My fondest story about JK Rowling was when I asked the barman in my local some years ago what else he was doing to earn a living. He was a huge muscleman who couldn’t care tuppence – about anything or anyone. He said he was labouring – building a wall at a house in Edinburgh – a very fancy wall that was costing a fortune. Who’s the owner, I asked? ‘Some wumman. Writes books. De ken her name.’
Being, as you know, the literary type, I tried a few names…Kennedy? Galloway? Welsh? ‘Nut. Canny mind.’ Someone at the bar leant in close and whispered: ‘It’s JK Rowling. He’s never heard of her.’
My admiration grew. Good on him. Why the Hell should we all have heard of a wumman that writes kiddies’ books?
Well, we’ve all heard of her now. I admit to an aversion to anything – books, films and programmes that come heavily hyped. Don’t tell me what I’ve got to like. That’s not how thrawn Scots work. As a result I avoided all contact with Potter related hysteria and even said on air, when it was announced another of her books was coming out: ‘That’s another I won’t be reading.’ She got me in the end, though, did JK when the kids realised they were living a Potter-free childhood and I was told off smartly. Since then I’ve watched a film on holiday in Portugal and read a book to them chapter by chapter over a week in France. The girls have a number of the titles. I don’t know about the hype but I know a storyteller when I read one and she presses the right buttons for young imaginations. Her real contribution to the world may well be encouraging millions of kids to read.
If you think there’s a But coming at this point…
I was in Waterstone’s on Sauchiehall Street for a coffee and on the stairs they have a display of Potter material. I went to pick up a colouring book (the girls are into the colouring-in craze) and hesitated. What went through my mind wasn’t Harry, wizards or JK but Brian Spanner. I was quite shocked at myself. But I have been so revolted by language of pr**ks, c**ts, female genital mutilation, diarrheoa and other stomach-churning chunder that it is what first came to mind.
I had connected the sickening – and yes, misogynistic – Spanner Twitter account with JK Rowling because I read that she followed it. Then I found myself pondering that same thought over coffee. How could anyone follow something so mind-numbingly awful? The only answer of course was logical – she didn’t see the disgusting tweets. She couldn’t have. No woman I know would buy into that filth even as a joke. Not one.
The accounts I saw of the Rowling affair drew a very clear distinction between her interaction with the Spanner profile in relation to her charity and anything else he may or may not have tweeted. Because you follow an anonymous individual who tweets about named women as shovelled old c**ts doesn’t mean you’ve actually seen those tweets let alone that you would somehow endorse such vile comments (for which the still anonymous Spanner has of course duly apologised).
She has millions of followers so her account is probably mega busy. In fact, she probably has someone running it for her who may make sure she doesn’t see any offensive material. How am I doing?
I have no idea what the story is behind the Rowling-Spanner connection nor why a clutch of mostly right-wing types also follow Spanner – presumably all oblivious to the abusive material. I do know I blocked him two years ago or so because of the deeply unpleasant tone he used rather than the language which then wasn’t so crude. Perhaps there is an in-joke at work. Perhaps they find it all very entertaining.
It certainly didn’t excite the interest of our mainstream journalists some of whom were happy to exclude all mention of the trigger for the whole affair. So we’re left with a perplexing and messy legacy which doesn’t reflect well on anyone.
Even me. I try hard not to allow my politics to prejudice my tastes so I can listen for example to old Nazi Herbert von Karajan conduct the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven. But I fear the horrific nature of Spanner’s output and, so far as I can find online, no attempt to distance herself from what she must surely now know to be a hideous component of his output, has left me not just disappointed but disapproving of Joanne Rowling. Normally, there is no requirement to justify following anyone or to disassociate yourself from their tweets, but this isn’t normal. As Joanne herself said, Natalie McGarry is not a random hater easily dismissed, she’s a public figure. It looks clear to me McGarry was referencing the gutter talk of Spanner when she tweeted. For some of us, a public figure like Joanne not acknowledging the spew of vile tweets we’ve all seen online from the timeline of an account she follows and not clarifying her view on them leaves a sour taste. Is that unreasonable? Have I missed it? Or do we simply assume that, like everybody else, she deplores it and doesn’t need to spell it out? In the circumstances of a controversy which has brought the odious Spanner into view, I think she owes the public a clear answer.
Far from protecting her reputation, the net effect on me is the opposite and her image is damaged. I associate her with Spanner. For, even if she somehow didn’t see his nauseating tweets originally, she can hardly claim not to know after the recent publicity. Or does someone read and edit all the media for her? Everyone I have talked to has been revolted by the Spanner content and wants to wash their hands afterwards.
I won’t be the only parent reading Harry Potter from now on while hiding from the children my dismay at the author.
You know the other weird thing? As I’ve been writing, I was very conscious of the threat of legal action. On a blog. In a free country. I’ve never experienced that before since I started blogging. And it feels uncomfortable.by