Answer 2 questions, and help me write 1 book

I’ve a plan – and I need your help with it.

For a while I’ve been talking about writing a book about Christian meditation, in fact I’ve already written some of it, and sent stuff off for publishers to have a look at.

But although lots of you have been interested in the idea of the book, which really comes out of some of the meditation workshops I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, and stuff prior to that too I suppose, I haven’t managed to convince any publishers to take a punt on it. I guess it is a bit of a niche publication.

So, given that I still want to produce the book, I’d like to enlist your help.

I have two potential routes to follow – 1) Publish it as an ebook – or series of mini ebooks. 2) Self publish as a ‘real book’ through crowd sourced funding.

Question 1)  Would you prefer to buy an ebook, or an ‘actual’ book?

Question 2)  If you would prefer an ‘actual’ book, would you be willing to buy your copy(ies) in advance?

Oh – you want to know more about the book? Ok – here’s a basic synopsis:

Deeper Still (working title) provides a much needed guide to a range of meditation practises found within the Christian traditions, and explains how to use different meditation techniques.

The book unpacks some of the background philosophy to these ‘types’ of meditation, and provides scripts and ideas for guided meditations, and inspiration for those who prefer something less formal.

It is a great companion for anyone interested in exploring Christian meditation, or deepening their current practise. It is based upon the idea that one size doesn’t fit all, but one size fits you.

So, if  your still interested, and your answer to question 2 is ‘yes’  I think I’d be up for attempting to get crowd funding for a publication. It would work thus: I work out the cost of producing the book, and when enough people have committed to advance purchase or donation towards the project, we get it printed up.

Either way, whether we go for a ‘real book’ or an ebook,  the fun thing about this project for me, is that I can see potential for others to have input into the creation of it – in terms of helping shape the content a bit (tell me what you want chapters on, etc etc), helping with the editing process, creating/choosing the cover image, choosing the title and so on.

The crowd sourced funding thing has worked well for numerous well known musicians, who have released albums by raising the funds in the same way. There are lots of crowd funding sites which allow you to do this with relevant security in place.

So, please let others know if you think they’d be interested, and hit me up with comments, FB comments, tweets, DM’s, email, or whatever suits you – to let me know your opinion.

And yes, thanks for asking – my other book is still available in paper and electronic format, from places like Amazon and Eden, you can read a little bit more about it here .

George Monbiot declares his earnings

George Monbiot yet again sets himself at the vanguard of public morality by declaring his earnings.

Monbiot says that he believes journalists like other public figures ought to demonstrate what income they receive in order that the public can know who is influencing them. I think this is admirable. In the week that politicians are talking nonsense about journalists being ‘struck off‘ (errr, from what exactly?) this is the kind of bold move which should be encouraged.

It certainly gives me pause for thought, and makes me wonder if religious and faith leaders shouldnt also be doing the same thing.

Check out George’s enviable contract with Penguin, and his salary from the guardian, down the last 7pence right here.

The biggest crime of News International

As Rupert dodges pies and James gurns at cameras, the News International circus has committed it’s greatest ever crime.

While our focus and thoughts have been on Masonic coppers and Tabloid hacks, people surviving in the nearest thing to hell on earth are converging on the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Women, already robbed, starving, violated and deeply traumatised, are protecting their desperately weak babies from snarling hyenas, armed only with thorny twigs.

It says nothing good about us that we are keener to talk about the things that newspaper journalists have been doing for decades, than we are to engage with the reality of the worst famine in 60-years.

People have been known to talk about famine ‘of Biblical proportions’ – and this is particularly relevant here in the light of the word’s ‘The poor you will always have with you’ – too right. Funny, those words were spoken by a refugee too.

It’s time we stopped the feeding frenzy surrounding Rupert and his rags, and refocussed – if parliament is going to be recalled from its summer recess, let it be about a matter like this.

Murdoch, my part in his downfall

I’m getting quite used to being asked, as I have a number of times over the last couple of weeks ‘so did you do any phone hacking then?’

Let me just clarify, I did not work for the News of the World (aka The Screws)  and also – I have never hacked a mobile phone.

I was however freelancing for national newspapers and broadcasters during the period currently in question, and I can confirm that I certainly understood such tactics to be widely used by national media, certainly Tabloid, journalists.

The list of papers I worked for as a freelance is kind of a rogues gallery, and if you were to add in the papers who I did jobs for/provided material to as a press agency reporter, I think the only national exception is the Morning Star.

I went in to journalism hoping to write for the likes of the Guardian, perhaps a magazine like New Internationalist, or better yet, the BBC, who I almost got a job with as part of their BBC Talent initiative way back when.

But I soon realised when I went freelance, the people with the money to pay me were the red-tops. I gained a small time reputation as somebody who was good at finding out information, (legally) and so for a while I got plenty of work from National dailies and Sunday papers, not just the Tabloids, I also worked for the Telegraph and the Times occasionally. But I eventually left the industry feeling somewhat jaded, and although I still call myself a journalist, I no longer have a press card – although I may one day rejoin the NUJ and tread a different journalistic path.

The kind of journalism I do these days, is to write the occasional feature article, and I do mean occasional. I’m generally too involved with doing things to spend enough time writing about them.

Anyway, back to the point – as far as I was concerned, underhand tactics were/are rife, be they covert recording of conversations (been there, done that) or ‘pretext’ interviews – through to the obtaining of personal and private information via illegal or illicit means. One example of that would be the way papers pay for information from credit reference agencies – and they have all the information on all of us. I can’t say for sure that it still happens, but it certainly did, and the people I knew of who used it werent working for News International.

What the outsider can never understand is the sheer pressure exerted by a London news desk on an individual reporter/investigator to get results. Papers are incredibly competitive, and incredibly fearful of being found wanting – if another paper scoops them on a big story, there will be hell to pay. So reporters working a story cannot afford to miss a tiny detail which may turn into tomorrow’s splash.

That’s why money changes hands, between journalists and anybody who can give them decent, reliable info – policemen, civil servants, whoever. It’s basically paying for a tip off – and a tip off might just come from a person who overheard a snatch of conversation, just as it might come from an official source. Journalists and detectives actually work in very similar ways. It might seem grubby – indeed it might be grubby, but the argument would be that it is the way you get the stories, and the stories are what matter.

Its a nonsense to imagine that the whole of the press can be investigated and ‘cleaned up’ – the problems/issues go too deep. For many years the unspoken rule was ‘don’t cause trouble about other hacks’ – but that has fallen down around our ears, with Johann Hari on one side, and the NOTW on the other. For what its worth, I dont think the NOTW were the worst offenders, neither does the information commisioner who reported these offences in 2006 :

Trinity Mirror: 1663 incidents by 139 journalists
Mail Group: 1248 incidents by 95 journalists
News International: 182 incidents by 19 journalists

(source Archbishop Cranmer)

Screws journalists were certainly sneaky, underhand and often liars, they were also very talented, and they knew how to write copy which would sell newspapers. But all newspapers of my aquaintance are staffed with convincing liars, inventive snoopers and other people who are so world hardened that they wouldnt necessarily think it too wrong to listen to somebody’s voicemail to get a good new lead. Apparently the story about Sven Goran Erriksson and Ulrika Jonnson was got via phone hacking… who knew?

Thing is though, that it’s not a big step from peaking in a window to figuring out a webmail password – its not a big step from lying about the reason you’re interviewing somebody to lying about where you heard some news. Journalists are allowed by law to protect their sources, which is a good thing, but it allows for the opportunity to pull a fast one.

I havent really played a part in the Murdoch downfall – indeed I think there’s a long way to go before downfall can be claimed, my real belief is that the media in the UK and beyond is full of this kind of activity, and I say that from experience.

If there is any blame game, it should again be shared by those of us happy to read slacious details, eager to know the inside story, or pulled in by the shocking headline. I suspect that the broadsheet newspapers, if they had more money to throw around, would have adopted such tactics too – looking at the disappointing activities of the likes of Hari (great writer by the way – just a shame he allegedly is a liar), perhaps they arent far off anyway.

I guess the difference does come through editors and proprieters, and so independence gives one more room, and a moral editor is a boon to us all. But everyone is answerable to the public in this media age, and if you arent getting the big stories, you wont sell newspapers, and if you dont sell newspapers, you won’t keep your job.

Totally Devoted – reviews

My book seems to be undergoing a small spike in sales, I wonder if that is to do with the review which I am told appears in Christianity magazine this month – and which declares (amongst other kind words):

If the Church is in ruins, then this book is part of the repair kit!

Which is kind of nice. And a little worrying. I mean, y’know – that’s a big responsibility!

Anyway, feel free to write your own review, but only if you are willing to say nice things – if you don’t like it, then shhhhh!

You can get the book here, here, here and indeed here. Apparently there may even be a bookshop or two with it in!

Osama – the making of a myth

In the much publicised end of Osama Bin Laden’s life this week, the US military seem less likely to have pulled off a geo political coup, than to have bolstered their president’s domestic popularity.

The reported killing, which will evidently not now be officially ‘proved’ by photographs, and which will probably always be questioned by conspiracists, is not going to bring an end to anything much, but is likely to put a upwards spike in Obama’s popularity ratings. ‘Hot damn!’

While it has been lauded and applauded in some circles, and sadly accepted or even mourned in others – the fact is that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is very unlikely to change much in terms of global terrorism or the Jihadi movement. I am unaware of any major conspiracy in which Bin Laden has been sited as a key player in the last few years. Indeed if he has indeed been hiding out all this time, it seems likely that a significant amount of effort and expense has been spent by the Mujahideen to keep him hidden, presumably those resources will now be redirected.

As I mentioned of course, there have been numerous conspiracy theories doing the rounds for the last decade or so – initially that Bin Laden was a CIA stooge, then later that he was already in captivity, or even dead. Now it seems that he actually is dead – will this news end the conspiracy speculation?

Unlikely – in fact the muddy waters surrounding his death are only likely to further fuel the theorists imaginations. Why no pictures? How could he have lived there in the first place? What about the conflicting reports from different intelligence agencies about who tipped of whom about the compound and when? Why the mysterious burial at sea?

As it goes, I have no problem believing it – but in a world where nothing is real unless its televised, simulcasted, micro blogged (actually this one was almost tweeted) or captured by video on a mobile phone – is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

In some ways of course, he isn’t. Bin Laden had long since stopped being the central mover of a global terror network – Al Quaida is a movement, its very strength is the fact that it is totally decentralised and capable to working independently in small cells. In some ways, you might say Bin Laden had long since stopped being a man. Rather Bin Laden was a centralised myth, an icon, a bogey man figure who represented the very otherness of the Jihadi movement. With his well photographed beard, turban and combat jacket he depicted for many ‘the evil of the east’. Variously described as a wealthy Saudi, a desert fighter, a plotter, a devout Muslim – he was everything the west had to fear in an age when old antipathy with communist Russia had died away.

But aside from a few videos and an ongoing drip drip of reports of his suspected wherabouts, Bin Laden has had little to contribute to the narrative of the West’s ongoing struggle against evil. His killing was, a cynic might say, rather well timed for the American cause. It also leaves the stage now open for a new focus on the evil of… well take your pick – could be Gadaffi, although we’ve not heard much about Iran recently, so perhaps they are in for it next.

Osama Bin Laden was less of a person, more of a talisman. He represents a personifiable evil which suits the dualistic approach of Western (and Muslim) thinking. For us to be good, someone somewhere must be evil. By focusing on him, we’ve endowed him with mythical status, the evil murdering Muslim who would slit your baby’s throat and set fire to your house as soon as look at you. They seek him here, they seek him there… But at the end it turns out he’s just a man, easily killed by the elite forces of good, who have God on their side.

I don’t know if this makes much sense to anyone but me, but I really see this whole story as much more to do with reinforcing a narrative than the death of a terrorist.

So while the man may indeed be dead (I think he is) Osama Bin Laden lives on. His name, his image, his ideology, his myth remains strong. What he represented to people on either side of the struggle remains – just in different form. Osama Bin Laden lives on in despised dictators, in turbaned Mujahideen, in council estate boys trying to come to terms with confused ethnic and religious identities, in geo political power struggles, in history which is now being written by everyone.

He was – is, a mythical figure for the digital age. Thousands of images peer out of websites into the hearts of presidents and teenage wannabes. His thin smile adorns the targets of rifle enthusiasts, who take careful aim at the spot between the eyes. His name lives on in the world where turbaned arabs are ‘rag heads’ and where an aeroplane crashlanding is automatically assumed to be a terrorist plot.

It’s a sad week really – those who live by the sword are indeed likely to die by it, but regardless – this miserable life ending means nothing in terms of bringing peace to a world full or hatred and pain. Rather we have endowed his myth with a measure of immortality, the same sort enjoyed by James Dean and Che Guevarra – and sold to another, future, generation the other myth of redemptive violence – which works for all of us, whether we believe in a martyr’s paradise or the triumph of God over his foes.

I won’t be mourning or celebrating his death, I am mourning the the ongoing death of a world which seems determined to tear itself apart, to demonise and antagonise, to find immortality in human endeavour, and to define itself by opposition and duality.

What this death reminds me of most powerfully, is the need to recall that there is no them – there is only us.

New Year cycling, spam and music

Well the last few days have seen me back at the pedals, commuting to and from meetings etc in the customary black cycling gear, I reckon that over the winter I probably didnt even touch the bike for about six weeks – no wonder my legs are a tad sore.Three days of cycling, and I’ve almost been bashed twice – the second time by another bike! The Kona travels at such a lick that people seem to misjudge how fast I am going and think they can cut across me. Tsk tsk.

Also back in my life is spam, for some reason it seemed to stop around Christmas time, I’m sure it wasn’t my imagination, the spam genuinely seemed to be much less – but now its well and truly back. Hey ho.

Meanwhile I have been changing my general listening habits, current favourites are the Avalanches ‘Since I left you’ – classic album, can’t believe its nearly a decade old already! Frontier Psychiatrist is still one of my favourite tracks, and the whole album is a work of art.  Manu Chao’s ‘Clandestino’, superb, I can’t imagine Bongo Bong will ever sound old. I found eldest offspring with the track on repeat in the living room the other night, beating seven shades of blue out of a small drum. That’s my girl.

Also on the go is the most recent edition of the Johnny Cash ‘American Recordings’ series – ‘Aint no grave’ – beautiful stuff, that really is a wonderful set of albums. Ska Cubano’s ‘Ay Caramba!’ really seems to capture their live sound, I love it. And finally Tony Allen’s ‘Secret Agent’ – what a great piece of work, contemporary Afrobeat at its brilliant best.

Having said all that, I must now admit that at the moment Kel is away from home, and last night when I went to bed, I put on some Mozart. What on earth has happened to me?

On freedom and value

So I read today about the computer application called ‘Freedom‘ , which allows you to set an amount of minutes in a day where your computer cannot access the internet. A mere 10 dollars allows you to buy the program and set it up on your pac or mac, and to get yourself some freedom from the tyranny of the internet every so often.

I quite like this idea, although personally I prefer the idea of simply turning the computer off altogether, as personally there’s not much I do on the computer now which doesn’t use some kind of internet access. Even when I am doing extended periods of writing, I still use the net to refer to in different ways, or perhaps to play music. So my own reccomendation is that you turn the computer off altogether, I do this at weekends (barring very occasional abberations) and only use the computer during the week.

As it happens I was with a friend all morning today, discussing rhythms of life. He is a guy with a very busy life, a young family and a demanding job – I was talking with him about the ideas of personal rhythms, and the freedom that it gives to reprioritise the way you live to bring in things like manual work, creativity and things which simply allow one to be ‘in the moment’ instead of working or giving of oneself.

People like my friend are inclined to give of themselves without thinking, and to keep on giving until there is literally nothing left, then they crash. To avoid that crash a personal rhythm can be really helpful, structure can be liberating.

Part of that structure is time away from computers and screens altogether. I can understand why some writers from the old school insisted on using typewriters, like a pen a typewriter has a direct interface with the finished article, wheras with a computer it is mediated, and the result can be a kind of alienation. So to reduce that alienation, get yourself away from the screens, that includes phones.

What we all need to do is recognise the value of what we have, lets not let the tyranny of the internet, the tyranny of the screen or even the tyranny of the urgent flummox us into prioritising them over other things. Lets live in the moment and find ways of reducing the alienation which we all experience from day to day.

Saying goodbye to GreenJade

I’ve written before about how muchI appreciated having the opportunity to collaborate with the hip hop group GreenJade on the comic book video for their Gunz Down single. I say I collaborated, I was really nothing more than a nodding dog, my artist friend Steve Beckett did all the graft – as usual.

But now GreenJade are calling it a day, after a long spell as a really important force in hip hop. They’ve not had the best of ‘luck’ – becoming the victims of crime, negative media attention and creative tensions within the group at different times during their career, but they’ve put out some great music, and all importantly made a real difference to lives.

For me their best work is still to be found on their original Chronicles album, the one with the green sleeve, I’m sure they’d wish  I would move on, but I still love that album best.

The boys are doing a finale show in December, you can get tickets by clicking the image above, and for a little retrospective of their career, have a look and listen to this…

A bit mournful perhaps, but I think they are entitled to be, as this chapter comes to a close. You can be sure though that the boys will pop up here and there in different ways bringing with them the creative force that always seemed to drive them. Wiz, Wei, Judah, 3rd, Secret – live long and prosper. I’ll be relistening to Chronicles again… all together: ‘One time to die…’

Totally Devoted review in ‘a pinch of salt’

Reviews of my book ‘Totally Devoted’ have been a bit slow in coming in, so if you want to make me happy please write a review on your blog, facebook account, or on one of the many websites which sell the book – I’d prefer you to leave a good review, but an honest one will do 🙂

Anyway, I was very pleased to open my copy of the Anarchist magazine ‘a pinch of salt‘ – which I commend to all and any – to read Keith Hebden’s review of the book.

I wont republish it all here, but Keith has been very kind in his comments, saying:

…Cross has an often chatty style of writing that works for an internet genre-ation and is fond of extended quotes, often of several pages. Publishers don’t always like these so it’s great to see both used to good effect. The regular change of voice and pace makes the book very readable. This is also a great book for charismatic evangelicals disillusioned with institutional church but still wanting to journey on in their spirituality and in company.

Totally Devoted acts as an introduction, opportunity for reflection, and – most practically – a brochure of new monastic and religious movements in Britain…. If this book does what it could then we’ll need a second edition for all the ‘new’ New Monasticisms that subsequently appear.

Keith’s comments about my style of writing reflect the fact that I am in essence a tabloid hack – and when it came to being taught to write, it was drummed into me long and hard… ‘make it easy enough for a Sun reader, and not off putting to a Telegraph reader, and most importantly, get every cough and spit down boy, every cough and spit.’

Anyway, if you write reviews for a print or online publication (blogs included) and you want a review copy – let me know. And if you are somebody who likes the book – then please do tell other people, and leave a review somewhere.