Response from Guardian who are upset that I went public with my complaint. About not paying speakers

Dear Michael

I’ve got no interest in publicity cycles, I am not an employee of publishers. And your mixed bag of fascinating speakers and others who are trying to promote books instead of publishers paying for what they are supposed to be doing leaves me cold. You can call payment a fee, an expense or a gift from the Almighty, but it is actually a payment to one person who will use up a day.or a week working to your remit. If it was such a good idea why would Gemma use the word unfortunately so prominently in her letter. I imagine that are on a salary. The response from writers to my tweet suggests that we are not at all moved by the agony of your choices who to pay and who not.

I suggest we return to the regular quaint way of paying people for the work they do whether or not publishers choose to rename cheese as choice.

Best wishes

Jenny Diski

On Thursday, 23 April 2015, Michael Harris <michael.harris@theguardian.com> wrote:
Dear Jenny,

more than happy to email. So, first things first, nice to meet you. I wanted to respond to the twitter comments and the blog/response to Gemma – I was going to give you a call just because email sometimes seems so removed and electronic that it’s easy to forget you are talking to another human being. However, needs must so email it is…

In terms of us not paying contributors that’s not actually true, nor was that what Gemma said. We only started doing this (Guardian Live) around 7 months ago and we run lots of different talks and events, from book launches to debates on democracy at Sheffield Hallam Uni (I say that specifically as I’m on a train to do that now). The reason I’m explaining this is because that means we end up with a very mixed bag of speakers and guests. Sometimes we are beholden to the publicity cycle of certain guests being available because they have something to sell or promote and sometimes we just reach out to try and get people involved because they would be great on a subject and are brilliant (that was you). We don’t call it a fee, nor do we set a figure because if it’s a publisher providing a speaker while also getting a load of publicity for a book they are promoting then we’d rather not pay!

If it’s someone giving up their time to take part in something (Like our Happiness event) then we would absolutely pay. We refer to it as expenses and depending on what someone is doing (ie. how long, how much prep, chairing?) it’s normally between £150 and £300. I admit none of us will ever be millionaires at that rate but it should cover an hours worth of chat of an evening.

I suppose I’m writing to you really because I wish you’d given Gemma a chance to respond before going on the offensive so publicly! But on the other hand I can completely understand the frustration/feeling that people are taking the p*ss. I worked for a long time with writers, comedians, actors, speakers who are constantly asked to do things for free while others sell tickets and as a result have always tried to make sure to try and treat everyone fairly and not do that.

Although I’m upset that you were so publicly cross, I’m also sorry if you thought we were trying to take advantage – we weren’t. From now on we’ll try and be clearer in the invite emails too so no one else feels the way you did.

It might seem like a big faceless business ( it’s not) but from one human being to another, sorry, it really wasn’t intended.

Mx

Ps. Just fyi I don’t have a rich husband/wife/allowance either – I grew up in Woolwich!

On 23 April 2015 at 15:36, Jenny Diski <jennydiski@gmail.com> wrote:
Dear Michael
I’m in a hoapice at the moment so no phone in a general way, You’re welcome to email me.

Jenny
_________________

http://www.jennydiski.co.uk

On Thu, Apr 23, 2015 at 3:24 PM, Michael Harris <michael.harris@theguardian.com> wrote:
Hello Jenny,

I just spotted some of your comments on twitter and asked Gemma to send me over the correspondence below ( look after our live programme).

Would you be happy for me to give you a quick call and if so is there a number I can get you on?

Michael

> ———- Forwarded message ———-
> From: Jenny Diski <jennydiski@gmail.com>
> Date: Wednesday, 22 April 2015
> Subject: Re: Contact Jenny Diski [#213]
> To:  Katharine Viner <katharine.viner@guardian.co.uk>
>
>
> Dear Gemma
>
> When you say you don’t pay fees unfortunately, I suppose you must mean unforturnately for me. I have bills to pay and I don’t have a wealthy husband or wife. Why on earth would The Guardian be unable to pay me? Because everyone is a freelance now, with the emphasis on free? Because everyone else but me has an allowance from their parents? Because you just don’t give a shit about your ‘content providers’? Give me break, guys. You want an interesting debate on happiness? Try starting by paying contributers. And making them happy, or at least not needing to glance at gutters for the price of one of your papers.
>
> Yours freely
>
> Jenny Diski
>
>
> _________________
>
> http://www.jennydiski.co.uk
>
> On Wed, Apr 22, 2015 at 11:40 AM, Jenny Diski <no-reply@wufoo.com> wrote:
>>
>> Name
>>
>> Email
>
>> Message
>>
>> Dear Jenny,
>>
>> I’m writing to invite you to take part in a talk at the Guardian on the 18th May. The description is here:
>>
>> Richard Layard will also be attending and Oliver Burkeman suggested you would be a great addition. I read your diary piece in the LRB on Gretchen Rubin’s happiness book which seems very pertinent to the discussion. It would be great to have another more speptical voice on the panel, alongside William Davies although the intention is not to ‘debate’ but to genuinley discuss.
>>
>> William Davies has written a book for Verso that sounds really interesting on the way ‘happiness’ has become a major topic for discussion at places like Davos, Facebook increasing happiness by altering people’s feeds and so on. His point is that in the way people say depression is anger turned inwards he says that positive psychology and happiness economics are ‘critique turned inwards’. i.e. there are social causes of depression and unhappiness that are ignored by focusing on the individual.
>>
>> Philippa Perry, Oliver BUrkeman, Andrew Oswald and Richard Layard are all confirmed and it would be wonderful to include your participation too.
>>
>> We don’t pay fees unfortunately but can cover expenses. I can give you more practical details if you’re interested in taking part.
>>
>> I very much look forward to hearing from you,
>>
>> Gemma
>
>
>
>
>
>
> —
> Gemma Tortella
> Producer, Guardian Live
> https://membership.theguardian.com/events
> 07803 293765
>

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My Reply to the Guardian

Dear Gemma
When you say you don’t pay fees unfortunately, I suppose you must mean unforturnately for me. I have bills to pay and I don’t have a wealthy husband or wife. Why on earth would The Guardian be unable to pay me? Because everyone is a freelance now, with the emphasis on free? Because everyone else but me has an allowance from their parents? Because you just don’t give a shit about your ‘content providers’? Give me break, guys. You want an interesting debate on happiness? Try starting by paying contributers. And making them happy, or at least not needing to glance at gutters for the price of one of your papers.

Sidebar to LRB memoir: Fish, there are fish!

I took my broken wrist, along with my pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer, for a review at Addenbrookes. Not a good review. The fracture in my radius has dilated and shifted, like tiny tectonic plates, maybe, so it’s now a complex break. I could have an op to shore up the structure with a metal plate, or I could let it mend in my smart new goth black cast and have restricted movement and a degree of deformity. Question, will I be able to type with this deformity? Yes, the side to side movement would be a problem but I’ll be able to type properly with both hands. Solved. I don’t want an operation to fix it back to new. I’ve got cancer, fibrosis – I don’t care to have the most elegant wrist in the graveyard.

I was accompanied by my new friend Giles, who is trailing me this week for a profile in the New York Times Magazine (it’s like a prize you get with cancer). Giles wanted to see the oncology waiting room I’d written about in my last instalment of my diary/memoir in the LRB.( http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n03/jenny-diski/was-that-when-it-was-beaming-me ). So off we shuffled to the circle of doom, with its brightly coloured but fishless aquarium I ‘d spent some time worrying about. And lo, there were fish. Spritely minnows, little clown fish, a yellow one, a blue one, as perky as you please, racing around each other where none had been before. It takes very little for me to lose faith in myself. Surely there weren’t any fish in it when I passed every day for a month? Had I made it up? I’m a novelist, I do make things up, but I’m supposed to know when I do it.

I flushed with shame as Giles stood and observed the fish. Really, there weren’t any. Really. Was this going to be another writer scandal. Nonfiction piece by J. Diski contained fishy untruths. Or, said Giles, maybe they read your piece and rushed out to fill the tank. Which would mean that I’d had an effect in the world. Giles and I looked at each other for a second at this monumental thought, and then we shook our heads. Probably not. They’d probably been swimming around like torpedoes while my radioactivated eyes just failed to notice.

Also my broken wrist hurts. A lot.

A Sidebar: How’s It going?

In the London Review of Books (starting with A Diagnosis in September) I’ve been writing a more or less monthly memoir of my life in the sixties and seventies when I lived with Doris Lessing, and my continuing relationship with her until her death last year at 94. It is also an ongoing portrait of my incurable cancer. The 7th instalment will be in the next issue of the LRB. They are broodings, considerations, questions about my life then and now. But they are long pieces taking a long view. In the meantime, stuff is going on that hasn’t got a place in the LRB essays. Everydaynesses. I’m going to try to use this blog as if it were a running sidebar to the longer pieces, and see if it’s useful. Things that crop up in my cancer and memory world that don’t fit into the format of the essays I’m writing.

I’m writing a kind of partwork which will, with rethinking and editing, perhaps become a book, a patchwork of the partwork. These more immediate ‘diaries’ on this blog will be included when and if the whole thing comes together as a single text.

What’s made me want to do this is the past week of my medical life.  You can catch up on the merry tale, as well as my arrival at Doris Lessing’s house aged fifteen, in the LRB online. Their website has several of my pieces available to read for free as well as some that need you to be a subscriber to read.

*

I have finished the initial treatment (or the only treatment) for my lung tumour and its travels around my lymph nodes. Little sidebars themselves? I’ve had the chemo and the radiotherapy, and next week will be scanned to see what the results are. I already had mild pulmonary fibrosis before the cancer arrived. That is as incurable as the lung cancer I have, but it depends on how fast it progresses, and it was still mild at the time of my annual scan that showed up the small tumour. There was a known risk that radiotherapy would inflame the fibrosis, and it has, in spades. Last week I found myself so breathless after very little movement that it brought on the first panic attack of my life. Or so I realised that’s what it was when the terror died down. A coughing fit caused by me walking a few feet into the bathroom left me gasping for air, unable to take in enough to live through the next moment. I did, and it has happened twice more. So now I know I won’t die of the attack and have been given some ways to deal with it(a hand-held fan, a small dose of oral morphine before I prepare to move, and a special kind of breathing.) Now I’m simply terrified of going through that terror again, even if it won’t kill me. I am reluctant to get out of bed, move snailwise very small distances, have lost all courage.

Just before that happened, I fell down a couple of steps to the bathroom at four o’clock on Friday morning, and broke my right wrist. Now it’s in plaster and won’t mend they say for 8 weeks. really not helpful and is a new kind of ongoing pain. My left hand is OK, and I’m left-handed, but it’s a slow and wearying effort to type one-handed. One other thing in what my wonderful palliative care ‘key worker’, S, calls ‘my awful week’, is that the fibrosis flaring up is now more likely to kill me through an infection, than the lung cancer. What started out as 2-3 years if I had the treatment is now an unknown quantity. I’m a miserablist, so it’s not surprising I’m feeling that death is rather imminent. My feelings and thoughts about that are for an instalment of its own in the LRB.

So I’m not cheery or brave or serene at the moment, whatever the tone of my memoir writing. I’ve got a broken wrist which has nothing to do with my condition(s), but which gnaws away as if it had the priority of a wrist of someone who was otherwise healthy. it hasn’t been a good week, and I’m fucking fed-up. And sorry for myself. What, should I keep a stiff upper lip?

Depp and Desire

Back at the beginning of this year, the celebrity timetable that decrees what is going to be in our gossip columns and fill acres of newsprint and internet pages in any given week, reminded editors around the world that Kate Moss was having her fortieth birthday. The inevitable series of ‘Kate Moss this is your life’ photos showed us how she had or hadn’t aged from a child into a woman, taking in what the press decreed were her ups and downs (Vogue front pages/drugs) along the way. I vaguely glanced at a set from some online paper or other, celebrating and secretly rejoicing in Moss’s inevitable ageing process. There was one taken in the 1990s at the Cannes Film Festival, that held my attention. It stopped me dead in my tracks, and made me really look, and then wonder what it was I was looking at or looking for. It was a red carpet shot of Kate Moss and her then boyfriend, Johnny Depp. They are standing hand in hand, posing for the camera. She is wearing a plain grey shift dress, very little make-up and her hair down around her shoulders. She is looking elegant, easy and elegant, not much sign of the hippy waif. Depp is dressed for the occasion in a tuxedo. He has no facial hair or dreadlocks, not even a hat. He’s smartened himself up for the evening, as has Kate Moss, but you get the feeling, smartened up at the last moment before leaving the house.

It wasn’t Kate Moss who caused me to pause and look at the picture and then look at why I was looking at it. I read about her doings and look at pictures of her, but only if they happen to be on my screen or pointed to by someone. I understand she is very photogenic, but her style seems to me to be a layer or series of layers on top of something that’s fairly ordinary. I’m not very interested in Johnny Depp’s life either. I noted that lately he had separated from his wife, who I knew to be Vanessa Paradis, French, an actress or a singer, I’m not sure which. I didn’t know they were a couple until long after they got together, because the news just hadn’t come my way. I’ve seen a number of films with Johnny Depp, but very few made in the last decade or two. I gather they are mostly turkeys. They don’t much appeal, so I don’t think to bother, though I watch the latest iteration of Pirates of the Caribbean for it’s silly lush, backward glance at old adventure movies.

But there is something about the two of them in that posed picture, that I still think of from time to time. Him avoiding a direct look at the cameras, trying to keep the public gaze at bay; her letting her mask slide, not looking like a glazed model, but like a woman who can’t help smiling for the requited desire they are both feeling and trying to keep it under control in public. Clasping each other’s hand for help. They are young and charming and crazy for each other.

When I was young, but old enough to have discovered that I was desirable, I would sometimes see a face at a party, in the pub, in the street, and it would sledgehammer me. Sometimes, if the situation was right, I would do something about it, make myself known, available. It was and is called attraction, and I didn’t think about it very much. It was just what happened. Sometimes you are attracted to a face, sometimes someone is attracted to you. There isn’t always a matching response, and then there would be a slight moment of regret, and I’d get on with whatever I was doing. If it worked both ways, and other things were equal, we would get together, go for a walk, a meal, or perhaps skip the formalities and spend the night with each other. Maybe something else would happen and we would have an affair that lasted, weeks, months, very occasionally years. It wasn’t the only way I got involved with men, but it was the most thrilling. The sparking of desire and then fulfilling it.

In the photo of Depp holding Kate Moss’s hand, there is something wary about the eyes, on guard, as the bulbs flash. Nevertheless, the look is direct, it’s the gateway to all kinds of things we can’t know about him. Moss’s smile confirms what can’t be known, but anyone could guess. The other thing I noted about the picture was that the two of them, Moss and Depp, were almost perfect twins. When they looked at each other, as perhaps they didn’t dare to in public at that moment, it must have been like looking in a mirror. Did they know that, I wonder. Their twinship? The small rosebud mouths, the slanted eyes, a glazed, bored expression painted on as they look out at the world, behind which you could see the exhaustion from the pleasure they took in each other’s company. But that was a fleeting assessment before the sledgehammer. Perhaps more like a lightning bolt. A shaft, as of Cupid arrow in the heart, opening in me a memory of something, some feeling, ache, shock in the chest. The old remembered remnants of youthful desire.

I am 67. And I found myself filled with – well, something like grief. It must have been the grief of an old woman remembering youth and desire, when it hit you out of the blue, and was returned, and knowing it was possible and necessary to assuage it. I was suddenly overcome by the visual recollection of youthful sexuality beaming out from the couple. Someone once said to me with tears in his eyes on his 60th birthday, ‘No one will ever fall in love with me again.’ I stopped myself from saying sharply ‘That’s all right, no one ever has so far’, as a kind of punishment for what I took to be his drunken, mawkishness, which, even if true, really needed only a wry smile, not tears. I was in my forties then and not very tolerant of sentimentality. The moment of grief I felt looking at the picture of Moss and Depp also needed the wry smile, not tears. When I was fifty I met The Poet, who is the same age as me. We had each left it until the last minute to find the relationship of our lives. Before that neither of us thought of ourselves as finally committed to a relationship, although we had had marriages and children. Our living happily ever after together, at such a late stage in our lives, is something we both smile at as improbable. It still surprises us, but it works. I don’t really know why. I came across something new, when we met, that both took in and transformed the youthful desire; we had the attraction but built a relationship on top of it that made the already but not quite diminished possibility at my age of looking at someone else in a room, wanting them, seeing it mirrored, and doing something about it, a voluntary surrender thereafter on my part. It’s possible you can’t surrender completely to age and settled love. Perhaps you have to grieve a little – to look at a photo of a pair of lovers in the midst of an passionate affair and feel a pang but also a smile for the chances you won’t have and wouldn’t take anyway, and for the loss of the possibility of raw desire being reciprocated by a stranger.

Another original version of my monthly column translated into Swedish in the Goteborgs-Posten.