Tag Archives: blogging

New SA4QE website

While everyone else has been stuffing themselves with turkey, my colleague Gombert and I have been hard at work over the festive period creating a brand new website for the Slickman A4 Quotation Event (aka SA4QE). This is the site we’ve run since 2002 recording the annual celebration in which fans of the author Russell Hoban write favourite quotes from his books on pieces of paper and leave them in public places. The site has amassed a substantial amount of content which was formerly arranged and displayed in a pretty limited way, plus the old site had all sorts of features that were just so 1997 (as they say), such as frames and odd little GIFs all over the place. The new one does away with all that by treating contributions as blog posts which are all labelled according to various criteria including date, book title, media, location and contributor – plus you can subscribe to the blog in any number of ways, and add your own photos and videos.

If you’re a fan of Russell Hoban, rediscover his words at www.sa4qe.com and perhaps consider dropping a favourite quote of your own on SA4QE 2009 on 4th February.

If you’ve never heard of Russell Hoban, you’re in for a treat – there are 350 fascinating quotes on the site from over 30 unique books, dropped by 70 people across 14 countries. So whichever way you cut the content, you’re bound to find something there that tickles your 4ancy.

I am by the way posting this to both my blog and my Facebook profile by sending an email to a single Posterous address. Posterous has a new feature called AutoPost to Everywhere which looks intriguing. Let’s see if it works…

Posted via email from thoughtcat’s posterous

A Leonard Cohen page and other Thoughtcat updates

Writing up my experience of getting in to the Anjani exclusive last month made me realise the Thoughtcat site was long overdue for a single Leonard Cohen page, gathering together the various LC-related things I’ve done over the years. The page features links to, amongst other items, my review of the 2004 all-star Brighton tribute show Came So Far For Beauty featuring Nick Cave, Jarvis Cocker, Rufus Wainwright and other luminaries, a video of me providing guitar backup for an excellent singer at the 2002 Hydra convention open mic, transcripts of TV interviews I’ve done for Speaking Cohen, and a letter I had published in the Guardian in 2000 putting them right on a Len-related feature. There’s even a Leonard Cohen Name Generator, which I constructed several years ago with the help of a couple of friends but never linked to on the site. (Contrary to appearances this doesn’t just generate the name ‘Leonard Cohen’ each time you press the button, but rather a funny adjective-noun combination based on Cohen lyrics.)

My new LC page in turn prompted me to look at the main Thoughtcat site and how it all hangs together via various threads of knicker elastic. I’ve finally gotten to grips with these wonderful things called dynamic page templates so each page now has a common banner and links without messing about with frames; I’ve tightened up the formatting of certain pages and sections, such as Retro Dustcovers; and I’ve deleted a few links to some of the older stuff which hasn’t been updated in years and provided some new editorial about these bits on the Archives page.

Maybe it’s just a spring-cleaning thing but these updates come hot on the heels of new web stuff by Thoughtcat’s friends Dave Awl and Chris Bell. Dave – whose Head of Orpheus was the first significant Russell Hoban site on the web – has, after spending ‘several years trying to avoid blogging’, finally given up the struggle and emerged with Ocelopotamus, a beautifully designed blog bursting with pertinent and witty comment. Liquidambar author Chris meanwhile has revamped his own site to include a stack of short stories from his collection The Bumper Book of Lies – which is also available in traditional book form! – and some newly-discovered writing. Enjoy.

Fame at last – Thoughtcat in the London Informer


A few weeks ago I had an email from a journalist on a weekly free local newspaper called the Informer, asking permission to include Thoughtcat in “London Blog”, a regular feature profiling bloggers from the area and printing typical extracts from their blogs. I’d never seen the article before (I think the paper gets delivered to my address, but so do a couple of others, and in honesty they generally all end up being recycled before I even register what they’re called) and I was initially suspicious, doubting that a local free paper would really be interested in blogs and thinking one of my mates was winding me up. However, the journalist’s email address was kosher and he said he’d found the blog from a credible source (London Bloggers, a stylish directory I’d joined some time ago), so without further delay I wrote back to say I’d be delighted. He asked for a bit of background, including my age and location, and a photo. I provided him with some info on Thoughtcat and, not knowing the layout, asked if he just wanted a small close-up of my whiskers or a full length shot of me (which, thinking about it, wouldn’t actually be much different in size, but there you go). I also offered him a few suggestions for “typical extracts” from Thoughtcat, since I modestly assumed finding such a thing amid three years’ and 50,000 words of blog posts might be difficult. However, said journo then vanished for several days, leaving me unsure whether he’d actually written the article or had gone off the idea, or still needed the photo, so – now paranoid once again that this was in fact an elaborate practical joke – I gave him a nudge. A few days later he reappeared and said the feature was out, illustrated with a photo he’d found on the site, and if I gave him my address he’d send me a copy. I did, and waited.

I was still nervous about the result: would it be a hatchet job? A tabloid stitch-up? A honey-trap preying on my vanity? I imagined myself imagining a glorious write-up, newspapers banging on the Thoughtcat-flap begging me to write for them for real money, little suspecting the reality – a huge photo of me looking ridiculous, a picture I’d put on the site years before and forgotten about, with a quote twisting my carefully-chosen words to paint me as a bizarre nimbyist eccentric, a closet nazi living with 17 cats, spending his days self-publishing insane pamphlets calling on McVities to bring back Dad’s Cookies and the local council to bomb McDonald’s – or worse, claiming I was a Tory voter.

Thankfully, having now received the paper containing the feature (it’s the 31st March issue, local folks!) none of that is the case, and although the majority of the article is composed of my own words I hope I’m allowed to say I think the results are excellent. It is still a little eccentric, but that’s probably appropriate, and in any case it’s fascinating to see how you come across to people: From his small flat, cat-obsessed [am I??] Richard Cooper (pee-Cooper to his friends) [what this must sound like with no Thai context God only knows] muses on everything from sausages [where?!] to political scandals. The novelist-cum-biscuit taster [apart from sounding faintly disgusting this omits to mention I have never been either, at least on a professional basis] flirted with fame after becoming embroiled in a row over authorship of a book called All My Own Work [this will come back to haunt me!], after he based his title on a poem by Ted Hughes [surreally, this makes Hughes sound as if he was the aggrieved party in the AMOW debacle]. Click and you arrive at: Lord Profumo, Albrecht Durer, Mince Pies, Mobile Phones, Blues, Leonard Cohen [yay!], Basil Fawlty [true, but only I think in the context of ‘Don’t mention the war’ from last summer’s election], InterRail [hmm, I’m impressed – the journo’s had a look around the main site and found my account of our French InterRailing trip!], Buena Vista Social Club [it gets better], Randy Newman [again a one-off, but can’t be bad] and Russell Hoban [double yay! – whether Russ will appreciate it in this dubious context I don’t know, but I’m honoured to be responsible for even the smallest press mention of his hallowed name].

So far, so weird – but it gets weirder. The blog feature itself is right at the back of the paper, sandwiched between adverts for a plumbing and heating company and the Modhubon Tandoori (“Eat as much as you like for £4.95!”), and just overleaf from a double-page of classified ads divided equally between man & vans and escort agencies (“Za Za… Irish fire cracker… Japanese goddess”). The rarefied company I find myself in is infinitely enhanced by a huge picture of Bob Dylan c.1966, as I realise with delight (and some relief, when I think of some of the possible alternatives) that the blog post the journalist has chosen to represent Thoughtcat is the recent one about Dylan snubbing the UK Music Hall of Fame awards. DYLAN DISHES IT, runs the headline. Richard says Bob Dylan has the right idea about music award shows, says a caption beside my photo, which turns out to be the one of me from my about page wearing a THAILAND t-shirt and eating a bowl of my wife’s best green curry. “What’s the point in giving an award to an artist who’s been around for decades?” bewails a quote splashed in white letters across Dylan’s black jacket, while the main image is captioned BOB’S YOUR UNCLE: Dylan the legend (obviously just in case anyone’s unsure of who it is, or that it may be me).

The rest of the page is composed of the blog entry, reproduced fairly faithfully, albeit with the original Blair-unfriendly ending excised in favour of a cynical comment on the Eurythmics’ Christmas greatest hits cash-in. In fact it’s interesting that, although Blair does get a mention elsewhere, it’s not a critical one, and you wouldn’t guess from reading the feature that I can’t stand the man; did the Informer get cold political feet, despite it being quite clear that the article represents the personal opinion of one slightly bonkers local blogger? Whatever the truth, just to put the record straight, I CAN’T STAND TONY BLAIR. (In seriousness I must curtail this habit of beating Blair with any stick I can find. I mean, for God’s sake – when you’re writing about Bob Dylan and the ludicrosity of music award shows, to still manage to squeeze in a Tone-moan just looks facile and opportunistic – not unlike Blair, in fact, the bastard!!!)

Blair or no Blair, if I say so myself, the profile of Thoughtcat appears to represent a cultural high for at least this edition of the paper. Headlines on other pages include:

LICENCE TO KILL: Is our under-fire prison system putting killers on YOUR street?
Leak hotel fined
Anger over repair demands
IT HAPPENED TO ME: I built a Viking ship in my garden shed
Hotel in riverside clean-up

and, best of all:

NOT EVEN A ‘DENT’: Gordon’s car tax rise is a joke say Chelsea tractor haters.

I should mention at this juncture that this edition of the paper is technically the London Informer, covering the areas
of Hammersmith, Kensington and Westminster; there seem to be scores of local variations on the Informer title, and I know of at least one edition, the Richmond & Twickenham Informer, which also carried the Thoughtcat piece, albeit in a black & white and slightly reduced-size version which ends in mid-sentence, not even getting in the bitter remark about the Eurythmics, let alone Tone.

But I digress. I must admit when I read the piece again I was surprised at the (unintentionally) catty comment about Aretha Franklin, and that the paper deemed a remark about the size of the soul diva’s breasts to be acceptable where one about Tony Blair’s musical preferences wasn’t. They say you should never apologise but I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to Aretha – not, probably, that she’s a reader, but all the same.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this whole episode is that it has taken some extracts from Thoughtcat to be reproduced in a “real” printed medium to make me see what the blog is really like – and, by extension, what I’m really like. The blog has been around, as I say, for over three years now, but this is the first time it’s seemed “real” to me – and I’m not sure I like all I see. Maybe I’m just overreacting to the observation about Aretha Franklin’s melons, but perhaps I saw myself as a bit more serious than that casual remark might suggest. Then again, you can’t take blogging too seriously, can you?

There is, fairly obviously, no online version of the article, but clicking on the image above will open a JPEG which is more or less readable, while clicking here instead opens a better-quality PDF version. And if you can get your hands on a copy of the actual paper, hold on to this unique Thoughtcat collector’s item! It surely can’t be long before they start appearing on eBay.

Oh yes, before I forget – to clarify, “pee-Cooper” (with the emphasis on the -per) is what my wife’s friends affectionately call me. “Pee-” is a Thai honorific, placed in front of the family name of someone who is older than you to signify respect. I’ve been saying to them all for years to just call me Richard, but will they ever?? Anyway, the appearance of this article can only make things worse: soon this is what everyone will be calling me.

In defence of bloggers; reality politics

Following a moan by a New York Times journalist about the exposure Google gives blogs in its page rankings, John Naughton writes a defence of bloggers in the Observer, pointing out that the contempt held for blogs and their authors by experienced journalists is misplaced. “Journalism has always been, as Northcliffe observed, ‘the art of explaining to others that which one does not oneself understand’,” explains Naughton. Let’s hear it for Northcliffe! Wasn’t he the chap in Wuthering Heights?

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Elsewhere in the Observer, it is reported that the producer of Big Borether, Peter Bazalgette, modestly asserts that the way to get more people interested in politics is for Westminster to adapt to the voting methods used in his “reality TV” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) programme. I somehow have my doubts that MPs in the House of Commons will agree to let themselves be nominated for eviction by each other on a weekly basis and then have their political future determined by text message. And who could be bothered to sit through 659 sets of nominations every week? In any case, Bazalgette is missing the point completely to infer that politics can only be made more relevant and interesting to “the masses” with the use of such trendy techniques. What people would actually respond to are some politicians who capture their imaginations, and above all, who they can trust.