Nick Denton is the brains behind Gawker. Well, there are a few sharp brains behind it–writer Elizabeth Spiers and her successor Choire Sicha, for two–but Nick is the publisher.
Gawker found its audience from the start. It was the New York peanut gallery, drawling sarky commentary on the tiny group who get to declaim from the glossies. It was Winona Ryder in Heathers. Graydon and Tina and Anna “Nuclear” Wintour were studied closely, on first-name terms to take the piss out of those who assumed we were on first-name terms. There were more than enough disgruntled grunts to send in tips on what Anna was wearing in the Condé Nast elevators, or not eating for lunch.
Score one for the little people. Like the old English aristocracy, the New York media Borg knows when to open the steel doors for bright outsiders. Gawker has become the “go-to spot”, says _The Sacramento Bee_, and the talented Ms. Spiers has vaulted to…um, another blog, but this time it’s New York magazine’s fretful attempt to get/stay real.
Now Nick wants to start a travel blog. He’s already got a gadget blog and an entertaining porn blog going. Nick is brains and charm in a brown velour package, and his strategy is well-defined. Identify lucrative categories for Google-style sidebar ads. Find new writers, keen and cheap, to build low-cost content in return for exposure. Build word-of-mouth, and wait.
My friend Halley wrote to Nick to suggest me as his travel writer. Then I did the same. I have free time, a professional background in city guides, and thousands of words written on stumbling around Southeast Asia and Latin America. My grubby backpacker stories weren’t what he had in mind, but he agreed to meet me for coffee on my last day in New York.
It would have been a dream job at 25, especially when I had a go-getter husband to take care of minor inconveniences like rent and immigration visas. Before I was grungy I was slick. Before I was a hippie I was a yuppie. I spent my twenties obsessed with magazines, and can parse their grammar with the best of them, even though now I’d rather read a good blog than another yawn of a style rag. I wanted Nick to believe that I was capable of prose more saleable than essays on the chicken buses of Laos. His requirements were specific: city travel, within a direct flight of the US. Schrager-slick, but not above deal-hunting. Raunchy was good. Funny was good. Short was good. I told him I’d give it a lash.
I started with London. Easy, right? I used to live there, I have friends there, and I was visiting for a couple of weeks. On my intermittent dial-up connection I trawled every listings and vistors site I could find. I shelled out for _i-D_ and Wallpaper*, Time Out, the _A to Z_, and various Hoxton art mags. I read the guidebooks standing up in Waterstones, and pestered my friends for ideas.
I couldn’t do it. Every time I tried to write an arch blurb on Schrager hotels or pole-dancing classes in SoHo, I came over all Buddhist. On my keyboard, raunchy warped into convent-prissy. Funny came out cheesy. Three sentences on the hot and the cool were more painful to produce than my Medievel Spanish finals. I was bluffing: I don’t shag around in international capitals. I dance only at weddings, and the first round of those has already dried up. I haven’t stayed in the Mondrian or the Royalton since the years of expense-account slumber parties with my pal Leelila. A starving twenty-three year old editorial assistant can pretend that _everyone_ has thousand-dollar Murakami bags, but I can’t. These days I’m not hungry enough to add to the wanting.
Maybe I should have tried harder. An evil voice in the back of my head said, you could sweat this much over software specifications that pay four times as much, and save the laptop for the writing you love. My samples were dreadful, confirming my recent diagnosis that I suck. I didn’t even send them to Nick. Instead I wrote and apologised for wasting his time. So here endeth the career.
5 thoughts on “My Brilliant Career”
Well all I can say is it’s just as well you have a blog, otherwise we couldn’t read the great words that come easy to you.
I k you find the writing career you deserve.
Be the Dervala.
Face it Derv, you just aren’t shallow enough for publishing.
There comes a time in your life when you lose the ability to give a rat’s arse about a great part of the human spectrum.
What’s next, assuming you emerge from Limerick unstabbed?
I met Elizabeth Spiers once. She was shorter than I’d imagined.
Shorter than you’d imagined? Funny, I picture her as very short. Strange how these mental images form.
Thanks for the encouragement, guys. Now I’ve recovered from the sense of failure and gloom I’m really pleased to have chosen to be a prima donna about it.
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