It is exactly a year since the launch of Heretic TOC. Time to celebrate, then?

I can’t honestly say I am in party mood. There will be no birthday cake with a solitary candle to blow out. We heretics are too close to being snuffed out ourselves for that to be good symbolism. The very first blog, titled The real silenced voices, began with the words “Are we in the midst of paedogeddon?” This was a reference to the Jimmy Savile upheaval, and the short answer to the question still looks horribly like “Yes”. Only this week there was further fallout in the UK from this endlessly radioactive saga, when the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions called for non-reporting of “child sexual abuse” to be made a criminal offence.

Celebration, then, is out of place, but a glance backwards is definitely in order. Starting at the beginning, which seems as good a place as any, I am amazed to discover there are no fewer than 15 blogs in the November 2012 archive, all published in the last three weeks of that month. I struggle now with one a week, but that was nearly one a day! How on earth did I find time for that? Well, for one thing, brevity: the first blog was under 300 words, whereas these days it always seems the job needs at least 1500. It’s not that I’m waffling more, is it? I honestly don’t think so. The concise, punchy, opinion piece is always a readable and popular item but Heretic TOC aspires to be a bit more than that now, with a rather more thoroughly researched and in-depth approach. Not everyone will like it but at least I can report that a small but clearly intelligent and knowledgeable following does appear to appreciate what is on offer here.

Or perhaps not so small, as I am not sure what the standard of comparison should be. There are millions of blogs out there now, about half of which are read by no one but the blogger who writes them! Further comparative figures of this sort were contemplated in A thousand hits in ten days, a title which says it all about Heretic TOC’s encouraging initial following. So how do the stats stack up now? Writing a few days ahead of the anniversary, it looks as though there will be over 65,000 hits in the year, which makes 1,250 hits per week, or nearly 180 per day. This looks like a strong improvement over the start-up period of 100 per day, but the figures are flattered by a boost up to over 300 per day in January when Heretic TOC was initially featured as a new entry on Boylinks. The average per day in the last quarter has settled to a steady but less heady 145 or so, including a core of 40 “followers” who have asked for email notification when each Heretic TOC piece appears.

I am told these figures could probably be increased considerably by judicious use of Twitter. I can well imagine. Stephen Fry, for instance, has over six million followers: tweeting him cleverly enough, so that he notices and responds, would really put a blog on the map. But that’s small fry, if you’ll excuse the pun: Justin Beiber has not six million but forty six million followers! Presumably, though, many of those would be minors (dangerous!), and I’m guessing few of the true “beliebers”, minor or major, would be up for Heretic TOC’s rather cerebral style. I keep telling myself it is high time I started getting into this Twitter thing but somehow it never seems to happen – showing my age, I suppose.

One feature of Heretic TOC that has definitely not been small is the sheer amount of blogging and readers’ comments. The 88 blogs published within the year, including guest blogs, probably (no exact stats on this) amount to around 150,000 words. Nearly 1,300 readers comments have been published, i.e. around 15 per blog on average, and despite my occasional pleas for brevity I reckon around half a million words of comment have appeared, not all of them rude! That represents a lot of work by you, dear readers, which I have been delighted to see. At a guess, about two thirds of that has been really good stuff, in my view, and has needed very little moderation. The remaining material, though, including posts which had to be rejected on grounds of personal abuse, repetition of previous positions, incoherence, etc., involved me in some very difficult – indeed at times utterly draining and exasperating – bouts of moderating. This, indeed, has been by far my toughest task, which has at times thoroughly tested my capacity to be as calm, fair and objective as a moderator ought to be.

This brings me to what I think may be the most useful aspect of this “backward glance”. I could spend an agreeable time trawling through the archive, hunting out those blogs I most enjoyed writing, or those on the most significant themes, or the ones that elicited the greatest response. Instead, I feel I should focus on my judgement – which was just a vague feeling at first, but growing stronger with every passing month – that not every heresy here is of equal value, whether my own or those of other contributors. But presenting Heretic TOC as “Not the dominant discourse”, it seemed wrong for this blog, of all blogs, to discriminate against, and suppress, any views just because I disagree with them.

That is a position I am pleased and proud to maintain, but as time has gone on I have become surer than ever that I am keen to encourage intelligent discussion rather than just mindless ranting and raving. Many of the early contributions were excellent. That remains the case; and latterly, I am pleased to say, the proportion of really thoughtful and well informed posts has been rising significantly too. Not that this should deter anyone from dashing off relatively trivial contributions, especially if there is an element of humour. The last thing Heretic TOC wants is to give the impression everything has to be polished to perfection before hitting the send button: spontaneity is fine, speling misteaks are welcum!

To say, at this natural time for assessment, what I like to see at Heretic TOC is relatively easy: it is my personal blog, after all, so I need only introspect. A much tougher question is what, if anything, the blog might objectively be thought to achieve. Is it an end in itself? Does it aspire, immodestly, to change the world? Others will have their own views on the potential and the limitations of such a forum and may choose to comment accordingly. I would guess that a blog needs a readership base about a thousand times as big as Heretic TOC’s before it stands any chance of being politically influential to a discernible level. And unlike the Virtuous Pedophiles, whose message, even if we hate it, clearly has some appeal in “liberal” media outlets, the heresies voiced here at Heretic TOC are likely to be shunned by the wider world in the foreseeable future.

What, then, is the point? To be entirely honest, I am not sure. I know there are umpteen blogs I want to write, and that I am in absolutely no danger whatever of running out of things to say. On the contrary, my problem with every blog is trying to focus on one small theme rather than going off on all sorts of interesting tangents. But I do sometimes wonder whether – since writing seems to be in my blood – I might do better to concentrate my limited time on authoring books, or submitting articles to academic journals. What do you think?


STOP PRESS: Having struck a note of existential angst here, suddenly comes news of what may be a really important function this blog could perform immediately: like, today. Well, almost today. Tomorrow, I hope. First, I just want to let today’s blog sink in, although what happens in the next 24 hours, or 48 at most, could blow away the doubts. We’ll see. I may be getting overexcited. You can be the judge of that in due course. Just watch this space over the weekend.