05Feb/16

Is it for charity?

I once persuaded  quite of lot of people to spend 11 hours on a bus: a trip that would leave them pretty much where they started after three or four times round a loop. “Is it for charity?”, people would ask.

And no, no it wasn’t.

It was based on Birmingham’s Outer Circle route: a 26 mile circuit around the outer suburbs that does a complete run in around two and a half hours. It’s the number 11: hence 11 hours, on the 11th of November (the 11th month).

I wasn’t hiring a bus, nor organising people to meet, anyone interested in joining in was just to get on the normal bus wherever they liked and go: the concept to get them to think about the city and respond in a hopefully interesting way. It worked, lots of people did it, but it seemed to be a hard concept for some to grasp: not the oddness, not the connection to the place or the date, but the motivation.

Quite often it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive, and that was certainly true in this case — I got off at the same stop as I’d got on 11 hours earlier. I was comfortable with that but other people seemed not to be. “It’s art,” didn’t exactly make the correct change drop with most: but it certainly stopped the conversations dead. People don’t question art, probably not because they respect its power, more likely they just don’t care.

The real reason was both more complicated and less complicated than that: I thought it would be a good thing to do. As to why I thought it was a good thing, well…

The full ‘better to travel hopefully’ quote is from Robert Louis Stevenson (from Virginibus Puerisque) and in full it is “for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour”. I think that means that we should enjoy things we do for their own sake: and that’s where Pier Review came from, essentially we thought it would be a good thing to do. We could have asked people to sponsor us, we could have added conditions that made it tougher, but essentially we wanted to visit lots of interesting places and write a book about it.

But we very clear what we were not doing. What we were definitely not doing was ‘taking on a drunken bet’: I don’t think anyone ever believed that once we’d got round to setting off we wouldn’t do it. There was enough jeopardy in spending two weeks and two thousand miles in a car with two other men, not to mention the sheer challenge of Danny and I writing 80,000 coherent words about the experience.

There’s a Mitchell and Webb sketch that mocks the sort of books that are about an odd quest, framed as a bet. “I just can’t stop taking on these weird wagers.”

It wasn’t a bet. It wasn’t for charity. We wanted to do it, and we wanted to write a book about it. It was tough: tough to find the time, tough to keep thinking that we could do it (especially when Dan’s first draft beat mine to the finish line by months), and tough on everyone who had to listen to us going on about it when the evidence was not yet in front of their eyes. I never wanted to be someone who kept talking about writing a book without doing it.

But we did it. And the process of writing it taught me many lessons about writing, editing and pitching. And the process of editing it taught me a lot about what and how to write in future, but most of all the process of doing it – from conception to publication – has taught me a lot about life itself. Mostly about how any one thing is a tiny series of steps, little victories and losses, little births and little deaths.

None of those little deaths happened while in a tent going around the coast.

And it reaffirmed that you should do the things you want to do, even if the reason isn’t easy to explain.

Someone else will always do the same stuff eventually. For those other, easier-to-explain reasons: chivvying people on and off their bus see the sights, for a price, with profits going to charity. And someone since us has travelled to all of England and Wales’ seaside piers, for charity

But you’ll enjoy it more if you care about it.

You can buy Pier Review, right now.

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16Jan/16

Pier inside

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It’s not out until 11 February, but Danny and I received advanced copies of Pier Review — the book which we had the idea for back in 2010 — just this week.

Most of that time was spent not doing anything, then going through the publishing process — it took us about a year and a half to actually write. We’re planning a big reveal about the whole thing around launch time.

The cover is by Dan Mogford, who has done a huge amount of really quite lovely covers for the likes of Bill Bryson and Owen Jones, and we think it looks great. The publishers, Summersdale, seem to be fairly confident that it’s decent as they went to town on some really detailed embossing — it’s very real to the touch.

It can be pre-ordered now, if that’s the sort of thing you like to do. We mainly spend time looking at the Amazon sales rank graph, it’s been into the top 20,000…

23Dec/15

Some things I wrote this year

Just pulled this list of pieces together to test something on Facebook. It’s not everything I wrote this year: but hopefully some of the more interesting bits. Hope it might fill a reading gap for someone.

First, a festive bit about establishment hegemonies, Twitter and panto:https://www.imperica.com/viewpoint/twitters-pantomime-jon-bounds

Something the about creative destruction of modern capitalism http://paradisecircus.com/2015/12/14/brutal-beautiful-battered-were-losing-the-war-for-our-soul/

Then this about group psychology and politics: https://www.imperica.com/en/features/pluralistic-ignorance-and-the-modern-condition

A bit where I predicted Jeremy Corbyn would win and got slated:
http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2015/08/18/labour-can-be-a-movement-again-under-jeremy-corbyn/

A clickbait listicle about 8 computer games from Birmingham that changed the whole world, or somethinghttp://paradisecircus.com/2015/07/23/8-brummie-games-that-changed-the-uk-home-computer-scene/

And a piece about why we buy books we don’t read http://popandpolitics.co.uk/2015/01/26/by-the-book-we-are-what-we-read-not-what-we-say-we-do/

A thing about Brummie accents and stupidity for the Telegraph:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/11679232/Brummie-is-more-than-just-beautiful-its-salright.html

Something about taking my motorbike test: http://www.contributoria.com/issue/2015-01/546284a8759c13910100011a/

A Marxist review of TV’s Wolf Hall (and other TV hits) http://olredeyesisback.tumblr.com/post/113711302410/wolf-hall

An interview with the lovely Stephen Duffy of the Lilac Time
http://paradisecircus.com/2015/04/27/no-sad-songs-an-interview-with-stephen-duffy/

And finally a torturous twist on the nativity to take a rise out of ‘sharing economy’ types. Described as ‘a hard read’ by a local critic http://paradisecircus.com/2015/12/22/christmas-is-for-sharing/

19Jun/15

Bon voyage, Pier Review

We’ve just completed and sent away to the publisher via our agent the text that is to become the book Pier Review.

We signed with Summersdale a few months ago, and they plan to release the finished thing in the spring next year.

There will no doubt be edits, but it’s there — and had packed a lot more into it than we thought possible. The subtitle has changed to “A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside”, which is broader.  Here’s the current rough take on the blurb:

 

Fifty-six piers. Two weeks. One eccentric road trip.

Before the seaside of their youth disappears forever, two friends from the landlocked Midlands embark on a hare-brained journey to see all the surviving pleasure piers in England and Wales. With a clapped-out car, and not enough cash, Jon and Danny recruit Midge, a man they barely know, to be their driver, even though he has to be back in two weeks to sign on… Taking turns to tell their madcap story, Jon and Danny invite us to join them as they take a funny and nostalgic look at Britishness at the beach, amusement in the arcades, and friendship on the road.

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13May/15

Some recent writing

Pluralistic ignorance and the modern condition – on social phycology and group behaviour.

Ol’ Red Eyes: Marxist TV reviews – a tumblr full of the Marxist television writing I’ve been commissioned to do recently.

Den Pen’s Shoes – on people who pretend to be dead authors on Twitter.

An interview with Stephen Duffy of the Lilac Time.

Plenty of stuff collected on Pop and Politics, including this on the death of the centrist protest vote.

29Jun/14

Email to the Editor of The Birmingham Mail

Below is a copy of an email that I have just sent to David Brookes, editor of the Birmingham Mail.

Dear Sir,

I would like your thoughts on a series of ‘similarities’ between articles posted on a website I edit (paradisecircus.com) and some on birminghammail.co.uk.

Paradise Circus is, as you may know, a site that evolved from Birmingham: It’s Not Shit (birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk) and features artistic responses to the city of Birmingham.

Since it launched it in 2012 it has run a very popular series ‘101 Things Birmingham Gave The World’ (you can see the 49 so far here http://paradisecircus.com/101-things-birmingham-gave-the-world/), this was the concept of one of our contributors Craig Hamilton and he and others — myself included — have worked hard on it, there are also plans for a book version. In essence each part of the series takes an either well known, or not so well known, fact about Birmingham and extrapolates circumstances in which the city could be said to be responsible for a larger concept. Some of these would be simple inventions, others are much more conceptual and deliberately tenuous.

We authors of the content have, since starting work on the project, noticed a good number of pieces on the Birmingham Mail website (possibly in the print edition too, I’ve not seen it) that were conceptually similar or which used the same jumping off points. There could be coincidence at play here but, like the old Ordinance Survey map makers who added in extra features to deter copies, some leaps of logic or ideas are too similar for our comfort.

One such is the article ‘Made in Brum: 21 top gadgets that Birmingham gave the world’ by David Bentley (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/made-brum-21-gadgets-birmingham-6940087): a large proportion of the subjects covered had previously been on Paradise Circus, which could just be a result of similar research but the passage on the invention of the computer is remarkably similar in concept to the PC piece on the Internet (http://paradisecircus.com/2013/07/18/101-things-brum-gave-the-world-no-33-the-internet/ by my colleague Jon Hickman).

The publication of this article on Thursday 26th June 2014: ‘Bizarre Brum: 14 funny facts you probably didn’t know about Birmingham’ again by David Bentley (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/bizarre-brum-14-funny-facts-7329822) contains a section on Birmingham’s supposed ‘invention’ of karaoke with concept and execution almost identical to the 101 Brum article I wrote and published on PC on the same subject in November 2012 (http://paradisecircus.com/2012/11/19/no-12-karaoke/).

I would like to know your thoughts on this. I suggest that your journalists would likely be well aware of our work, especially as your sister paper The Sunday Mercury used one of our pieces a week or so ago (which was asked for, paid for and credited). For my part the coincidences seem too great and I believe heavy inspiration is being taken by at least one Birmingham Mail journalist from our work: this damages our reputation and our ability to monetise our content.

I realise that in news terms it is usual for newspapers to use stories worked on or broken by other publications, but as your paper is new to the kind of online creative content around a city that we have been creating for over ten years it may not occur to your staff that their behaviour is unacceptable: as is the Mail’s use of the content in a commercial setting.

I look forward to your response

Jon Bounds
co-Editor Paradise Circus

CC: Executive Editor, Paul Cole,
The Internet

An investigation into this sort of thing is asking for your help on Contributoria, a crowdsourcing journalism site.

07Nov/13

The Moran Scale of Twitterstorms

I was asked to ‘create’ a Twitterstorm as part of an art project, and I sort of did. While this wonderful Buzzfeed post describes the stages that one goes through, in order to measure the size of a storm and hence the success of my operation we needed a way to describe the extent of a particular one. With Jon Hickman (Degree Leader, Web and New Media at Birmingham City University) I worked up this scale.

It’s an attempt to give a quantitative scale to something that cannot be measured directly in numbers—this is about extent and influence and simple measures are never going to cut it, although as the number of Morans increases so does the number of Tweets and their anger. It’s based roughly on the idea of the news cycle and how the subject of the storm operates within it. We chose the name ‘The Moran Scale’ after Caitlin Moran, whose ability to kick off the storms—and get them featured in the old school media—is unrivalled. As it’s about intensity of storm, a parallel to the Beaufort Scale is entirely intentional.

The Moran Scale of Twitterstorms by Jon Hickman and Jon Bounds

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