In Conversation With Marc Fearns
In something of an oddity, we’re both on the sofa this Sunday. Usually it’s just Marc and his spam fetish, but this week we thought we’d bring Jon into the equation to give things a little more substance. 7 Reasons has been going on twenty months now. Given our success we would have thought we’d at least have been interviewed on Yorkshire based radio station Whippet FM by now. Sadly, we haven’t. And that’s really disappointing. But, being innovators of great stature, we have decided to do what Whippet FM hasn’t. We are going to interview ourselves. In this two part special we are going to be sitting on the sofa talking to each other. Via the medium of email. This week, it’s Jon interviewing Marc. Here we go.
JL: Hello Marc. Nice baby/glasses. Why did you feel it necessary to involve me in 7 Reasons?
MF: Hello Jon. Nice fiancé/biscuits. It seemed logical. I realised that with someone else on board, I would only have to come up with three and a half reasons per day and – I’ve been told – that doing things on your own is less fun. The first seven reasons piece that I wrote (which was on my own blog, before the provisional concept of the site came to me in the bath) was also partially your idea, so it seemed like the thing to do. It does have its drawbacks: Not being the best writer on my own website occasionally irritates me and I’ve learned more about Whitstable than I ever wanted to but, those minor matters aside, time has proved that it was the right decision. It’s a bit like a variant on infinite monkey theory: If there are two thoroughly daft people in the world with roughly compatible interests and skill-sets, eventually they’ll end up running a website together. Or annoying a woman. Or both. I’m also a big fan of the writing of Jonathan Lee. This way I can see it more often (and get to remove the rogue apostrophes).
JL: It’s nice to hear you’re such a fan, but let’s talk about you more. Almost two years ago you quit the wine industry to start 7 Reasons and redesign the whole of your house. Which do you feel has been more successful?
MF: Well, I do now have a library, a loft, a working roof and a big muddy hole in the front garden but parts of the house are still pink. 7 Reasons, on the other hand, isn’t pink at all. It is also visible from Rio de Janeiro. Definitely 7 Reasons.
JL: We’re approaching our 500th post Birthday. That’s a lot, especially when you consider we use the same formula every single day. Have you ever been tempted to call it a day and go back to fearns.blogspot.com?
Oh, most days. Usually when I’m stuck on five reasons. But other than that, no, not really. I test myself occasionally just to ensure that I retain the ability to write without counting to seven, but 7 Reasons is much more fun and some days it just seems to write itself. Saturdays, mostly.
JL: Obviously an ability to write and count up to seven are essential requirements for a 7 Reasons writer – and may I just say on one of those counts you succeed admirably – but are there any other skills that you feel lend themselves favourably to being part of the 7 Reasons team?
MF: Yes. Anyone can write seven reasons for something, but to make it entertaining requires some sort of minor unhinged-ness, eccentricity, neurosis, and perhaps a soupçon of Francophobia. Most people, for example, on hearing the captivating tones of the woman next door singing lullabies to her children would think no more of it and carry on. A member of the 7 Reasons team would have a different thought process:
That’s the woman next door singing a lullaby. Wow, she’s got lovely pitch and an impressive range. I wish my child’s mother could sing this well to him. Perhaps I could convince the woman next-door to sing to him occasionally, he’d like that… Wait! What am I doing? I’m coveting my neighbour’s wife! I’m not supposed to be doing that, the Bible says not to (possibly). And I’m not even coveting her out of lust! I’m coveting her for her parenting skills, which is probably an even worse betrayal of my child’s mother than coveting a woman for more conventional reasons. Or is it? Does this mean I’m going to hell? Can I get a 7 Reasons post out of it?
That’s the sort of mindset that the 7 Reasons team bring to the plate every day.
JL: What about the need to have a thick skin? You recently wrote a piece about the M&S Dine In For £10 deal. On reading the article, Mark Spencer (probably not his real name) suggested that you were a complete idiot and proffered that you were someone who moans about anything and everything. He then called you an idot. An improvement on idiot though one suspects not overly complimentary. How do you deal with the personal insults?
MF: Before he(she?) called me an “idot”, which as a fan of irony, I heartily approve of, he(she?) also complained (semi-literately) that I wrote a full article on the subject. Presumably he(she?) inhabits a world where people that disagree with him(her?) can only do it in that arcane and obscure form, the partial-article. Either that or Mark Spencer (or, more accurately, Anonymous-From-The-Internet) is a bit unhinged and should really be ignored by right-thinking people. After all, if you have to resort to abuse where there is room for debate and opinion, you’ve really already marked yourself out as not worthy of anyones’ consideration or attention. Generally, I’m happy that I write fair-mindedly, and if people choose not to read things in that manner, that’s really up to them. And most people do, which is heartening.
JL: 7 Reasons is very much concept driven, in a marketplace full of content driven websites do you think the 7 Reasons approach has helped or hindered its growth?
MF: No. Or yes. Or, more accurately, I don’t know. I think it adds a nice hook to the titles of pieces and gives the potential reader some sort of inkling of what to expect. If you imagine the titles of our pieces without the prefix 7 Reasons, what you might expect to see when clicking on that link would be far less clear. I think people realise that they’re not going to get some dull, sprawling, ranty tract that will take all day to read when they see that there are a fixed number of reasons. Plus it gives people that have failed to observe the name on the link or the website’s header the chance to say of any given post, “What, only seven?” and wear their own ignorance as a badge. They seem to like doing that.
On balance, I think the concept helps to attract an audience, but it isn’t the key to retaining them. That’s the role of the content. And all I need to do now is add the phrases “evolve viral experiences”, “synergize leading-edge web-readiness” and “drive front-end bandwidth” to this paragraph and then I can draw a cock on my own back and beat myself to death with an iPad. Great question, Jon. Thanks.
JL: They don’t call me the young Michael Parkinson…actually, that sentence stops there. They don’t call me the young Michale Parkinson. In what will hopefully be a more enjoyable question to answer, which three posts, from the 500 plus that have been published, stand out in your mind?
MF: 7 Reasons Not to Write on a Train stands out. I really enjoyed writing that one, though it really sticks in my mind as a result of the epic battle I had to upload it from Essex the next day. The friends that we were staying with had a broken internet connection that I could have fixed but they couldn’t remember their password. Then it turns out that no establishment in Essex (apart from one place) had working WiFi. Then the working WiFi in the place with the working WiFi stopped working just as I started using it, and many of the places that advertised WiFi weren’t there any more. After six hours of trying to upload the piece from Essex I had to abandon my wife and friends to go to London to use the internet. And to have a beer.
7 Reasons We Love Propaganda Posters also stands out. Just because there are websites out there that have accepted our posters and explanations as historical fact and there’s a part of me that finds that very funny.
7 Reasons Sports Personality 2009 Was A Joke also stands out, mostly for the debate about sport in the 1990s that ensued in the comments section. I don’t think you’ve ever researched anything as thoroughly as you did the sporting year of 1994 during that debate. And then someone else we knew turned up and commented thinking that our website was The Guardian. Fun all round.
JL: And finally, what hopes do you have for 7 Reasons in the future?
MF: Untold riches, tiramisu, world domination and minions; it’d be great to have some of them. Oh, and a book deal.
JL: Well best of luck with that Marc Fearns. Thank you for talking to us.
MF: We’re welcome.
Next week: In Conversation With Jonathan Lee!