Friday, August 24, 2012

Some questions for Stephen Leather

If you've been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you might know that over the last few weeks I've had a monster bee in my bonnet about the best-selling British novelist Stephen Leather on account of several unethical practices he is fond of using.

This was triggered by Leather's remarkable boast at the Harrogate crime festival that he has set up a 'network' of fake identities online to promote his own work, and also relies on friends and friends of friends to do the same, using their real names or assuming others' to help him out with this. I did some digging, and soon found out quite a lot more besides, and asked Mr Leather about what I had found on Twitter. He was very aggressive, refused to answer most of my questions, and flat-out lied in response to some of them, before blocking me and going on to make veiled legal threats against me. Today I discover I have been suspended from Twitter (I'm trying to find out why right now), and at the same time Stephen Leather has finally responded, in the comments at this excellent blog post (which sets out a lot of the background and links to some of my findings). Here is my reply:

Leather: 'The problem is that I have been advised to say nothing.

But it is just so darn unfair that blogs like this have repeated allegations as fact without making any effort to check whether they are true or not. Ditto all those who pile in to comment on the allegations. It really is a mob mentality and is unfortunately not uncommon on the internet these days.'

Mr Leather, I've made every effort to check what I have discovered. I tweeted directly to you on Twitter from the beginning, asking you to answer questions about your sockpuppeting accounts. You were immediately aggressive, refused to answer my questions, lied, became personally abusive and then blocked me. You flatly denied that you were operating a Twitter account, @firstparagraph, claiming it was another writer who was a great fan of yours. You eventually changed the name of the account to @thirdparagraph and added a line in the profile admitting it is you, but you have shamelessly continued to use the account to talk about yourself in the third person as some sort of genius, and to relentlessly promote your books. You tweeted from that account earlier today: 'I just found a awesome free short story', followed by a link to one of your own stories on Amazon. You just found it, did you? Here are some other tweets you have made from the @thirdparagraph Twitter account:

'The book I would take with me on a desert island? No brainer. Soft Target by Stephen Leather.'

My favourite writer? Stephen Leather. I love his books. Stephen you rock!'

Just so we're clear: this is you tweeting about yourself in the third person. You denied you were doing it, pretending it was a fan of yours, but have now finally admitted it - and yet are still doing it.

'Pretty much all the allegations that Duns is making are untrue.'

Those modifiers don't inspire a great deal of confidence! Which allegations I have made are untrue and which ones are true, precisely? You say later that my allegations are unsubstantiated, but in fact I’ve substantiated them all. By your own admission, you use fake identities to promote your own work, which is not just unethical, but fraudulent: it's illegal in the UK. You make sick jokes on Amazon (that comment links to your own verified account). You set up two fake identities in the name of another writer – he told me this himself and I have recorded the conversation. You have posted racist abuse online – there are many elements of the posts that prove they were made by you, not least the poster’s knowledge of your address (you should be annoyed with them, surely, if they aren’t you!). By your own admission you have spent 700 dollars ‘undoing the work of a Wikipedia troll’.

'I stand by what I said at Harrogate but he has twisted and lied and stretched the truth in a way that has stunned me.'

You could simply have answered my questions when asked.

'At one point he made a defamatory statement about me on Twitter and I tweeted back that he had crossed over into libel. He then began tweeting that I was suing him.'

You tweeted at me ‘You have crossed the line into libel. Thanks.’ I took this as an indication that you were perversely pleased that I had said something untrue and damaging enough that you could then sue me. It’s a clear enough implication to anyone, I think. You also recently tweeted that you were looking for a lawyer in Sweden (where I live) who specializes in cyber-bullying - your clear implication being that I am cyber-bullying you. Good luck with either of those ideas.

'If nothing else he has so little in the way of assets that a libel action would be pyrrhic at best.'

What a cheap shot. And you have no idea what my assets are. You aren’t suing me because what I am saying is true. You'd be better served coming clean and explaining this to your readers, and of course to your publishers, who I hope would like an explanation for it. But mainly to your readers, who you habitually deceive by pretending to be other people. By your own admission.

'Since then I have just ignored him.'

Not quite true. You tweeted that I was ‘mad, ugly, losing his hair’ and called me ‘the shallow end of the gene pool’. You’ve made several other digs at me indirectly, I think. But yes, you’ve ignored my questions about your behaviour. Sure. There, we agree. However, a writer you know, Jake Drake, who has acted as an editor on at least one of your short stories and uploaded it to Smashwords, publicly accused me and Steve Mosby of smearing your reputation with fake reviews on Smashwords. Completely untrue. I wonder where Mr Drake could have got such a bizarre idea from.

'He then tweeted that he was afraid that I would send someone from Ireland to hurt him. That is a total fiction. But both these lies have been repeated as if they were fact.'

But I was afraid of that. I had read an interview with you in which you boasted about knowing 'half a dozen IRA guys' and 'some big-time drug smugglers', and coupled with your habit of abusing people online with virulently racist abuse and sick jokes, and several other things I’ve read and heard about you from Steve Roach, who warned me not to mess with you as you are 'powerful', and from several former colleagues of yours, such as the nature of that 'minor transgression' you committed as a young man, I was genuinely spooked by the thought you might send a racist hoodlum to have a go at me. I’m still a little spooked at that thought, in fact. As I type this, my account has been suspended from Twitter, apparently because I have been hacked. It could all be coincidence, but again, you were following my tweets and I was accusing you of lots of things. You could have answered. You chose not to, I think, because Twitter makes it very hard to answer direct questions. On a blog you can finesse your answers a lot, as you are doing.

'What I said at Harrogate was then twisted to say that I had opened fake Amazon accounts to criticise the work of other writers. That has been repeated many times and is not true.'

I haven’t said that, though frankly I do wonder what triggered the one-star review I just got from a ‘Mike’ on Amazon, especially as the last book he reviewed was one of yours, which he gave five stars.

'Duns phoned a friend of mine and spent almost an hour getting him to try to criticise me. He taped the call but still ended up twisting what was said. I have a full four-page statement from that friend about the way Duns behaved. I also have a letter from him saying that in no way does he regard me as having bullied him.'

That may be, because Steve Roach was very anxious not to upset you in any way. I’m hardly surprised, seeing as you spent over a year bullying him online. He sees it differently now, and is indeed even on friendly terms with you and grateful to you for help you have given him since your vendetta ended, but he didn’t see it like that at the time at all. He said to me that a year ago he had felt just as I did now, furious and wanting to see you account for your actions. He told me he had found himself attacked in all sorts of forums, had all his books slammed by you on Goodreads, that you named a sleazy villain after him in one of your books, and finally he discovered you had set up a Twitter account in his name to promote your own books, at which point he caved. Before that, he told me on tape at great length, he felt angry, upset and totally powerless: he complained about your behaviour to Goodreads and Amazon, and got nowhere.

UPDATE. Steve Roach now accepts that Stephen Leather did bully him, and in fact continued to do so even after I made this public. See this posting by Leather on his then-public Facebook wall, in which he published an email from Roach and mocked him:

'Over the past three weeks Duns has posted hundreds of malicious and abusive tweets about me.'

I haven't posted hundreds of tweets about you, and I don’t think any have been abusive. You’ve posted plenty of personally abusive tweets about me and others, often in the precise tones of a playground bully. Your mocking my lack of assets and sales figures in this response of yours is also for no other purpose than malice.

'He has appealed to his friends to join in and several have.'

Sigh. I haven’t appealed to anyone to be malicious or abusive against you, on Twitter or anywhere else. As above, you have in fact been provably malicious and abusive towards me: I've screengrabbed every one, incidentally. 

I have tried to get this story wider coverage, because you’re a bestselling author and I want you to be held to account for your fraudulent and often very disturbing behaviour.

'Duns took screenshots of my Facebook page and tweeted them.'

I tweeted one screenshot of a statement you made publicly on your Facebook wall – it was public when you made it, which is how I could screengrab it. I'm not going to apologize for doing that. You were boasting about paying 700 dollars ‘undoing the work of a Wikipedia troll’! Wikipedia is not a paying encyclopedia, and the way it works is by voluntary contributors who try to gather the most accurate information; there is a policy for getting rid of vandalism and trolls, and it doesn't involve payment. You’re a bestselling author (as you so often remind people) so I think you have an even greater  responsibility to act ethically because your fans, some of whom are also writers, may try to emulate you. So instead of getting upset that I posted this incriminating evidence about your unethical behaviour, it might be a better idea if you explained it. Who did you pay 700 dollars to at Wikipedia, and to do what, precisely? Why didn't you go through its procedures, which are free? Why do you think this is acceptable at all? I don’t think I need to justify exposing this statement of yours in the public domain: I think you need to address why you did this.  

'He tweeted personal details of my address.'

This information was and is in the public domain, Mr Leather. I found it on this website listing it as a registered address for you as a company director in 2010. I was looking for it because the same address was mentioned in this racist message from an abusive Yahoo forum poster who had posted under the names 'Big Nick Palmer', ‘stephenleather’ and 'Joe King' a year previously, in 2009. Although it is in the public domain, your address is not all that easy to find, so the fact that ‘stephenleather’ knew your address a year before you used it to register for a company is a piece of evidence that you and the virulent and abusive racist ‘Big Nick Palmer'/‘stephenleather’/'Joe King' are the same person. Added to this, Big Nick Palmer'/‘stephenleather’/'Joe King' shares several views you have expressed on your blog and in a 2010 novel, is white, British, your age, posted to a writer’s blog about Amazon’s Kindle forums, which you frequent, and yet never mentioned he was a well-known writer and had still not revealed that fact three years later there or anywhere else. All of this suggests either a series of coincidences running into odds of billions to one, an extraordinarily elaborate smear campaign against you three years ago that never resulted in any connection being made to you by anyone or, of course, that it is you. I'm sure that Yahoo would be able to confirm whether or not the poster in question has an IP registered anywhere near your homes in the UK or Thailand, but it would be far easier if you simply answered my question: did you make racist posts as 'Big Nick Palmer' aka 'stephenleather' aka 'Joe King' on Yahoo’s message boards? Yes or no? Try not to skirt it. It’s important.

'He has made countless unsubstantiated allegations and offensive comments to the point that I have to avoid Twitter most of the time, a great pity as that was my favoured way of talking to fans.'

You mainly use it to talk to yourself, in fact, as by my count you now have very few genuine followers, perhaps as low as a few dozen. Between March 1 2012 and March 11 2012 your Twitter account – the one under your own name, not your sockpuppets under the names of writers who have irritated you and who you wish to put in their place – received an incredible 26,500 new followers. You received on average 2,650 new followers every day, for 10 days straight. Then that stopped, and your account continued as normal. Did you buy these followers? If not, how did you not even remark on the extraordinary number of new followers you were getting every single day, and who then suddenly stopped arriving in such numbers? Surely your much-vaunted social media expertise would have told you this was unlikely to be above board.

'Duns claims to be a journalist.'

No, I am one. I’ve been published by most of the British broadsheets, and my next book is investigative journalism crossed with history.
'He also claims to be a writer.'

No, I am a writer, and have worked as one full-time since 2008. I’m just at the start of my career, really. You can try to belittle me as much as you like, but I’m published by Simon & Schuster and Penguin, and my first three books are currently under development as a TV series at the BBC. Youve missed several other things here, but not everyone is as obsessed with sales as you are, and it’s not the only way of judging a writer’s worth. I’m not in the least envious of you. (I think you mean envious, not jealous, but I'm not jealous of you, either.) And, of course, one of this is relevant to the issues under discussion.

'A writer by the name of Steve Mosby has been heaping abuse on me too, He is fond of calling me a bully (based mainly on the allegations that Duns has made).'

It’s plain as day you are one. You’ve just very pettily listed my and Steve’s book sale figures to try to cow us. You’ve made several abusive remarks to people on Twitter about this topic. You've called me mad, ugly and the shallow end of the gene pool, and have made similarly offensive digs at Steve.

'If anyone has been a bully it's Duns and Mosby.'

Really? You're a victim? Pull the other one, it's got a sock on it.

'Mosby alone has blogged on me FOUR times and has sent more than a hundred tweets slagging me off. Duns sends dozens of abusive tweets about me every day, including sme that are very personally offensive.'

Blogging about you isn't bullying. I haven’t sent you any abusive tweets. I have repeatedly tried to get you to answer my questions.

'But it is the posting of my personal details on Twitter that worries me most.'

You posted your address online yourself, as part of an abusive racist diatribe, Mr Leather. This information is also in the public domain.

'I would be grateful in future if you and the visitors to your blog would refrain from commenting on untrue and unsubstantiated allegations.'

They’re true, and I’ve substantiated them. You need to answer to them.


  1. Writer Jeremy Duns Suspended By Twitter

    I didn't write about this befroe because the kind of behavior being engaged in is what I have come to expect in these All Fraud All The Time times.

    Here's another example of that, just today:

    Did Famous Director Henry Jaglom Review His Wife’s Book Without Disclosure?

    When the hell does it ever end?

  2. Have you had the reason for the suspension explained?

    We have a free the Jeremy Duns 1 campaign.

  3. Jeremy,

    Seeing as you keep dragging my name into all of this, I will comment here.

    You keep using my comments about Stephen Leather out of context. I did say that at the time I was very upset with Leather's antics, and even said that I "was as mad with him as you now appear to be".

    However, I also said that since calling a truce, Stephen Leather has been nothing but helpful and friendly, often interrupting his day to help me out with one bit of advice or another.

    If you're going to tell a story, don't simply use bad journalism to cherry pick soundbites and use them out of context.

    As for your Twitter account being suspended, i saw that you were not only campaigning against Stephen Leather but also a number of other high profile authors. You were even getting embroiled in the current hoo-ha involving the Wiki Leaks guy, Assange. I would bet good money that Stephen Leather is just one of a number of people who would prefer to see you restraining your various accusations.

    Remember, before you phoned me, you were publicly Tweeting that I was Stephen Leather - patently untrue but that didn't stop you disseminating this false information into the public domain.

    As for people following this story (including, bizarrely, the writer of Father Ted), you might want to wait for more accurate information before commenting.

    Finally, as for Nick Cohen, I don't appreciate you bringing my name into the national newspapers. And, for the record, this 'minor writer' has sold more books than Jeremy Duns and Steve Mosby combined, but am probably less well known because I rarely blather my opinions all over the internet. Just saying.

    Thank You,
    Steve Roach
    (Minor Writer)

  4. You're much missed on Twitter, Jeremy. I hope you find your way back there soon. And I hope that Mr Leather makes a thoughtful, sockpuppet-free response to your questions: it would be far more constructive than his behaviour has been up to now.

  5. Now why on earth hasn't the leathery chap said that Nick Cohen - - "claims to be a journalist"?

  6. Thanks, everyone - and thanks to all those tweeting about this for their kind support. It's much appreciated. Aneliya, Twitter sent me an email overnight explaining that they have 'automated systems that find and remove multiple automated spam accounts in bulk' and that my account looked like it had got 'caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake'. They restored my account, but it was suspended 17 minutes later, while I was still asleep, so I'm guessing that there may be automated reports to Twitter that my account is spam. I've explained the situation to them and hope it will be sorted out.

    Steve Roach: I understand your frustration. Nick Cohen's article in The Observer mentioned your great relief at Leather stopping his vendetta against you, but you're right that it didn't state that Leather has since been helpful and friendly to you. I have stated that publicly on Twitter, and you have just said it now, so I hope the record is now set straight on that point.

    As for accusing you of being Stephen Leather, I apologized to you on the phone and on Twitter for this. I apologize again: it's becoming clear that it's a horrible thing to be accused of. You accepted my apology on the phone and on Twitter, and on the phone you also apologized to me. I also explained that I had accused you of this in part to try to draw out the truth, to which you replied that you had known that already.

    But I did also genuinely think you were Leather, after wavering about it for a time. I think my mistake was fairly understandable, as it was clear that your account had been set up by Stephen Leather to use to promote his own work, and you have now confirmed that this is in fact the case. I hadn't believed that he had handed over control of the account to you after setting it up in your name to spite you, but that's rather an odd story to say the least. It didn't help that because of your reluctance to upset Leather you were very evasive when answering me on Twitter, and I simply couldn't understand what had happened from your replies. It was only when I called you and you explained it in detail that it became clear what had happened. You explained to me just as I have described above: you criticized Leather on Amazon in late 2010 and soon found that you were the subject of an online campaign by him, with comments attacking you in forums all over the place, your books reviewed harshly, and a Leather story featuring a villain named after you. Finally, just a couple of months ago you found a Twitter account pretending to be you but promoting Leather's books, at which point you emailed him and asked him to stop.

    You've now made it up to him and don't want to upset him, but you told me all this, and I recorded it. It would be impossible to describe every in and out of your relationship with him, but the summary of the situation in The Observer and here is accurate: one of Britain's best-selling writers spent over a year conducting an online vendetta against a relatively unknown self-published writer who had criticized him online. There's more to it, of course, but it's not all in Mr Leather's favour, or yours. For example, you also admitted to me in our phone conversation that you pay people to buy your books. So there are details that have not been discussed at great length, but I think the core of it has been clearly and accurately reported, and I think it's important.

    If you have any quarrel with the accuracy of this, please let me know - I can also post the recording of our phone call and people can hear what you said for themselves.

  7. Someone has sent me a link to Stephen Leather's short story about Harrogate, which he has just published. I think I'm supposed to be Archibald Dumbleton, although I wasn't at Harrogate, don't stalk people, have nothing against ebooks and most certainly have never worn cargo pants. If it is meant to be me, that detail alone is grounds for legal action. But perhaps it's meant to be someone else.

    It does seem clear that Sebastian Busby is supposed to be Steve Mosby, and the amazingly successful Sean Hyde is supposed to be Leather himself. I've only read a sample, but it's quite revealing: there's something very sockpuppetish about writing a story praising yourself, and the Hyde name seems at least to have some self-awareness of his own character. I won't comment on the writing.

    But I see that the story already has several glowing reviews on Amazon, mostly from people who seem to almost exclusively review Leather's work favourably. So it strikes me that the 'network' Leather boasted about at Harrogate may be a group that helps edit his work, then gives it five stars the moment any of it is online, and I guess some of them are also writers, and perhaps others are also these friends and friends of friends who help him promote his work under their own names and sockpuppet accounts. It would be nice to hear a more detailed explanation from Mr Leather of how precisely he breaks Amazon's policies and British law in this way, but perhaps that's hoping for too much.

    I think in hindsight this is also a very revealing interview with Leather about why he bothered to invest so much time on the Amazon forums:

    It is clear that the idea is to keep the threads afloat. He can't keep replying under his own name, so he has several identities and helpers replying constantly, sometimes just nonsense, sometimes even attacking himself, and then the threads keep being pushed up to the top so people casually browsing the forums see them, notice his name and the offers on the books, click through and buy them. When he started doing this in late 2010, all the threads will have been about major stuff like Jack Reacher, Harry Potter - and Leather. There were dozens and dozens of such threads - I had a look at a few and felt dizzy.

    I've seen a few people say this sort of thing makes no difference. Of course it does. A cheap price, a lot of books on offer and a pre-existing brand already helped him, but clearly the sockpuppeting has been a major factor in Leather's ebook success. That's why he does it, and why he brazenly boasted about it at Harrogate.

    The article above shows Leather's usual brashness, arrogance and obsession with sales, but I also found his comment about plagiarism interesting:

    '“Stieg’s got a problem because so many people have read his books and he’s not writing anymore,” Leather said. “I am pulling in readers who have never read my stuff. I’ve never read anything by Stieg. I can’t read them because I’d steal from them. I don’t plagiarize but I always use what I read.”'

    Yes, in Stephen Leather's world, Stieg Larsson's problem is he's not writing anymore! Larsson is of course dead. It's also interesting that Leather confesses he would stoop to stealing from Larsson's books if he did read them. I'd be interested to learn what Leather's distinction is between plagiarism and his habit of always using what he reads. Using in what ways? Plagiarism is not just using someone else's text verbatim - it can also be using others' *ideas* without acknowledgement or permission. From that quote, I wonder if Mr Leather entirely understands this - and what ideas of other writers he has used in his career so far.

  8. I am shocked to hear how terribly serious this issue has become (not having followed it historically in its entirety. Please be assured of m sympathy and real admiration for pursuing this cause. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be to be bullied by people like that. Hope to see you back on twitter soon!

  9. Did you see this article in the Guardian? Please read:

  10. Thanks, Margit - I hope it will be sorted soon.

    Yes, '0d5a5f0c-eee7-11e1-a2f1-000f20980440', I have read that article. If you read it yourself you'll see I'm a source for some of it.

  11. Part 1 of 3 (post exceeds permitted length)

    The record is not straight, I’m afraid, because the Cohen article has been blowing up all over the internet and you were instrumental in providing most (if not all) of the material for that article. Perhaps a more pertinent point is the fact that you are still writing about all of this yourself, and have full control over what is being published from your point of view, and the stuff I mentioned in my previous comment is absent. You are still choosing to post direct links to the Cohen article as of today (perpetuating the inaccuracies you have since commented that you have put ‘straight’).

    It appears to anybody reading the article that I am terrified of Stephen Leather, and that I am some sort of simpering victim. This is not the case, and I think it’s only fair for you to say, particularly when you are building a case for Stephen Leather to be presented as a cyber bully as a result of what he directly did to me, that the situation is nothing of the sort and never has been. When my disagreements with Leather were in full swing, I gave back as good as I got. It’s more accurate to say that the whole debacle was more of a fight than a bullying situation. If you are basing your definition of ‘cyber bullying’ on events involving myself (which you have been), then the phrase is not accurate.

    Regarding Cohen’s article, he states that Leather attacked me from behind a ‘coward’s cloak of anonymity’ - although the worst of Leather’s attacks on me were upsetting, he made no bones about using his own name. (It’s with an amount irony that I’d need a bulldozer to move that I note the most recent link to this very article, which you have chosen to post using your administrative control, is by the poster called “0d5a5f0c-eee7-11e1-a2f1-000f20980440”).

    As for our phone conversation, I really don’t appreciate the fact that you recorded it without my knowledge. Further to this, I would submit that the following applies: “recording (a telephone conversation) without notification is prohibited where some of the contents of the communication—a phone conversation or an e-mail—are made available to a third party”

    This is from the Wikipedia entry on ‘Telephone recording laws’ relating to the United Kingdom. In this case, the third party was a reporter working for a national newspaper who subsequently published an article. I have no idea whether an entry on Wikipedia represents an accurate and legally binding definition – that’s up to you to decide – but taken at face value I’d say that recording our conversation without my knowledge is technically illegal based upon what you subsequently used the information for. Even if it isn’t illegal, it’s a morally questionable act.

  12. Part 2 of 3:
    Whilst I have no problem with any of the things I said during our conversation, I do have a problem with the content being used out of context as a mechanism to attack Stephen Leather, a person who I once had enormous issues with but am now on friendly terms with. That, by the way, has nothing to do with being afraid of upsetting Stephen Leather, but more to do with the fact that the situation you / Cohen are portraying was never really the reality of my disagreements with him.

    With this in mind, I will ask that you destroy the recording. From a personal point of view, I am a writer with a minor internet presence and would like to keep it that way. I do not want to wake up every day to find an exponentially growing number of people basing their opinion of me – and, more importantly, my work – as something that is the result of out-of-context and therefore inaccurate information. On the other side of the coin, I’m pretty certain Stephen Leather isn’t happy about that same inaccurate information being used as something to give him a public battering. For the sake of accuracy, if you mention the scenario between myself and Stephen Leather as it was, you should balance this out with information about how things now stand. That’s just being fair.

    Your comment about me being ‘evasive’ in replying to you on Twitter is also contextually questionable. For a writer, you don’t appear to realize the power of certain words you bandy around. ‘Evasive’ carries certain implications. The truth is, you approached me out of the blue, with a bombardment of Tweets accusing me of being Stephen Leather. I had no idea who you were, and why I was the focus of such extreme attention from a total stranger. I gave you a number of very clear reasons why I couldn’t possibly be Stephen Leather, not least of which was the reason that it would be an awfully elaborate and time consuming plan to create a false identity by writing 15 books just for the purpose of creating a ‘sock puppet’ account. This didn’t deter you and you kept on Tweeting relentlessly. So I was incredulous, perturbed and certainly not in any position to deny my own existence and admit that I only existed as a figment of another writer’s imagination. To clarify, this doesn’t equate to being ‘evasive’!

  13. Part 3 of 4:

    As for your comment relating to my comment about paying people to buy my books, let me put that into context. I have a very small circle of friends who want to read whatever I put out, and as I am quite prolific I don’t want to keep pestering them to buy my books so I give them a pound each time I release something. Half the time they’ve bought the book(s) anyway, so it’s a moot point. I used to be in a number of bands, and was always letting my mates into gigs without their needing to pay. Same thing, no big deal. I also have a wonderful reader who emails me every now and then with the odd typo, and as a thank you I also make a point of giving her free books. To extrapolate this to the extreme, if I win the lottery tomorrow and give a million people a pound each to buy one of my books, that’s none of your business. I’d be a complete idiot for doing such a thing, but again that would be nobody else’s business but my own.

    The whole issue of friends writing reviews for author’s books is not something I myself have an issue with in theory – again, when I was in a band, it was friends’ word-of-mouth that drew the audiences in, and of course that’s how the world works. If you seriously don’t think this doesn’t happen with pretty much everything that is for sale, then you are somewhat deluded. I make no secret of the fact that a small percentage of my reviews (particularly when I first started releasing books via Amazon) are from people I know. If they enjoyed any of my books, they have their own opinion and can leave a review if they like.

    Although I now actively discourage this scenario (I ask my friends not to post reviews on Amazon for the simple reason that certain people are on the lookout for such things and such reviews are very easy to spot) it’s not an issue for me for other authors to encourage reviews from friends and family. Sometimes, they are the only reviews that will ever appear before the book sinks into obscurity forever, and I can understand that it gives the author a little ego boost to see some sort of validation that they haven’t completely wasted their time. I would find it incredible if none of your own books haven’t been reviewed in this way – and who really cares if one or two of your reviews is from somebody you actually know in the real world?

  14. Part 4 of 4

    It’s inconceivable to think that an author as successful as Stephen Leather doesn’t have a number of fans that buy everything he writes and rush to leave amazing reviews when they’ve finished reading. Contextually, I have a good friend that can’t stand Stephen Leather because of the things that happened a long time ago, but even in the middle of the carnage he admitted to me that he’d read one of his books and thought it was great. If he didn’t write books with mass appeal, he wouldn’t be as successful as he is. I read one myself recently and I liked it.

    Are you really suggesting, in all seriousness, that even if (and I say IF) Stephen Leather has a few mates and even a couple of sock puppet accounts, that it would make even the tiniest of dents in the overall sales figures he enjoys? Of course it doesn’t. The truth is, such things are negligible in the grand scheme of things. Think about it for a few seconds and that becomes patently obvious. If the only people buying his books were a few mates and a couple of sock puppet accounts, he’d be in the same position as a million unsuccessful writers and we wouldn’t be having this ‘conversation’.

    Suggesting that he – or anyone – is breaking the law because friends / family / fans choose to leave glowing reviews about an author’s work is utterly ludicrous.

    I’ll finish this overlong, time-consuming post by repeating what I told you during our phone conversation: You are going after Stephen Leather with an accusation (using sock-puppet accounts) that he already addressed himself in a public forum at Harrogate. I told you that upsetting Stephen Leather wasn’t a good idea, something I know from experience, and something I said with the altruistic and gentle aim of steering you away from getting into a public argument with a high profile author. I’ve been there and it doesn’t look good for anybody involved, and is ultimately a pointless waste of time.

    You’ve chosen to ignore that advice and are now at the centre of an internet storm, which I suspect you are continuing for personal reasons in order to prove what a great investigative journalist you are. Whilst I can’t discourage you from that endeavour, I can ask that you amend your various online accounts of events to more accurately encompass the current stance of an unwilling participant in this whole debacle. Which would be me.

    Thank you.

  15. PS. The captcha anti-robot thing on here is a fucking NIGHTMARE.

  16. How irritating! I answered in depth and my own blog has deleted the comments.

    I can't be bothered to rewrite it all, I'm afraid, Steve. I amended the post above to reflect what you said, and think it is more than fair. Nick Cohen interviewed me and I explained the situation as best I could, including that you are now friendly with Leather and grateful to him for subsequent help. He chose to mention simply that you were greatly relieved the attacks were over, and not to go into your subsequent relationship at that level of detail, and I think his article is accurate. It's impossible for any article to cover everything, but just because he didn't make this one point you want clearer I don't think it counts as inaccurate or cherrypicking. I don't control what Nick Cohen writes, so I suggest you take it up with him or The Observer directly.

    You clearly do not now regard Leather's online attacks against you for over a year as bullying, but you felt very differently at the time. I do, and I think it is clear from what you told me. As for them only being from his own name, that's not true, either: he set up an account on Twitter in your name pretending to be you, and you told me he made several digs at you from it. You also told me you had found all sorts of identities attacking you on the net, and that you suspected Leather had caused some of them. There are other examples of him bullying and abusing people, too. You've also just ignored a ton of other issues, such as his admission of Wikipedia-tampering and his abusive racism.

    I recorded the conversation we had for very good professional reasons as a matter of course, as I think is now very clear. I'd have had no proof of this otherwise, so it's just as well, I think, especially as Mr Leather is so powerful.

  17. OK. I won't be taking this up with Cohen as I've said all I need to say.

    I've also said that I'm not happy about you recording the conversation we had, have informed you that the legality behind it is questionable (according to UK law) and I have publicly asked you to destroy it. Again, all I can say is now said.

    Any other issues you have with Stephen Leather are fuck all to do with me. If he wants to have what he deems inaccurate claims deleted from Wikipedia, that seems like a reasonable thing to get them deleted. I have never seen any racist comments from Stephen Leather. This said, I do find it hilarious that you have been taking opinions and speeches from his CHARACTERS and using this to portray him as a racist.

    One of my books features a skeleton that boils down naughty children to use as fertilising sludge for his garden. Does that mean that I, the author, share the view that all gardeners should abandon fertilising agents and start murdering children? Of course not. (Though it does produce better tomatoes.*)

    The whole point of fiction is to explore ALL viewpoints, and if Stephen Leather happens to be writing a book that features terrorists (of whatever race) then it stands to reason that these terrorist characters are not going to be very nice people.

    You write fiction - why do I even need to explain this?!

    Anyway, I really don't have the time to keep returning to this blog topic so i'll let what I've already said stand.


    *That is a joke, obviously.

  18. Stephen Leather has made a lot of very racist comments online, several of them very much in line with the views of far right parties like the BNP. If you haven't seen them, you can't have read what I've found. I link to it all above. I suggest you take a look. The comments are clearly racist, and 'stephenleather' is provably Stephen Leather. You're very dismissive of some pretty important stuff, I find.

    I am of course well aware of the dangers of conflating an author's fiction with their own views - but I've had a very close look, and the similarities between what some of Leather's fictional racists say and what he says himself online are often *extremely* similar. I think it's clear that Hodder has published BNP-style propaganda via the back door, and think it would stand up under close scrutiny. If it ever receives any. (By the by, I also happen to think that paying to tamper with Wikipedia is a lot more serious than you do.)

    As for my recording of our phone conversation, I think if you look beyond Wikipedia you'll find that this was perfectly legal under British law. I'm a journalist investigating a crime, which additionally is in the public interest. You may be right that I can't make the recording available unless I have your permission, but the recording itself was for my own purposes as a professional journalist. If I hadn't recorded the conversation, I would have simply made notes of it so I could quote you accurately later, and I would have been equally free to reveal what you had told me in the conversation. Contemporaneous notes are legally binding, so we could be exactly where we are now if I had written it down at the time instead. But notes are by their nature never as accurate as a recording, so for that reason I always try to record phone interviews: that way I never get a quote wrong.

    In most cases, of course, I start by asking the other person if they mind (which they never do). But with you, I thought about it and realized from our Twitter conversation that if I mentioned I was recording you, you almost certainly wouldn't talk to me, or if you did not as openly as you might do otherwise. I could have written it all down, but I had a hunch you might deny it later and wanted to have your words as precisely as possible in a totally undeniable form.

    So legally speaking, I was recording the conversation in exactly the same way many TV programmes do when conducting undercover investigations. Stephen Leather publicly admitted to fraud, and I was investigating it. There is no if about it, as you suggest above, because he admitted it, and it's not a matter of a few mates either - Leather boasted he had a 'network' of fake online identities himself, and that friends and friends of friends also promoted his work in this way.

    I can understand why you're irritated that you've been in the press, but I think you should go back and have a look at what I've written above. I haven't done anything wrong here. Stephen Leather is a bestselling writer, but he is also provably a fraud, a liar, a bully and a virulent racist. You seem not to care much about any of that, despite experiencing his particular brand of cruelty not so long ago. But as I tried to explain to you when we spoke, I do think it's fairly important.

  19. Steve Roach - If you don't think a bestselling writer, with many fans and readers, is being a bully by setting up two twitter accounts in *your* name, expressly to talk about his own books and make snide remarks about *you*, then I don't know what would convince you now.

    No matter how good your relationship is with him now, to deny that is bullying, is a ridiculous position to take.

    And all this could be sorted out quickly if Leather spent less time writing out his fantasies about Steve Mosby's tattoos and Jeremy's surname being turned into 'Dumbleton', and more time answering the accusations levelled at him. Because they matter.

  20. Dear Jeremy,

    My name is Emily James, and I am a human rights lawyer who campaigns against the surveillance society.

    I believe your treatment of Steve Roach is outrageous and you should be held to account for it.

    Therefore I have written up a series of questions for you here.

  21. If you're interested in having a bit of pickled-ginger plagiarism, to distract from Twitter and Leather issues, Harvard's got a whopper:

    Harvard University probes mass exam 'cheating'

    There genuinely seems to be a pervasive attitude regarding what is and isn't plagiarism and theft, and it's falling very much on the side of wrong.

  22. Is this you, Maria?