Category Archives: Writing Journal

Yes stories are formulaic. No that’s not a bad thing.

imagesSome years ago I had a friend who didn’t believe recipes had any place in the kitchen. He would start cooking a meat pie, then decide it needed some fruit. Too sweet? Add some paprika. Maybe it’s not a pie after all. Now it’s a desert. Cover it in honey! I’m not joking. My friend valued originality above all. People enjoyed his parties, but never for their cuisine.

It’s amazing how many writers try to write this way.

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron is an interesting book. It pulls together a lot of well researched information about the connection between storytelling and neuroscience. And guess what? The latest insights of science are showing us that stories are waaaaaaaaay more important to how humans think than most people realise. Stories aren’t just idle entertainment. Stories are, quite literally, the way we think.

(Writers have suspected this for a long time, and researchers like Brene Brown are proving just how important the scientific study of stories can be.)

How often have you heard people dismiss a story for being formulaic? How often have you done it yourself? But when it comes to storytelling, our cultural obsession with originality does us little or no good. The great formulas of storytelling, like great recipes, exist because our narrative tastebuds respond powerfully to that combination of story flavours. The task for the writer isn’t to toss away the Hero’s Journey , five act structure, or any of the beautiful formulas for great stories from history, but instead like a great cook, you must flavour them slightly differently for the palates of modern audiences.

Wired For Story is a remarkable foundation to build a great understanding of storytelling upon. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Why does literary fiction hate genre?

Literary fiction is an artificial luxury brand but it doesn’t sell. So nobody benefits by fencing it off from more popular writing.

It’s always a problem when one of literature’s big beasts wanders off the reservation into the badlands of genre. The latest to blunder through the electric barriers erected around the safe zone is two-time Booker prize nominee David Mitchell, whose new book Slade House is undeniably a haunted house story. Or, as the Chicago Tribune put it, his “take on a classic ghost story”. As if the thousands of genre ghost stories written every year by horror writers weren’t also one individual’s take on that classic form.

Read more @ Guardian Books.

When it comes to fighting monsters…why the bat?

Jennifer Brozek’s new YA series, the Melissa Allen trilogy, features a young female protagonist who carries a baseball bat when she’s fighting monsters. In this special guest post, Jennifer explains why Melissa named it Mister Bat, and how it became a repeating factor in all three books. While most people might think a baseball bat is an unusual weapon for a young lady, Melissa has her reasons.


Why would a nice girl like Melissa favor a baseball bat over all other weapons when fighting monsters? It’s an easy enough question to answer on the whole. Melissa is a young teenager who loves baseball. At the start of the book, she’s unable to play but she still has her named weapon of choice. It is a talisman for her and a source of security—like a blanket, only more protective and less apt to hurt her accidentally.

While some would argue that a gun would be a better weapon, guns run out of ammunition. They are also noisy, illegal to carry in some states, apt to be taken from the owner and used against them, or have the weapon owner accidentally shoot themselves with it. On the whole, in a situation with monsters, the bat is a better choice. No loss of ammo and a sense of familiarity. While it could be used against Melissa, it’s not a long distance weapon, thus running away is still an option.

There’s another reason Melissa loves her bat. Her favorite fictional hero, Deroga Darrington from the Dare Files uses one. They are silent, effective damage dealers, legal, and easily replaceable. Melissa is well influenced by her love of Deroga, constantly referring to him and his gritty, sage advice.

The real question is: why wouldn’t a young woman want a baseball bat for protection? Or an older woman for that matter? I have a lovely aluminum bat I keep near me while I’m at home. It isn’t a named bat, but it is still a comfort nonetheless.

Never Let Me Leave is available from Amazon now.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter.

There is only one choice for the new World Fantasy Award

Most readers of this blog will already have read the news that, after a long debate within the community of fantasy writers and readers, H P Lovecraft is to be replaced as the face of the World Fantasy Award. Not everyone is taking the news gracefully, not least critic S T Joshi who performed an epic flounce, returning his World Fantasy awards and asking never to be nominated again!

I have no intention of rehashing the Lovecraft debate here, it has been had and decisively won, and my feelings on old HP are already on record. The really valuable discussion now is what we replace the existing trophy with. It’s interesting because it cuts to the heart of a very important question for fans and writers of the fantastic – what IS fantasy?

“Fantasy” as a category of storytelling means many things to many people. Even putting aside his explicit racism, Lovecraft was a poor choice as the “face” of a world fantasy award because he represents only a narrow – very narrow – range of fantasy’s broad meanings. But, this isn’t just Lovecraft’s problem, it’s equally true of ANY single author. (And, I would argue, any single iconic fantasy character.) For this reason I also do not support Daniel Jose Older’s widely popular nomination of Octavia Butler to replace Lovecraft. Fantasy contains many great writers, none of whom should be the face of the award.

I also understand the general reluctance of many to embrace any of the prototypical fantasy symbols – wizards towers, dragons, unicorns etc and onward. Dragons definitely have profound significance in epic fantasy, but mean very little in horror, for instance. I’d have no problem collecting a dragon shaped WF award one day, but understand that others might feel differently. However, I do think there is one iconic symbol of fantasy that can stand for the entire field.

The portal.

The portal connecting one world to another is more than just a staple of fantasy stories. Yes, a magical gateway opened by a sorcerer, and CS Lewis’ magical wardrobe, are tropes within their respective narratives. But the importance of the portal to all fantasy writing reaches much further than that. In The Rhetorics of Fantasy writer, critic and academic Farah Mendelsohn makes a compelling case that all fantasy revolves around the relationship between reality, and the created fantasy of the story. In a sense, whether a portal is explicitly presented or not, all fantasy is about the act of moving through portals between worlds. It seems to me that when we ask what fantasy is, the portal is the most universal of answers.

How would a portal be represented as a three dimensional trophy? There’s really no end of possibilities for skilled artists to explore. It could take a traditional form as a magical gateway, the more horrific image of the shadowy doorway (how many horror stories turn on a decision to walk through the wrong door?), or a more abstract form as a circle or ring.

If you’d like to see the portal chosen to represent the field for the World Fantasy Award then please spread the word, link to this post, and please leave a comment if you have thoughts to share.

Gus. A case study in Sad Puppy ignorance.

The Sad Puppies are, once again, frolicking in my twitter feed after WIRED magazine’s take on the 2015 Hugo awards was republished in an extended form. It’s a good read, followed by the usual tail of comments with members of the Mad Harpies “movement” publicly humiliating themselves by repeating the same old tired excuses for their bigotry.

Among the comments was this gem from a “Gus”, who chose to publish on a public forum a rather revealing insight into the ignorance of the Bad Guppies. I’ll just drop it here for you to read in full. The bold is a quote from the article , the italics are Gus “rebuttal”.


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, arguably the first sci-fi novel, was a monster story that explored the ethics of technological advance and the responsibilities of parent­hood.
Only a brain-washed product of a US humanities department could ever come up with such nonsense. The sole purpose of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was macabre entertainment, as entertainment is the sole purpose of Sci-Fi: when I want to be preached to, I go to church. The puppies, of course, are right. A good story that sells well is what counts every time. Thank God, we no longer have to rely on Hugo and its gang of prim PC hypocrites for suggestions. There’s plenty more where to find a good read. And neither is “Frankenstein” (1818) the first sci-fi novel. There have been many before, for example, “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift (1726), “Adventures of Baron Munchhausen” by Rudolf Erich Raspe (1785), or “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish (1666), and plenty more going all the way back to “Arabian Nights” and the Japanese tale of “Urashima Taro” (720) that talks about time travel.


I wish I had an effective emoticon for side eye, and I’m not going to lower myself to inserting a gif here, so I will simply ask you to imagine me giving Gus all the side eye. Where to even begin?

Firstly, is Gus actually asking us to believe that Frankenstein : A Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the famed early feminist icon, daughter of philosopher and political activist Mary Wollstonecraft, wife of romantic poet and political radical Percy Byshe Shelley, close friend of paramilitary revolutionary Lord Byron, and author of  seven novels (many science fictional) and innumerable other stories, essays and letters, all of them revealing a life of deep engagement with political and social issues of gender, class, sexuality and more, that this same Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote Frankenstein : A Modern Prometheus (a subtitle explicitly invoking the mythical act of stealing fire from the gods as an opening rhetorical reference to the risks of scientific endeavour) as, and I quote, “the sole purpose of…macabre entertainment”? Because I would suggest, on the basis of all available evidence, including every single thing ever written about Frankenstein, that Gus is in a minority on this one. In fact, I will go so far as to say that he is utterly, absurdly and idiotically wrong.

Secondly. Does Gus then go on to place, alongside Frakenstein : A Modern Prometheus by early feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the novel Gulliver’s Travels by famed polemicist, essayist and, yes, political activist Jonathan Swift, as examples of entertaining scifi stories written for the sole purpose of entertainment? Because I hate to break it Gus, but while Gulliver’s Travels may well be a “good read”, it absolutely does have a message. Google is your friend Gus, look it up.

Wherever Had Herpes gather the whining about “message fiction” is endless. Stories should only entertain, and not contain any kind of message, apparently. Reading old Gus’ words, it becomes clear how these clowns arrive at such idiocy.

They are ignorant.

These are the kind of people who can read Frankenstein : A Modern Prometheus by early feminist icon Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and not notice all those messages flying past their ears. Or, likely, they just haven’t read it at all, and are the very particular kind of stupid that can believe that they, and they alone, know the “sole purpose” of something they haven’t even read.

There is a name for this kind of stupid. It’s ignorance. The people who don’t know, and don’t want to know, and ignore anything that challenges them, even when it’s explained in the simplest way, those are the ignorant people. And they’re ignorant, above all else, about science fiction itself, a genre so full of messages that even its most ardent fans can’t agree on a proper definition to hold them all. Gus is a good case study in Sad Puppy ignorance, look out for its signs in everything they do.

Open Thread : How can writers protect themselves from social media?

As some of you will know, I took a week week long sabbatical from social media last week. I’ve done this four times this year, each time for one to three weeks. For reasons I’ll come to, I find it essential.

I love social media. Twitter is my favourite platform, it connects me with hundreds of wonderful people whose friendship I value hugely. I also use Facebook, Google+, Instagram and a number of others. I also, for reasons I will come to, hate social media.

Like any professional writer, I have to be on social media. My work as a journalist means I need to keep in touch with developing stories, for which social media is essential. Much of my freelance consultancy work revolves around helping businesses use social media, so I need to stay in touch with these platforms as they evolve. In short, I am on social media a lot because it’s immensely useful to me in many ways. But for reasons I will come to, I hate that I have to be on social media.

Why do I hate social media?

Creativity requires focus. Social media, as we’re all fully aware, breaks that focus. It does that in obvious ways, with constant notifications that we train ourselves to constantly be checking. But it’s the less obvious ways that are more pervasive. For every positive debate on social media, there are ten futile conflicts. Like it or not, the kind of continuous presence writers have on social media makes not being drawn into those conflicts extremely problematic. And those conflicts are symptomatic of something worse. It’s what I’ve started thinking of as the social media Crab Barrel effect, wherein social media tends to drag all its participants towards a median level of wisdom or understanding on any topic.

As a creative of any kind the crab barrel is, of course, exactly the thing you have struggled to escape.

We need social media as writers, but we also need to protect ourselves from social media. Your thoughts on how are most welcome.

REVIEW – The End of All Our Labours

The End of All Our Labours

Will the world end in fire? In ice? Or grey goop?
A review of The End of All Our Labours by Potassium Cockburn.

I am, on the issue of humankind’s near future, an optimist. As humans we have a historic tendency to predict the worst, and yet our history has been one of steady progress. But there are without doubt more horrifying future scenarios for us to fixate our doom mongering imaginations on than ever before. Climate change of course, and the population shifts and resource wars associated with it. New weapons of mass destruction that make atom bombs look like pea shooters. An almost infinite array of biological terrors, bacterial horrors and viral nastiness all stemming from garage kit genetic engineering. The End of All Our Labours, a near future science fiction novel by the pseudonymous Potassium Cockburn, makes this shopping list of familiar apocalyptic possibities its starting point and, with great imagination, conjures a few hundred new ones.

Manoushka “Manny” Duval is a neuter, a gender and sex identity still hard to hold even in the war and poverty ravaged near future Cockburn depicts. But Manny is among the fortunate. Well educated, implanted with the sensory augmentations neccesary for high level work, born of immigrants who escaped the refugee camps and favellas to which most people are condemned. Manny worked those camps, saw the death and disease up close, but now lives in the towers and dome communities of the upper classes.

However, The End of All Our Labours introduces us to Manny when their life has been literally torn apart. From a tiny cell Manny relates the story into a speakeasy recorder, addressing interogator Mr Deebs. The reader learns of a seeming terrorist plot to break through the walls between dimensions, and the utter chaos of a world where every apocalypse scenario has arrived at once is hinted at. But Manny can remember very little; Manny’s augments have been programmed to block all knowledge of the “Proprietary” research which they were contacted to undertake.

The nature of that programme mutates throughout The End of All Our Labours. A byzantine recruitment programme, that satirises today’s corporate culture of non-disclosure agreements and proprietary intellectual property, lands Manny a highly paid job with the Gardiner corporation on a project lead by Mr Gardiner himself. But what begins as a scientific effort to save a doomed humanity soon shifts as plots within plots enmesh Manny in a far more radical scheme. The programme shifts again as the augmented reality the researchers work within becomes central to the story, and we begn to suspect that far from being a mere researcher, Manny has been drafted as the unwitting research subject.

The End of All Our Labours is clear on one thing. The real threat facing humankind is humankind itself, and the twisted knot that is human consciousness. Cockburn neatly subverts one of the key tropes of the apocalypse story, where the rational mind of the scientist ultimately triumphs over the irrationality of humankind by, for instance, engineering the cure for the killer virus, or switching off the rogue AI. The End of All Our Labours presents scientific reason as just another layer of self deception and delusion fuelling human chaos. Around this thesis the novel plunges into a tumult of multiplying realities and overlaid dimensions.

Like much of the most interesting science fiction, The End of All Our Labours is part thesis, part fiction. Cockburn’s style is dense and challenging, weaving essay and argument through the thoughts and observations of its main protagonist, often sacrificing character and story for ideas and philosophy as it pursues its central obsession – can our world be saved? The author makes very few compromises in chasing the answer through a maze of human madness. That makes The End of All Labours, particularly in its opening sequence and densely self referential final third, a challenging read. Readers who step up to Cockburn’s challenge to match the author step for step will get much from the argument they together unfold.

This review was written as part of my paid review programme. You can find more information here.

Urban Fantasy : more than just sex with were-leopards

The numinous. The weird. The fantastic, or even the spiritual. Whatever name it goes by, humans have a profound need to glimpse some greater reality beyond our mundane existence. And there’s nowhere more mundane than a modern city, where everything down to the light fittings is human-made, and even the darkest alley is under CCTV surveillance. If there is anything numinous in modern London, it must be perfectly camouflaged in the colours of a Caffè Nero.

Read more @ The Guardian

Three hard earned lessons on building a Patreon

This was originally published as part of my regular newsletter, which you can sign up for here. Over the last 4 months I’ve built up my Patreon account from $18 to $176 and with luck it’ll carry on growing ;) Here are three lessons I’ve learned.

1. Getting new backers is hard! But worth it.
A monthly donation, even of $3, is something most people put a lot of thought into before committing to. Even though patrons can stop at any time, most people don’t want to start unless they’re going to continue. But once a backer does sign up, it’s like having a new friend, and a great boost to your confidence as a creator.

2. Your patrons are people who like you and your work.
Patrons are often more interested in you, and seeing you succeed, than in just getting a new story or essay to read. Of my 32 patrons, not one is a family member or close friend. But they are people I have connected with through my writing, and that I often talk with on platforms like Twitter. It’s a great feeling when those people decide they value what I do enough to help me carry on.

3. Patreon is a creative space.
I soon realised that Patreon was, for me as a writer, a space to create in, not just a place to collect donations. Throughout July I’ve been posting a daily series of posts on overcoming creative fear, and connecting with the signal of our creativity. These posts have also become a discussion forum for my patrons, and future posts will be guest authored by some of them. And of course they’ve helped to attract a number of new backers.

Later this year I’ll be publishing a serial fiction as part of my Patreon work. I’d love it if you got involved.

Science Fiction is a global language describing our shared future

First published as part of the Impakt Festival 2012.

In 1873 Jules Verne described the remarkable possibility of a journey made around the world in only eighty days in his pioneering science fiction novel. Less than a century later the same journey could be made in less than eighty hours. The facility of science fiction to help us absorb the future-shock of such radical and high paced technological change goes someway to explaining its influence in the contemporary culture of the developed world. And as developing nations are swept upin the tsunami of new technologies shaping the 21st century, the culture of science fiction becomes a global language describing our shared experience.

China is managing a technological revolution on a scale unprecedented in human history. In just a few decades it has navigated stages of technological development that proceeded over centuries in Europe. As is well documented, it now challenges in economic and industrial might that other behemoth of high-speed technological development – the United States of America. So it’s not entirely surprising that among the many models for development China shares with America, is the cultural influence of science fiction.

In October 2012 the World Chinese Science Fiction Association will award it’s annual Xingyun (Galaxy) Awards for SF. The Xingyun are similar to the American dominated Hugo awards, and will be given in Beijing, at a convention only slightly smaller than the WorldCon at which the Hugo awards will be announced just two months earlier. But in other regards Chinese SF fandom dwarfs its American counterpart. SF World magazine claimed at its peak a circulation of over 300,000 copies, with millions of readers receiving the magazine second hand from friends. It’s a scale no American SF publication has reached since the Golden Age of magazine fiction publishing in the 1950s, when Amazing Stories defined Science Fiction as a genre.

Liu Cixin is unarguably the leading voice in Chinese science fiction. An eight time winner of the Xingyun award, his work has been celebrated for setting the positive, forward looking character of Chinese SF. It’s another notable echo of America’s Golden Age, when writers like Robert Heinlein expressed America’s post-war future as a global super-power. By the 1980’s with the emergence of cyberpunk authors including Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, American science fiction reflected a far darker vision of technology’s impact on the human condition, one dominated by hyper-capitalism and political corruption. Will Chinese SF take a similar turn in to darkness and cynicism? For now it is content on the whole to explore the manifold wondrous possibilities technology holds for our future.

Liu Cixin shares a background in the hard sciences and computer technology with the majority of the readers of his stories and of Chinese SF as a whole. As a literary genre SF does little to please the reactionary audience for contemporary literary fiction. But through the 20th century it emerged as the culture of choice for the people doing the hands on work of making the future happen – the engineers, programmers, designers and various creatives most exposed to future-shock. It’s the geeks who love SF, in books, comics, films and video games. And as geeks have taken over the world, geek culture has become inextricably part of mainstream culture, so that now ideas born in SF, of space travel, intelligent machines and cyber-enhanced humans, have become common place.

What in the West evolved as an outsider culture has in China been embraced as an essential component of technological development. In a 2011 talk at the British Library world famous author Neil Gaiman explained his perspective on the transformation of science fiction from subversive outsider art to government approved culture in Chinese society. China has established itself as the powerhouse of global manufacturing. But it also wants to invent and design the products it manufactures, and to capture the creative ingenuity that still resides primarily in the United States. The geek culture that powers that creativity is a culture in love with science fiction, and to encourage one means implicitly to encourage the other.

The century ahead of us promises to deliver only more and faster technological change. And China is, all agree, where that change will come fastest. The culture of science fiction will undoubtedly become a culture influenced and perhaps dominated by Chinese creators. The role of science fiction then is to continue to communicate the accelerating rate of change shaping the world we all share.

This is why Amazon’s ebook lists are full of crap

Recently I was talking to a friend who reads intensely, but has no interest in or knowledge of publishing. He’s a coder, who reads a half dozen non-fiction books a week. This is the kind of reader the industry needs. He’s also the kind of reader who until last year bought ebooks and print exclusively from Amazon. Now he doesn’t even look at their site. Why?


My friend liked to use Amazon’s bestseller lists to find new reads in specific categories. But now, my friend says bluntly, those lists are full of crap. Above is a screencap of the category bestseller list for Political Philosophy from And low, it is indeed full of crap. With #1 #2 and #4 positions occupied by a series of pamphlets that amount to nothing more than an internet flamewar being played out, not on some obscure forum, but on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

And I literally mean that these “books” are just long blog comments reformatted as ebooks. They have ZERO content of any interest to an actual reader looking for works of Political Philosophy. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Theodore Beale hates John Scalzi, so he wrote a very long list of ways in which he has been wronged and published it as an ebook. Alexandra Erin found the thing so hilarious she wrote a parody and published it. Fans of Beale published a response. The outcome? Three totally inconsequential works of nothingness occupy the top spots on Amazon’s prime marketing space.

Imagine a reader who knows nothing of the Beale / Scalzi argument – which is basically everyone in the world except about 300 scifi fans – buying any of these books. What will they make of “John Scalzi is a r¢$^¥t?” Who knows, but I think its fair to say there’s a major risk they won’t buy from Amazon again.

There’s a lot of information in the world, most of it junk. We all need sources we can rely on to show us the rare non-junk info. While Amazon is competent at selling ebooks, it has completely abandoned any effort to help readers find quality information. It’s bestseller lists are so easily gamed that a clique of crazy scifi fans have hacked all the top spots without even trying. That’s a serious chink in the armour of one of the world’s most powerful businesses. And it’s losing them the attention of readers like my friend.

Sorry Jonesy, but I can write for The Guardian AND love Terry Pratchett

Written with the support of my most excellent patrons.

I never had the good fortune to meet Terry Pratchett, but I’ve been reading his books since I was eleven. My favourite Discworld tomes – Mort, Small Gods and Going Postal – have been read a half dozen times each at least. I also hold a Masters degree, have been a senior university lecturer, and am a columnist for The Guardian, the very same bastion of middlebrow values that Jonathan Jones penned his opportunistic attack on Terry Pratchett. Unlike Jones however, I see no conflict in being both an intelligent educated human being and loving the fuck out of Terry Pratchett’s discworld books.

It’s worth asking why Jonesy begins his tantrum against Pratchett by flouting the fact that he has never read a single one of the author’s works. He’s “flicked through” one and, because of his vast cultural expertise was able to classify, and therefore dismiss it, as a “potboiler”. Let’s give Jones his due here. He wants to quickly dash out a piece of clickbait, so he has chosen a rhetorical structure that allows him to achieve the greatest possible public ire, with the least possible research or effort. What Jones is too high in his ivory tower to consider is what this strategy says not just about him as a critic, but the entire cultural edifice he seeks to represent – the elitest, and poisonously classist world, of British arts and culture.

It’s widely known that Terry Pratchett laboured most of his career with little to no recognition from the UK literary or cultural world. Even as his sales climbed towards hundreds of millons, Sir Terry’s books received none of the attention given to, say, Ian McEwan. As Terry Pratchett’s illness became public knowledge that seemed to change. I don’t want to beat the drum about why it takes a great writer’s illness to make such a change, but it’s hard not to when that good work can be sadly undone by an ignorant spectator like Jonathan Jones. For decades, the cultural establishment held exactly the same ignorant position that Jones today retreated back to – Pratchett wrote “potboilers”, and no more need be said.

This is hardly a new or original position. The history of fantasy can be traced back to the oldest myths and legends. But the dysfunctional relationship between fantasy fiction and the British literary world begins with the early days of popular publishing, and “penny dreadfuls”, a pejorative term for popular books of the Victorian era recently repopularised by the TV show of the same name. Stories like Varney the Vampire sold in huge numbers and rate as some of the earliest truly mass entertainment. They also began the process of defining fantasy stories of all kinds as the literature of the working classes, while realistic novels became associated with the growing middle class. Even when, in most cases, the reality they catalogued was a sordid who’s-fucking-who in high society, or a guide to good manners to show at the table while happily demeaning your household servants, realism became de facto ” high culture”.

Because let’s not forget that the literary and cultural structures Jinathan Jones rides out to defend originate from one of the most unequal and unjust cultures in human history. The Victorian Britain that derided the readers of penny dreadfuls was the same one profiting from their sweat and labour in the nation’s factories. The white, Anglo-Saxon, upper class literary and cultural elite deciding what should be classified as “great art” were simultaneously pillaging the cultural heritage of India, China and a quarter of the planet. The fortunes that paid for the exclusive university educations of Victorian Britain’s artists, writers and critics came in large part from the profits of brutal industry, murderous colonialism and, of course, the vast reparations paid to British slave owners. It’s in no way surprising that Imperial Britain defined art and culture as it defined all things, in such a way as to exclude the poor and keep the oppressed in their place. The values of British culture that Jonathan Jones takes such joy in defending are, in large part, indefensible.

It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a political commentator for The Guardian sneering with joy at the suffering of the workers. But it’s still standard practice for cultural commentators like Jones to hack down writers and artists who communicate to, and on behalf of, the great mass of readers. And lets be frank about why. Arts and culture are home to some of the highest paid and highest status jobs in society. And for all Britain’s progress as a democracy, our arts and cultural industries are still overwhelmingly dominated by an incredibly narrow stripe of society. Our actors, musicians, artists, and of course novelists come almost exclusively from the monied elite, a state made even worse in the last three decades of growing inequality.

Why would this confederacy of cultural dunces, snobs and Oxbridge elitests ignore – or in the case of Jonathan Jones openly insult – a great writer like Terry Pratchett. I wonder. Perhaps someone from an average background rather shows up those who managed so much less with so much more. Perhaps a writer who can brutally satirise the media industry in Moving Pictures, or the finance industry in Making Money, or the poisonous glamour of elitism itself in Lords and Ladies, was not a writer Britain’s cultural elite felt safe around. Or perhaps it’s simply that an artist who can make millions of souls laugh with joy, is hard for the deadened souls of some critics to ever truly appreciate.

Shakespeare, Dickens, Pratchett. There’s no shortage of great writers from Britain’s struggling lower classes who have found themselves attacked, with minimal effect, by Lilliputian cultural elitists like Jonathan Jones. Maybe a century from now, when the remarkable satirical fantasies of Terry Pratchett are studied on every school syllabus, some future and equally insignificant Jonathan Jones will slyly claim that no lower born writer could have written these intelligent, subtle discworld novels. Perhaps they were really written by George Osborne, a figure of the era who came from a proper university. Let’s hope The Guardian has advanced beyond such cheap cultural elitism by then, and stands up to defend great art, instead of selling it out for clicks.