick, yet acceptable in literary circles, so go forth and lie.

  1. At The Existentialist Café  (Sarah Bakewell) – Non-Fiction

Several authors tried to make a joke about the fact that there is apparent levity in this study of famous philosophers. This made me very sad. You can cheer me up by telling people you’re going to read it, and then not reading it.

  1. Zero K  (Don DeLillo) – Fiction

Someone said they were going to a Greek island with this book. This is a ridiculous statement. Nobody goes to Greece with Don DeLillo, so it’s a lie. However, it’s not a lie I sanction, so please lie about reading it somewhere else.

  1. Anything by Donald Trump: Fiction – no – Non-Fiction – no – Fiction – ah, who cares

This will show you have a finely honed sense of irony, and you are also a talented liar who could be triple-blinding me right now and I wouldn’t even know where to start unravelling your deep-seated delusions. It’s going to be huuuuuuuuge.


I’m also interested in knowing your mind on this issue. Which book(s) will you be lying about reading this summer?

What To Lie About Reading This Summer

10 Signs You Might Be A Character In A Black Comedy

10 Signs You Might Be A Character In A Black Comedy
“…and HE said, ‘because poison doesn’t have a Use-By Date! Badum-tish!’

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these. Remember being a chick-lit heroine? A cop in a crime novel? Or one of those waifs from a historical fiction novel?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about black comedy. Firstly, because it’s sort of my thing, but also because I’ve been watching a lot of black comedy on film and TV in recent months. And my my, but it’s getting blacker. In fact, black comedy is often now so black, it sometimes appears to have forgotten about the comedy part altogether.

I’m calling it Bleak Comedy:  when you know it’s technically supposed to be comedy, or at least it’s called as such by the critics, but literally nobody’s laughing.

So, with that in mind, for those of us who may sometimes feel that life is too dark to be destiny; too weird to be wonderful, and too terrible to be true – I’m both maudlin and delighted to bring you:

10 Signs That You’re A Character In A (Very Modern) Black Comedy

  1. It’s your birthday. Everyone hates you, but the dialogue is tremendous.
  2. Ten minutes after you decide to commit suicide in your kitchen, you receive news that you have won a budget holiday in the town where you live.
  3. You get a job in an office full of people who think they’re starring in a mockumentary about people who work in an office.
  4. Someone you dislike intensely has killed a man. They frame you with witty repartee and get away with it.
  5. You lose your house, your job, and your family. Just when you think all hope is also lost, you get run over by a truck.
  6. You go on holiday with your closest friends. Everyone ends up naked and crying. It’s hilarious.
  7. While out running an errand for your boss, you accidentally kill a mother of six. The guilt drives you to alcoholism. Fun ensues.
  8. You worry that your life is a lie, painstakingly constructed by people around you for scientific or entertainment purposes. This is true, but despite repeated attempts by concerned actors to tell you, you never listen.
  9. Everything around you is a potential joke. Even your fridge. Unfortunately, nobody gets it, not even you.
  10. You try for years to become a successful comedian, until one day, you realise that comedy doesn’t actually need to be funny. You become an overnight success after you do a public reading of your cancer diagnosis, dressed as a lobster.


10 Signs You Might Be A Character In A Black Comedy
“…but there were no chickens left, because they all died of Bird Flu! BOOM!”

How did you score?

1-3 points:  Sorry, but life’s real, dude. It actually does suck to be you.

4-7 points:  You are a character in a novel which has won a very respectable literary prize, judged by people who are obsessed with Samuel Beckett.

8-10 points:  You are a character in a Channel 4 series screened after 9pm. In time, your series will be reclassified from ‘Black Comedy’ into ‘Depression Porn’, whereupon viewership will increase into the tens.


And there we have it. Call me old-fashioned, but I do like my comedy to be funny, and so much of what I’m seeing is downright bleak at the moment. I’m pondering whether this is down to economic circumstances, artistic snobbery, or some other force. If I ever figure it out, I’ll be back with my opinion dressed up as fact.

What do you think? Has black comedy become a bit too, well…. black?

Selling Your Book In A Post-Factual, Post-Brexit World


Dear Mister Publisher,

I have written the best book. My book will be bigger than the bible. It will make cynics laugh, optimists cry, and toast. Before he died, David Bowie said he wished he had written it.

It is impossible to say what my book is about without revealing a shocking twist which has never ever been done before, so people will have to buy it to find out. Anyone who doesn’t understand my legitimate reasons for secrecy is a potential terrorist.

Book jacket quotes will come from Ellen DeGeneres and the Dalai Lama.  Bono, James Joyce and Donald Trump will offer quotes, but be politely refused. The New York Times  will ask to syndicate it.

Genre doesn’t matter because absolutely everyone will want to read my book. People who haven’t read it will pretend they’ve read it, but get eviscerated at brunch parties for not understanding it properly. They will then pay someone else to go and buy it for them because they don’t want anyone thinking they might be buying it because they haven’t read it yet.

My book will sell 70 million copies in the first six months after publication. By Year 2, it will have sold more copies than Stephen King’s entire back catalogue, and Xerox. Charity shops will cry out for second-hand copies, but nobody will want to part with theirs, so the charity shops will be forced to buy new editions for reselling.

Selling Your Book In A Post-Factual, Post-Brexit World

Some people will criticise my book, because they will be jealous of my success. They will make snide remarks about my book not winning any prizes. They will learn that readers are sick of prizes. Readers don’t want to hear from elitist, self-interested judges, picking books that nobody ever wants to read, full of thoughts, and big words, like marmalade. My book is popular fiction, for real people. Proper people, with eyebrows and families, who eat food, and use electricity. Those sorts of people.

When the international translation rights are sold into every country in the world, all disease-bearing insects in Africa and South America will suddenly migrate into outer space, and the lunar calendar will switch to a cycle of just 10 days. Scientists will study these phenomena before finally admitting that they never knew anything about science. They will stop sciencing to go and read my book.

Once people have read my book, they will be happy forever. Nobody will ever get angry, unless it’s with someone who says they didn’t read my book.

Selling Your Book In A Post-Factual, Post-Brexit World

Other authors will try to imitate me, but never succeed. Readers will be so disappointed in their inferior efforts that they will have to buy another copy of my book to cheer themselves up. New industries will spring up to satisfy the demand for merchandise related to my book. The manufacture of my book-branded mugs and nasal clips alone will bring eleven economically injured European countries into a stratospheric boom.

Everybody will get rich from my book, except for people who don’t believe in it. They won’t get anything. They will regret this.

There will be statues erected to me in New York, Paris, and Turkmenistan, at a cost of just one billion dollars. One of these statues will win the Turner Prize for its abstract depiction of world domination. Festivals will be held in honour of my book, every year on my birthday. During one of them, a small boy will claim to have seen me levitating. My people will confirm this, and give him a certificate.

I look forward to signing my lucrative contract with you. If you don’t publish my book, your business will fail, your taxes will rise, and your children will be arrested for paranoia. Thank you for your time, and the 97% royalties embedded in the forthcoming contract from you to me, for my book.

Yours post-factually,

Tara Sparling


We Were All Young Adults Once: Why Are We Not All Reading Young Adult Fiction?

When thinking of book genre classification, I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill reputedly said about democracy being “the worst form of government, except all those other forms which have been tried from time to time.”

We Were All Young Adults Once: Why Are We Not All Reading Young Adult Fiction?
Somebody tried to categorise this guy once. It wasn’t pretty
I’m always banging on about book genre stereotyping, but I see it as the single greatest obstacle for authors today. It’s like a door which only opens one way; and if you find yourself on the other side of the wrong door, you’re fecked, because there’s no going back and changing your mind. Once your book has been classified and marketed within a genre, that’s it. You’re pigeonholed, and that’s where you stay.

Youth Is Wasted On The Young, Etc

One genre which sometimes tries to break free is Young Adult, in that it has the so-called ‘Crossover’ sub-genre, which indicates that it might be read by ordinary old adults as well as the young variety under eighteen. However, there’s still only a certain small section of the adult market which will read Crossover fiction, even if going under cover in new, more adult-looking clothes.

The temperature of my collar went up several degrees on this subject while reading an Irish author called Louise O’Neill. The only thing I’m comfortable categorising Louise O’Neill as is Irish, because that’s what she is, and I’m proud to call myself a compatriot of such an astute writer of devastatingly important fiction. But she’s pounded into narrower categories too.

I read both her books – Only Ever Yours and Asking For It – back-to-back, in two days. They are difficult books which are deceptively easy to read. They are about teenagers, but essential reading for adults. They tackle distasteful realities such as rape culture and gender inequality which nobody can be allowed to ignore. (The only people who should not be reading Louise O’Neill, in fact, are anyone as yet too young to cope with the dark subjects she relates so perfectly.)

Her novels are about imaginary people who really exist. They are contradictions in themselves, and about the hideous contradictions which make our societies so hard sometimes to live in. And they are square-pegged into Young Adult holes, which is just stupid.

We Were All Young Adults Once: Why Are We Not All Reading Young Adult Fiction?

For An Industry That Insists On Pigeon-Holing, General Fiction Is A Woeful Cop-Out

It strikes me that General Fiction (into which slots Literary Fiction, Humour, and all those novels about octogenarians who do weird and improbable things) is very often not general at all.

For instance, I have little in common with forty-something failed sports journalists, or commercial salesmen who feel disconnected from their wives; and yet I have read several books about them without ever being told why (or indeed feeling in any way rewarded for it). I don’t identify with the members of affluent families in major capital cities. I have never been in the criminal justice system in Asia, or lived in tropical, post-colonial poverty, either. All classified as general.

Yet we have all at some point been a young adult. We have all had to negotiate the transition into adulthood, or into becoming people who function in whichever way in society. We have all gone through an intense period of learning about the bad things people do, and the good things, and how hard it is to trust, and how impossible it is to be certain about anything.

So how are these so-called young adult matters not classified under General Fiction? What else is General Fiction, but a mirror held up to society which teaches us about how to cope with what we are? And how better to do this, than to look at ourselves while we are becoming what we are?

Suiting The Creaky Publishing Machine

When it comes to Young Adult fiction, pigeon-holing goes to extraordinary lengths. There appears to be some sort of accepted wisdom that we can only read stories about people like us, so minorities are left out in the cold altogether, or alternatively, pushed with patronising smugness when a book appears once a blue moon which has a minority character in the mix.

We Were All Young Adults Once: Why Are We Not All Reading Young Adult Fiction?
All YA readers look like this. All of them
Most often, we’re told that these books are for girls; specifically for girls between the ages of, say, 13-18 years of age, generally white, straight, and who have the sort of educational or fiscal opportunity which allows them access to limitless supplies of books. Young Adult fiction, for all that it generalises between subject matter, is drilled down into this most squawky of pigeon holes. And it doesn’t matter how relevant, or funny, or important, or insightful the stuff is: according to the industry, when it comes to YA, we’re only interested in reading about people exactly like us.

Could I Get To The Point, Please; Some Of Us Have Cake To Eat

It might seem pointless to get ranty about the way that books are marketed. After all, genre classification is essential for book distribution – how else will it get on to the shelf? How else will we find the good stories, unless we know where they are, in accordance with what they are?

The problem is with the way that clunky genre classification hides great books from people who are quite rightly confused about where to look. And calling something Young Adult has the same effect as designating it as Women’s Fiction just because it deals with love or family (unless, of course, it’s written by a man); or designating it a romance, just because two characters in a novel go on some sort of emotional splurge, even though the rest of it is about war, mental health, bumblebees and sausage-making.

Tell you what. Why don’t we all start reading YA fiction, today. Within two months, we’ll have confused the hell out of the marketers, and they’ll have to start all over again. Aren’t we due a change in this new and fickle economy?

The Old End-A-Post-With-A-Question Question

Would (or do) you read young adult fiction? And if not, why not? Go on, explain yourself (if you dare).

The Things We Hate To Like: Lend Me Your Ears

Do you remember when ‘Like’ used to mean something?

The Things We Hate To Like: Lend Me Your Ears
No, not this Like. Like, the other like?

It meant you liked something. A boy. A girl. Sunshine. Pugilism. A baby farting. Purple eye shadow. Making lists.

It meant something was pleasing to you. The thought of it made you feel good, or at least moderately less shitty than you were feeling before you either had it, or thought of it. It was without exception a positive reaction to something.

It did not mean ‘I’m here’, ‘I agree’, ‘I’m forced to acknowledge this even though I’d really rather not’, or, horrifically, ‘Sorry your mother died’.

Sure, some social media platforms have taken steps (belatedly – in fact, so belatedly, that thumbs-up themselves failed to notice, and thus remain stubbornly and immovably in the upright position) to address this on a half-assed basis.

But no matter what Facebook and other social media giants do with the  introduction of symbolic thumbs, stars, plus signs, hearts, smiley faces, weepy faces, frowny faces or speech bubbles, it’s still nothing more than a scale of woefully retarded human experience which doesn’t accurately represent any of what people want to say.

The Things We Hate To Like: Lend Me Your Ears

Social Media Regression

And yet, we are constantly being asked day after day to fit painfully square pegs into round holes, by being asked for these painfully restricted reactions to things.

Ten years ago, could you have imagined a world where you were asked 100 times a day to indicate whether or not you liked something?

Outside of being a professional critic, a food taster, or a small child, could you have envisioned a time when your sole contribution to humanity would be to vote for your favourite?

Aren’t you glad we live in that time now? Does it remind you of anything?


Picture the scene. You are 5 years old. You have been forced to spend the day with your Great-Aunt Gertrude. She does not know you very well.

Great-Aunt Gertrude:  What is your favourite colour, child?

5-Year-Old You: Purple.

Great-Aunt Gertrude: No, that’s incorrect. The last time we talked, you said it was yellow.

5-Year-Old You: I like pink sometimes. And green.

Great-Aunt Gertrude: That won’t do at all. You have to pick one.

5-Year-Old You: [crying] I don’t want to pick only one.

Great-Aunt Gertrude: Stop snivelling. I already bought you this yellow plastic raincoat, and you’re going to like it.

5-Year-Old You: And so ends my childhood.


Now, then. Who cares, I hear you not asking at all? What’s the point in getting ranty about social media reactions, when nice people are just going out of their way to be polite to other nice people? Isn’t this the only thing right with the Internet?

It’s because, as was pointed out by an astute commenter on Facebook Is Sniffing Your Bottom, if someone is offering you a service for free, then you are the product. The social media reactions currently available don’t suit us, because reactions which would better suit us, would not suit advertisers.

We would all be far better off with a button saying ‘I hear you.’ Because when it all comes down to it, social media is just a platform upon which people say things to be heard, and other people respond in order to acknowledge that they’ve heard it. It’s not about communication, or interaction. It’s about broadcasting and acknowledgement.

And here, look. The button for ‘I hear you’ would be so easy:

The Things We Hate To Like: Lend Me Your Ears

The trouble is, you see – not for you, but rather for them upstairs – that “I hear you” wouldn’t feed algorithms with information regarding whether people react to certain keywords positively or negatively. It only tells them that people are communicating, and they already know that. And it doesn’t sell anything for them, let alone advertising.

I’d still like to start a campaign for an ‘I hear you’ button across all social media platforms. It could even be amazingly flexible, and change to ‘I see you’ for Instagram and its buddies. I mean, that shows some pretty impressive flexibility already, amirite?

What about you? Does ‘Like’ suit your needs? How about +1? Or do you wake up every day hoping in vain for a ‘Shut Up’ button (which could be applied on WordPress in general, and on this blog in specific)?