Thursday, 15 March 2012

I feel like I already know you

The title of this week’s blog is something Liverpool writer Cath Bore recently tweeted to me when we discovered we were both going to CrimeFest in May. It was a lovely thing to say and it got me thinking. How well is it possible to ‘know’ someone through Twitter?

I once had a line manager who, when conducting job interviews, would sit back and say to the interviewee, ‘Tell me about yourself’. He argued it was significant what aspects of their lives his victims chose to talk about, and in what order. Another friend, when given job applicants with virtually identical qualifications and experience, would call in for interview the ones who had the most interesting hobbies.

Solo: my first-born
Remembering these two individuals, I slaved over my Twitter profile until I felt it captured the essential Janet O’Kane. Or rather, the one I wished to present to the world. Given everything I could say, especially when restricted to 160 characters, did I want to share my age, my marital status, the fact I’m no one’s mum? As I joined Twitter to reach out to other writers, all that personal stuff seemed unnecessary. I put my writing life to the fore, but felt my (genuine) passion for poultry gave me a quirky side I’d be happy to exhibit. 
It’s apparent that not everyone gives their profile as much thought. And that’s fine by me. Just don’t expect me to follow you if you don’t volunteer at least a few nuggets of information about yourself. You may believe you’re being intriguing, I can’t help thinking you’ve got something to hide and/or something to sell.
Getting upset?

Nearly all the people I follow make the most of those 160 characters. I’m keen to make contact with those who write, read, like chickens, cats, dogs. Or I’ll follow someone whose profile makes me smile. For example, Dave Jackson, author of Pariah and The Helper, claims that despite the dark books he writes, ‘I’m actually a very nice guy’. Steve Mosby simply states that he’s been, ‘Upsetting people with fiction since 2003’.  However, I’m bemused by Piers Morgan’s unfunny profile: ‘One day you’re cock of the walk, the next a feather duster’. Then again, nothing could make me want to follow him. Ever.

I'm of the opinion that tweeting reveals more about the originator than they might expect. Over time – and I think time is the key here – you learn about their routines, lifestyles, sources of pride, annoyance and stress, hobbies, the arrival of new pets and departure of much-loved older ones. They sing the praises of books they’ve loved, recommend films they’ve enjoyed, slam the TV programmes they think should never have been made (anyone want to stand up for The Body Farm? No, thought not). You follow links to stuff they find interesting/appalling and to their own blogs, which offer up even more of their characters.

Is this like real life, or are our Twitter personalities pure artifice? Are we all just putting on an act? I suspect I’m not alone in not tweeting if I’m truly upset about something. Now my first novel is out on submission I can’t share the ups and downs of that process. And I don't really 'do' politics, except for commenting on the latest in the Scottish independence debate (I'm not for it, just in case you wondered). But in real life we often don’t reveal our innermost feelings to any but our nearest and dearest anyway.

During 2012 I’m going to meet a lot of my Twitter friends in real life. Next month I’m driving down to the launch of Mari Hannah’s first novel at Hexham Book Festival. In May, I’ll be in Bristol for CrimeFest, which is being attended by many tweeps who share my enthusiasm for crime fiction. June sees me and My Scotsman holidaying in Norfolk, when I’m meeting up with another Twitter friend for the first time. And September is the month when crime-writing types will be sweeping northward for the Bloody Scotland festival at Stirling.

As I've mentioned before, not being the most outgoing of women, I find it hard to walk into a roomful of strangers (unless I’m carrying a tray of drinks or canapés). Now though, despite never having met most of them, the people I talk with on Twitter aren’t strangers. So I’ll be seeking them out, smiling, hugging them. That's when I’ll discover if Twitter accurately conveys people’s true natures. And whether Dave Jackson really is that nice guy he claims to be.


  1. It's a bit weird the way we think we know people on Twitter but I can honestly say the people from the writing community I have got to know after meeting them on Twitter have been 95% nice (one always has to spoilt it lol).
    Facebook on t'other hand is a very different matter...
    PS I'm happy to confirm David Jackson IS a very nice bloke!

  2. Great Blog post, it has certainly sent me back to my own Twitter profile to have a look at exactly what I've said about myself!

  3. Hi Christie, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I see you live just the other side of the Border and I agree that Northumberland is a lovely county. And your Twitter profile is fine - I've followed you to prove it!