Every year I dread today, not just because of what happened then for everything that’s happened since – all the life that you’ve missed.
13th August 1997
I was walking alone in the darkness of a campsite and watched a shooting star (or more accurately the comet trail of Halle-Bopp the Great Comet of 1997) and I just knew that you were with it, a bold fleeting brightness that burned too strong to last long.
I dreaded knowing that you were sick and this time you weren’t getting better,
I dreaded knowing the exact moment you’d died,
I dreaded what my life would be like without you in it and…
I dreaded all the future hurts and sadness that I could see as ripples on the lake of your passing.
There was so much sorrow and shame (I could never explain why I knew when it happened, no logic was ever enough for me or religious relatives) the sadness was numbing in its sharpness.
But the shame? I thought I would drown in it.
What I dread most now is the distance from it all, from you.
It feels odd to have carried around the pain of your dying for so much longer than the time we had with joy of you living.
I think some part of me is afraid that if I ever forget how much it hurt to lose you that’d be the same as losing you altogether, at least with the hurt always here it’s like a part of you is still with me.
Today Dad I just want to send you love and tell you we’re alright, we miss you, we love you and we always will.
I’ve wanted to articulate this for a very long time as a lot of people (some total strangers and others far closer to me) have asked about my recent apparent dislike for a certain author ‘Oh but you used to love them!’ ‘But you were their biggest fan?!’. An author whom I acknowledge, I used to view as an inspirational figure and one who’d had both a deep formative influence in my childhood, it turned I was connected to them in more ways than I’d initially realised…but whose recent actions and statements over the last few years have revealed an ugly prejudice which sadly has utterly tainted both love of their work and in my humble opinion their overall cultural worth.
I am referring of course, to J.K. Rowling.
I am writing this to explain both why I admired and felt so close to that author and her series, and why their continued insistence on abusing their global platform to spreading misinformation and bigotry which is actively increasing prejudice and hostility against an already marginalised minority community – is inhumane and unforgivable.
Anyway this blogpost is my own very personal and in all likelihood it will be a long winded explanation as to my feelings on all things Potter, but this is an attempt to explain that there is nothing knee-jerk or arbitrary about my decision to turn my back on a once beloved universe forever.
The Wizard and I…1997-2000.
To start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). My relationship to the aforementioned author began in 1997, with the publishing of the first book in HP series Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone it was bought for me by my Mum because with my terrible bottle-top glasses masking my brightly green-hazel eyes, an awful unruly mop of brunette hair I bore a strong resemblance to the boy of the front cover. The personal connection I experienced with the book was instantaneous and felt almost rarely unique (little did I know that although one of the first fans of the books I’d become one of millions).
And although I wasn’t an orphan (or even an only child being raised in a cupboard under the stairs) my family was going through its most tragic of dysfunctional spells – another reason I’d been bought the first book was as distraction to fill the gaping chasm of grief that was threatening to engulf me after the death of our Father. Said death led to yet another cross-country move (I joined my fifth school of eight in the Autumn of 1997) which left me with no friends but my remaining family who loved me and we were all lost in our own personal islands of grief. So as a friendless new kid again, I leant in to my defining personality traits of ‘books and cleverness‘ in order to survive and some books and book series became extremely important forms of escapism.
The first three books in the HP series were released on an annual basis each summer meaning that for the first three years of our shared existence Harry Potter and I were the same age* (*as in we were the same age in number of years old/same school year, JKR eventually retconned Harry’s DOB to 31st July 1980 six years earlier than Harry would’ve been to be 10 turning 11 in the summer of 1997).
This similarity in age coupled with Harry’s struggles with being bullied by others and fight to find his place in the world along with the constant comparisons people would make to Harry’s striking resemblance to his dead father (really the most double-edged of comments from well intended but misguided elders you can make to someone who has lost a parent, ‘oh but you look the spit of them’!). So it’s perhaps unsurprising that I found the series particularly resonant, as I grew up so did Harry and his best friends who became an enormous comfort to me.
And I didn’t learn this until much later but in 2000 JKR published Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is actually dedicated in part to a distant relative of mine (Susan Sladden) “who helped Harry out of his cupboard”, I have never communicated this publicly previously but it used to warm my closeted gay kid heart to know that my first-cousin (twice removed) had helped bringing something so marvellous into the world in whatever capacity…
“Too Gryffindor to function” 2001-2005.
During my seventh and penultimate school, I encountered some of the worst bullying in my life after having made the mistake of entrusting my big secret (that I knew at fifteen that I was most definitely gay), to one of my new “friends”. After I told this friend in confidence she decided to tell her loose-lipped boyfriend who deliberately shared the news around the school which I’d only been attending for approximately 9 months. Which led to instant notoriety as a relatively anonymous and historical-friendship-group lacking new kid nerd was easy to bully, but a gay new kid nerd in 2001 while English schools were still under the oppressive grip of Section 28?
I was an insecure bully’s ideal target – I even lived in a neighbouring town from my secondary school so there was little chance of any of the bullies’ actions ever coming back to bite them and that’s before we get into the School faculty’s insistence on either turning a blind-eye to what was happening or persuading me “not to worry my mum with it” (mum was an successful and prominent Principal of a neighbouring FE college connected to the secondary school at the time. It wasn’t out of concern for her but fear of her reaction that they hushed things up) and those were the more supportive staff, some actually believed that Section 28 authorised them to ridicule, mock and bully me themselves (well they weren’t promotingit were they?).
Rather than crumple under the onslaught of homophobic bullying I became the campest / bravest version of myself I knew how to be at the time. Which often meant retorting to bullies who falsely accused me of wanting to perform sex acts on them as insult that I’d only consider it if they stopped being such a tease a dropped their trousers and got on with it because I was such a popular, busy boy. Wise? Definitely not, but by embracing my identity and being unapologetically brave and unspoken about it I learned and grew up a lot (I also got good at hiding bruises, ignoring insults and standing up to bullies).
By this stage HP wasn’t just that book I’d been given because I looked like the boy on the cover, the series was a global bestselling children’s book phenomena on a scale unlike any seen before (though still not quite at its zenith) and a firm favourite for readers of a certain age. A few years later in 2004 one of my best friends introduced me to my future ex-boyfriend with “don’t mind Nick getting fiery and political, he’s great but too Gryffindor to function sometimes”.
Dumbledore’s Army and Awkward Truths 2005-2020.
Gradually the books of the HP series became longer and more spaced out (by this point the WarnerBros film franchise was fully ascendant and the Potter publishing phenomenon was in full force), and my love for them was obviously shared by multiple generations. Other weird quirks emerged which made me love the series more, I didn’t even mind when some Potter pals jokingly called me Tom Riddle or Voldey/Voldemort after Joanne decided to allocate the Dark Lord my own birthday (New Year’s Eve) to just rubber stamp his innate mid-winter wickedness.
By the time the final book in the series published, I was working for a languages college as an events co-ordinator and actually took a group of the older teenage students to the Waterstones’ in Hastings for a midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows so that we could all enjoy it as so that we could all savour the last instalment together. Soon after the buzz and bestselling chart dominance of the finale began to wane, J. K. Rowling elaborated on multiple aspects of the Harry Potter universe (prior to the launch of what would become Pottermore and the Wizarding World) including revealing the non-shock subtext that Albus Dumbledore, despite presenting as an almost wholly asexual figure throughout the series was in fact a closeted homosexual.
Many, less bias and better readers than I called this out as a wholly cynical and unhelpful form of representation – Albus Dumbledore whilst ostentatiously one of the greatest wizards who ever lived, is also also an incredibly problematic and complex figure. Not only is Dumbledore’s sole and entirely subtextual romantic partner the wizarding equivalent of Hitler (interesting choice for your gay representation Joanne), but he is clearly both hugely invested in Harry Potter and inappropriately reliant on him, constantly blurring the lines between headmaster student, father figure, surrogate son and friend. What I’m saying is there’s clearly no decent Ministry of Magic department concerned with the safeguarding of Wizarding children…
I would love to say that I recognised all of this problematic content immediately, that however would be a lie. I had always believed that Dumbledore was gay, which might have been connected to the fact that his initial appearance in the HP series was wearing purple crushed velvet spangled with gold stars a look so extra Oscar Wilde would blush. However, I felt comforted that Dumbledore to me was clearly gay and while yes he was completely romantically unfulfilled only being able to find a hot problematic wizarding Twink of his very own (we’ve all been there Albus, hun…)
But there were other comments, such as the likening of Lycans/werewolves to HIV and the AIDS crisis which did worry me, a then self-professed Gryffindor and proud Harry Potter Super fan they seemed both grossly insensitive and almost alarmingly prejudiced. I heard many whisperings from friends who didn’t like the HP series that they contained casual racism, classism, stereotypes and a lot of intentional cruelty which at the time I couldn’t begin to reconcile myself with as bearing any semblance of truth. Now as you may have guessed, I feel rather differently about those comments.
Despite my discomfort over JKR’s “ret-con inclusivity”, I would re-read the Harry Potter series from start to finish on multiple occasions, whenever I was stressed and struggling as I began my career in the publishing industry it became a reassuring relaxation technique to depend on the nostalgia of Hogwarts to cheer me up and protect me by bolstering my faith in humanity its ability to overcome prejudice and hate movements.
I even once joked with a book industry colleague as we competed and compared our Harry Potter Superfan credentials (I often wonder if that woman in the industry now shares a similar perspective to mine). To my great shock and surprise as you can find elsewhere on this website in 2016 I worked directly on the Harry Potter brand on its officially licensed colouring books, delivering an experiential marketing campaign which exceeded expectations and led to me being interviewed on the joy of Harry Potter on BBC News.
Perhaps Jo’s finger had slipped, and she’d like that by accident? Was her account hacked? Or maybe she didn’t know what it meant? That must be nothing to worry about still the same wonderful caring inspiring person who believe in kindness, courage and protecting those at risk from harm.
The Age of Not Believing 2020 – present
Which brings us to the more recent and jarring contemporary era, where JKR has decided a pros whatever warped logic to undo her positive cultural contribution and throw it all on a great pyre of a wholly flawed crusade attacking the Trans and NB community (along with her ‘innumerable” gay and lesbians even if they are too absorbed in their own solipsistic activity to see it). From only liking the odd (and also occasional) tweet by a “GC” individual JKR has doubled and tripled down on her apparent hatred of Trans people, who are in fact people and not ideology.
I will NOT spend the hours it would take to chronologically list the countless ways in which JKR has displayed transphobia, promoted transphobia, liked transphobia, signal boosted hatred, used rhetorical dogwhistles and sown division within the LGBTQ+ community – even had the gall to claim that she speaks for us, she’s been told we want her to say this (she does not, we do not).
That isn’t because I cannot, but because it would be severely harmful to my mental health to do so, and it would take days because citations are needed, instead I can recommend you watch this excellent video by ContraPoints which covers some of JKR’s Transphobia up to January 2021.
But just to add more recent events J. K. Rowling has;
◎falsely accused a group of people “doxing her” by peacefully protesting outside her landmark listed castle (the police dropped all charges against the people she accused),
All of which has led me to believe that actually, JKR and I will never be friends, she isn’t the person I thought she was, nor the hero I would associate with her universe.
All of which is totally valid and her choice, but she is choosing to abuse her global platform to push a warped agenda clearly influenced by moral panics and misinformation.
The gates of Hogwarts are now closed to me forever but that isn’t because I misunderstood a single part of that series…
I think it’s the reverse, it is because I am “too Gryffindor to function” (‘the brave at heart, their daring, nerve and chivalry set Gryffindors apart’) and as such I believe in standing up for who and what matters most to me.
And for example;
I believe Trans Rights are human rights,
I believe in my community,
I believe in humanity overall as a whole.
Of course, some nasty people are quite entitled to their “protected beliefs”. No one can actually stop you from being racist, sexist, antisemitic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic in your heart or mind but you aren’t allowed to actually harass people or hurt them because of those prejudices, it still goes without saying that harbouring such toxic thoughts doesn’t make you a nice person.
So there we have it, this gay woke bearded bloke has cast Diffindo on his love of Harry Potter and its creator and cut it from my life forever but I won’t be quiet about why.
I wrote this blogpost partly because I am exhausted with the narrative that ‘“woke” millennials are cancelling JKR over nothing!’ which is nonsense. JK is cancelling herself, it is entirely her choice to re-centre her public identity about the “Trans issue” and harm the entire LGBTQ+ community in the process but we are entitled to critique and call that out.
Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequence. Which is why I would encourage others appalled by the author’s actions to move on to other less toxic fantasy franchises…
You never can get pesky Gryffindors to shut up when they’re riled.
Rainbows, they mean different things to different people, and for thousands of years have been celebrated as a sign of hope overcoming adversity – light breaking through the clouds after a storm.
Whether the Abrahamic references to Noah’s covenant with God, or the many other non-Christian religions and mythologies — Bifrost bridge to the Gods anyone? Repeatedly stories emerge of rainbows representing peace and hope in the face of adversity, respite after conflict.
The LGBTQ+ community too has embraced the rainbow as our symbol, ever since it was incorporated into a flag by the pioneering openly gay activist, Gilbert Baker in the 1970s.
Baker’s initial design contained eight stripes and intended to have specific meanings;
However, at the time there was a scarcity of the hot pink fabric which led to a seven-striped version (without the hot pink) and then latterly in 1979, the Turquoise was removed to create an even number, as the flag was going to be used to flank the Pride march route – resulting in the iconic, ubiquitous six-stripe flag based on Baker’s design;
Since 1979, this six-striped version of the Pride flag has been a popular and iconic symbol for LGBTQ+ and its distinctive colours have been adapted into clothing, signs, sidewalks, steps, tattoos and badges either as a signifier of an LGBTQ+ person or an ally. This included a revolutionary scheme in UK to roll out rainbow NHS badges to foster inclusivity into healthcare (which historically has on occasion had a problematic relationship with health providers and anti-LGBTQ+ stigma, for more on that and the scheme please read this great blog).
Following the COVID19 pandemic in the UK, children and families have begun painting rainbows on pieces of paper and displaying them in their windows as symbols as hope – which is a touching and completely understandable movement. This seems to have gathered new meaning and morphed into a message of support for key workers and NHS staff. Just to be clear, I do not — nor do I know a single LGBTQ+ person who is uncomfortable about that gesture.
However, as a consequence of this many organisations have seen fit to either sell rainbow Pride flags as “thank you NHS flags” or just treat the design as clipart for their own marketing and messaging. A few weeks ago on a run, I was so shocked to see this banner that I stopped and took a photo of it and posted my frustration, unease and confusion to social media;
And more recently Plymouth City Bus bragged about “rebranding” their Pride bus to show support for NHS workers. While I’m not claiming that this was the intention of the team behind it, they have effectively reduced a bus which was designed to celebrate and show support for LGBTQ+ people to just a multi-coloured commodity —
For me, for more than half of my lifetime as an openly gay man, seeing the rainbow Pride flag or its colours has made me feel; welcome, safe and amongst my tribe (LGBTQ+ people and allies). From when I was bullied at school Even as recently as February, seeing the rainbow Pride flag in Brussels made me realise I’d stumbled by happy accident into the vicinity of the LGBTQ+ neighbourhood by following the restaurant recommendation of a friend.
The rainbow Pride flag is ubiquitous, and a symbol which is recognised across the globe, including in countries where it is displayed with enormous risk owing to human rights atrocities against LGBTQ+ people. To be frank, I find it insulting to see it treated as stock template that organisations and companies can appropriate without any consideration for the marginalised community for created it for themselves.
In recent years there have been calls for the flag to be updated (particularly in the West), to better represent marginalised groups within the LGBTQ+
I respect that there are extremely good arguments for the updates in the revised design above and the individual denominations or variants of the flag which different groups within the LGBTQ+ community have created for themselves over time, just some of which are included below;
However, I personally feel that it is not the original flag that has failed, but rather the more privileged members of the LGBTQ+ community (cis white gay men like myself predominantly) who have failed to uphold it. We need to do more in order to protect, support and represent our marginalised POC, Trans, Bi and Intersex family. If the new flag was adopted globally in a heartbeat without the necessary changes it would simply be as callous a rebranding exercise as the bus one outlined above.
Please do not dismiss myself or any of my friends who are concerned at how readily our symbol has been co-opted into a new context.
We are entitled to feel frightened and unhappy at the ease and speed at which this has happened. While I hope that the updated flags become increasingly prominent over time, I think it is insulting to the heritage of the rainbow Pride flag created by Gilbert to throw it under the NHS bus so to speak, and pretend it doesn’t still have value to a great number of LGBTQ+ people globally.
I am more than happy for a loan of the pride colours to show support for NHS staff and key workers but…personally, I feel that proper pay, PPE and the respect they all deserve at every level would be much more meaningful than clapping and borrowing our colours – which to my mind are merely token gestures to assuage guilty consciences.
As brilliant, iconic and popular supporter of queer people, Dolly Parton famously once said;
‘The way I see it, if you want the rainbow,
you gotta put up with the rain.’
But we queer people have been rained on for centuries, with ignorance and persecution, we’ve earned our right to own our six-striped rainbows and its variants.
** update the BBC’s brilliant LGBTQ+ correspondent Ben Hunte has also written an article on this topic for the BBC which you can read here **
#Pride is a protest…It’s many other things, a celebration, festivals, marches a chance increasingly for many corporations and orgs to try and leverage their inclusive credentials or commercialise them to make us *feel* like they support us. It’s often cynical and performative
We as one global #LGBTQ+ community have to remember that our hard fought rights and improved safety are germinative, in many countries we are still actively oppressed and demonised.
Here in 🇬🇧, while significantly more fortunate the tone and actions of our govt are worryingly hostile.
Whatever your personal politics, the fact our so-called “Equalities Minister” .@trussliz has sided with bigots who harm #LGBTQ community repeatedly over listening or delivering – refusing to #banconversiontherapy now vilifying our respected charities such as @stonewalluk is scary.
Protests are a spark, a defiant flicker of hope for something else.
Small flames are delicate they need to be refuelled to last. We have come a long way with #LGBTQ#Pride but there is so much more to do “No Pride for some of us without liberation for all of us”.
The biggest protest about #pride is refusing to accept the shame and prejudices forced upon us. By politicians, religions, families and others – we in the #LGBTQ community are a kaleidoscope of powerful, creative and beautiful souls and people.
In my role at Kings Road Publishing had the enjoyable experience taking a rough idea for an official licensed series (book and app) all the way from pitch, to finalising a deal, then working with a whole host of talented creatives and leading studios to create a first – Art For The Players (available from most book retailers) an official games console based colouring book which celebrates the incredible heritage of Sony PlayStation’s unique entertainment experiences.
As you can see from some of the brilliant press coverage and the official trailer below, colouring and consoles can create something beautiful…
On Thursday 1st September, I commissioned and led a unique interactive colouring event #ColourTheMagic to celebrate the Harry Potter film series and the bestselling Harry Potter Colouring Book series, which is published in the UK by Studio Books (one of the five imprints I work across at Kings Road Publishing).
After coming up with this brainwave, selecting the creative agency partner to finesse its execution and many weeks of meticulous planning three free standing canvases were set up with carefully drawn images depicting iconic images from the films which feature in the colouring book series.
The campaign was enormously successful with over five thousand members of the public taking part in colouring the magic and sharing their messages of love for all things Potter, we also had an unprecedented social media reach of 6.1 million impressions on our hashtag #ColourTheMagic on 1st September.
Here’s a trailer showing some of the results on the day…
And below is a gallery showing our three finalised colouring designs – thanks to the dedication of thousands of Harry Potter fans for helping us #ColourTheMagic.
This project is a personal highlight of my year – it was wonderful to conceive, plan and deliver something so magical with a brilliant team!
Ahead of the event I sat down with Stuart Found to talk all things digital publishing, from recent trends to future opportunities. Here’s a copy of the interview, which originally appeared on the IE’s website here.
SF: How have you seen the digital publishing industry change over the last year?
Kings Road Publishing is recognised in the book industry as a leader in digital innovation. Our approach has always been iterative – and while we’re continuing to grow and consolidate our digital comms strategies, our approach remains experimental. My goal is to take readers’ experience beyond the words on a page and as content consumption is always changing, it’s important to keep an open mind.
SF: What could the industry be doing to better meet consumer expectations?
Clear communication to consumers is always key, even more so in the fluid digital space. Industry brands need to react more quickly with the right level of information, particularly when there is an issue damaging consumer experience.
SF: How much of a place – if any – do you think personalisation has in digital publishing?
There’s been some very interesting work in bespoke personalisation of content by book publishers, but a lot of these don’t seem to have quite hit the mark in consumer expectations. I think this will grow into an important niche of the industry but it is harder to execute it well.
SF: What are in your experience the most common mistakes made my digital publishers?
Personally, I think that a reliance on broadcast messaging and ‘the known’ strategies can dilute brand potential. We have to be bold and do things differently in order to outsmart the competition.
SF: How can digital publishers best respond to the overwhelming shift toward video content?
My view is that book publishers should continue to invest and innovate in this area, but that there has to be a narrative worth filming and compelling reason for consumers to watch it to create any kind of ROI.
SF: Where do you see digital publishing going next?
The enormous popularity of PokémonGO has been a surprise for some, whereas at Kings Road Publishing we’ve been waiting for a gaming leap with geotagging and AR for a while. Niantic has really broken the mould first with Ingress and now PokémonGO, I think that digital publishers will attempt to move into GPS experiences more in the future as there is so much potential for tailored content delivery.
You can hear more from me, along with other digital publishing industry leaders, at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in London this October 19th-20th. To see the full schedule, click here.
This article was originally published in an opinion piece on TheBookseller in November 2015.
“Christmas is coming.
We all know this, we’ve spent months finalising our plans for the festivities, picking our favourite gifts (books obviously!) and packaging them perfectly so that we get the kind of warm fuzzy feeling associated with sales at “the most wonderful time of the year” and that’s just the commercial side of Christmas.
But since Black Friday’s ever-growing popularity and presence across large retailers grows each year, this is apparently the week where consumers will kick-start or complete their Christmas shopping.
On Civilised Saturday bookshops around the country will be serving everything from mulled wine to champagne and serving up dignified discounts and recommendations to their patrons.
Now the question is, are we in 2015 or extras in a “Downton Abbey” Christmas special?
My initial reaction at reading this news was to cringe, eye-roll and choke back a laugh (a great look if you’re after one) – not because I don’t see the need for independents and smaller retailers to emphasise the virtues of hand-selling and make an event of it, but because of that awfully cultured name for it.
This industry has its problems, they are many and the struggle for smaller bookshops and other businesses to compete with large players (particularly the online ones able to price and promote aggressively) is very real.
But, for an industry increasingly notorious for its cosseted cultural snobbery, is Civilised Saturday a wise branding exercise?
The name implies that only uncivilised people partake in or appreciate the bargains associated with Black Friday. (Don’t tell the unenlightened shopping at John Lewis this Friday.)
For that reason, I dislike the air of smugness emanating from the Civilised Saturday campaign. It feels as though the book trade is determined to focus itself on isolating many consumers to favour its preferred, more refined audience.
This poorly named campaign risks alienating the masses and those slightly mythical creatures, the reluctant readers.
After all, I’m sure that even Dowager Countess Violet Crawley herself would agree that it’s rather common to tell everyone how civilised you are.
A civilised gentleman.
Nick Coveney is Head of Digital and Social Media at Kings Road Publishing.”
In 2013, I led the project management, UAT and publicity on the CloudSpotter app for The Cloud Appreciation Society, an innovative app which enables users to learn more about the skies and huge plethora of weather effects which surround them.
I’m starting this site as a platform for me to share my experience, thoughts and insights on digital storytelling.
Since I joined the exciting world of digital product development I’ve had the enormous pleasure of working with some leading brands and content creators to generate internationally bestselling products.
Excuse the slightly spurious wisdom of the fortune cookie above but one of the things I firmly believe in is that passion and drive are an integral part of creating stand-out digital success.
I will be adding sections to this site over time so please let me know what you think using the contact form.