A little story about my book and a troublemaker who tried to derail it, as you do

Musings

I am completely focused on the imminent release of my book, and more than a little bit giddy about it. The ebook version is coming out this month, and the hard copy will follow next month at the speed of print logistics. It’s not too late to pre-order, if you haven’t already.

Writing a book – a proper, printed, published and edited book – is a completely different experience to anything else you will ever do. The emotional commitment, and the ups and downs, are just a small part of that. But me being me, there have been a few things which happened since the day I signed the contract that, well, are the kind of things that only happen to me. The kind that even if I tell you, you’re going to think “oh no way, she’s making that up”, because that’s easier to believe than the notion that they actually happened.

Here’s a little story about one of those, um, adventures. There are witnesses who were there, and who have their own stories to tell.

And oh, those stories will be far worse.

Not long into my book’s life as a filthy rough draft, I was flown to an open source software community event by the project’s lead. tl;dr this is now the subject of multiple legal actions, so I’ll bite my tongue here. But those of you who know, you know. I certainly knew what I was looking at within three hours of arriving. But they’d flown me out there, meaning they controlled my plane ticket, so I was physically trapped there for a few days. Thank God for Hilary Mantel (RIP).

I had never met the event’s lead and coordinator IRL, and we’d only exchanged a few cursory messages related to travel logistics. But upon arriving there, I was confronted with the fact that she had told the attendees a lot of bollocks about who I am and what I do, including, incredibly, the fact that we were close friends going back years. This wasn’t a little bit of professional embellishment or getting the facts wrong. This was what in my profession is known as “batshittery”.

Hence I found myself in the surreal position of being in a crowded conference space conducting awkward small chat with someone who had hallucinated a personal relationship with me, and that (again, legal action) is perhaps the most rational thing that could be said about what I had already witnessed at the event.

She started asking me a lot of questions, not in a kick-your-feet-up, small-talk, getting-to-know-you sort of way. She was fishing, and this was an interrogation. She was looking for something. She asked me what sort of things I was working on at that time. I mentioned the book. She perked up. She asked me who I was writing it for.

I said, “it’s for Smashing Magazine. I probably owe Vitaly a first draft, come to think of it.”

And she said:

“HE’S COMING.”

I said, “sorry?”

She repeated: “VITALY. HE’S COMING. RIGHT NOW. HE’S ON HIS WAY.”

I’m blank here.

“FROM THE AIRPORT. HE’LL BE HERE ANY MINUTE.”

I don’t remember what I said in reply – my jaw was probably on the floor – but she said

“Do you want me to smooth things over with him?”

Now, I knew for a fact that he wasn’t coming, for one simple reason: all the invited guests had to fill out a spreadsheet in advance noting our arrival times at the airport, so that our transfers from the airport to the event could be arranged. (As it happens, neither I nor anyone I spoke with about it got our transfers, and everyone had to scramble for a plan B, because that spreadsheet was just a paperwork exercise for show. AFAIK no transfers were ever arranged, for reasons which were as plain as day to everyone there; legal action etc). But as with other conferences, I’d skimmed the spreadsheet to see who else was attending. I recognised two or three people from the conference circuit who I already knew, so yay, I wouldn’t be a stranger surrounded by strangers.

But the point is, Vitaly’s name had not been and never was on that list. Because he wasn’t coming. He never was. And he certainly wasn’t on his way in a car from the airport, spoiling for a fight.

(I later confirmed with Vitaly that he was never invited nor attending the event, though it turns out we had both been promised the keynote slot at a conference that person had organised and then had to cancel, at great project expense, due to “reasons” {legal action}. I suspect that all the people whom she promised the keynote slot could hold their own festival.)

Nor was Vitaly cross with me, because that’s just not the kind of guy he is. Nor was I in any form of trouble with him or Smashing for not coughing up a draft. Not at any time. And certainly not on demand at an open source conference.

But still, there she was, in my face, eyes bulging, sputtering out a total fiction that I knew wasn’t true, and that on some level she knew wasn’t true.

What I understood in that moment is that this is the sort of person who likes to devise problems, on the spot, so that they can present themselves as the solution, on the spot. Regardless of that “problem’s” veracity or, in this case, any tenuous connection with reality.

Do yourself a favour and remember that life tip, because sooner or later you’re going to find yourself confined in a small space with someone like that too.

The next day I was skulking around with a face like thunder, as you do when you’re being held hostage several thousand miles from your cosy bed, and she noticed that a wasnae very happy. (I revert to Glaswegian when I’m in a mood. If I’m speaking to you in Glaswegian, you’re already dead.)

She said, in a half-arse-kissing, half-self-aggrandising sort of way, “well, I thought it would have been good for you to have some time, here, to work on your book.”

But that had been the book she had not known about until the previous day.
Because she had not met me until the previous day, and I had not met her.

Yeah.

The day after that I watched the person repeat the tactic of devising a problem, on the spot, for which she could present herself as the solution, on the spot, regardless of that “problem’s” veracity or a lack of connection with reality, but also the fact that a roomful of attendees were staring open-mouthed at her in response, having the same reaction that I did two days earlier.

As for me, I retreated to other places within the physical confines of my hostage situation until it was time for me to head to the airport, five hours before my flight, and go home.

But before I could do that, I had to get through the farewell dinner, where, as I was trying to eat in peace, she walked up behind me and bent over me from behind. She put her left hand on my left shoulder, and drew her right hand around my front. Her hand became a balled fist, which she put very directly in front of my face, and she hissed in my ear:

do you like my rings?

Just in case I hadn’t got the message.

Further batshittery stemming from her leadership style behaviour followed for several months, and lives on to this day in the form of legal action.

You learn a lot about people from engaging with them, and speaking with them, and being around them. Sometimes the people you cross paths with put you on a better footing forever. Sometimes the people you cross paths with are hard lessons learnt. Sometimes the people you cross paths with shake things up, like a little earthquake, and you’re jarred but you get through it. Sometimes the people you cross paths with become friends for life.

And sometimes you find yourself a few thousand miles from home standing in front of someone claiming to be a longstanding personal friend who is telling you that your book publisher is en route in a taxi, at that moment, also several thousand miles away from home, to have an International Dramatic Showdown with you, over a book she only learnt about moments before, a showdown so tempestuous that she – and only she – can be the hero here.

And it’s in those moments that you look back on what you learned from that time, and that experience, and that person, and you take in those lessons, and you think to yourself:

the fuck was that?

Anyway. Buy my book. It’s awesome.

The Author

I’m a tech policy wonk based in Glasgow, Scotland. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any previous employer. On that subject, I am on the market again; usual rules apply.