I phoned the manager of the Cardiff Store, who wouldn't comment but referred me to John Howells in their central press office. He said the event was cancelled because of concerns about safety in the light of a high volume of complaints received yesterday (he wouldn't say how many or what proportion were emails or phone calls). I asked him if they were threatening or intimidating and he said they weren't but expressed outrage and offence. Clearly there was ayt least an implicit threat of disruption.
He then raised the issue that Stephen Green does in this radio exchange with Patrick Jones - apparently Jones had distributed a press release before the event, to a list including Green- that contained some of the allegedly offensive lines about sex and religion. Howells said that Waterstones tried to contact Jones and his publishers about this yesterday but were unable to so had no choice but to cancel. But even if Jones did send a provocative press release, so what? He is trying to promote his book and if he feels he would also like to challenge Green's anachronistic notions of blasphemy, why shouldn't he? Surely it is a matter of principle that you should not be able to precipitate the cancellation of any event just by claiming it offends you or implying that you will attempt to disrupt it? Surely it is the author and publisher who Waterstones should be supporting here? Or is that too much to ask from a company whose entire profits are built on the hard work of writers? The book remains on sale at the store (print run of 100 apparently) - after all, Howells says - we do not censor.
Green is a self-promoting loon with a good email distribution list but with no real constituency, who gets far too much attention in the media. But even if he was a legitimate leader speaking on behalf of thousands Waterstones answer should have been the same: If you don't like the book don't read it and don't come to the books signing. End of. If bookstores start caving in to this kind of (albeit cowardly and pathetic click-of-a-mouse intimidation) then we really are in the shit.
What you can do:
- Email Waterstones' cheif exec to let him know what you think: email@example.com
- Vote for Stephen Green in our Bad Faith Awards (if you've already voted and you feel strongly enough you can change your vote. I have)
- Listen to Ariane Sherine of the Atheist Bus Campaign nominate Green for the priceless statement that "people don't like to be preached at."