A bit of nasty news from the UK today, where bestselling thriller writer Stephen Leather has been accused of setting up anonymous websites to harass two fellow writers, Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns. It’s a bit of a complex story to follow, so let’s start with a blog post written by Mosby that appeared on Jan. 4. There, Mosby (a crime writer who has authored nine books) claimed that a website called FuckSteveMosby.com was created by Leather as a way to defame him and dissuade people from buying his books. Absurdly, the creator of the site had followed Mosby’s Twitter account since 2009, compiling tweets in an effort to show readers that he used bad language…which, again, is pretty stupid. Mosby wrote:
It’s reasonably clear that bestselling author, ebook superstar and fellow Hachette author Stephen Leather is responsible for this website. I won’t say how I know that; I’ll save all the screenshotted internet incompetence for later potential laughs. But I’m amused that, following his vague baseball bat threat last May, he promised to ignore me (as I then did him) and yet, clearly, he can’t. I’m also amused that he still doesn’t have the courage to attach his name to his activities. How pathetic. Three and a half fucking years ago, it was revealed how he cyberbullied a writer named Steve Roach into submission. Three and a half fucking years later, he’s still imagining the same tactics will work on me. They won’t. When I saw the obsessive content of the site, I laughed. When it was briefly replaced by an advert for acne cream, I laughed even harder.
(The older incident in question, with Roach, is pretty disturbing and can be read here, but is not the focus of this post.)
Left unsolved was the question of why Leather would bother to engage in this kind of harassment. One possible answer came when spy fiction writer Jeremy Duns followed Mosby’s post with a blog of his own on Jan. 9. Turns out, Leather had admitted in 2012 to the tactic of “sockpuppeting,” i.e. promoting his work using fake online identities that he had created as a disguise. Duns called him out on Twitter at the time, and the relationship deteriorated as Leather became defensive and insulting. Duns, a very good amateur detective, goes on to reveal the huge network of websites Leather has allegedly created for his own promotion, and—surprise surprise!—other websites attacking Duns himself, some of which accused him of being a homophobe and a rape apologist. One, as you might have guessed, was called FuckJeremyDuns.com.
To this point, all of Mosby and Duns’ work amounted to well-supported speculation, but then Duns dropped a bomb:
I think by now you’ll have figured out that Stephen Leather set up the four blogs about me, as well as fuckjeremyduns.com, fuckstevemosby,com, and just because he thought it would be a brilliant diversion that would put people off the scent, fuckstephenleather.com. But I suspect you (and Mr Leather) are wondering if I can go beyond what common sense tells us all is the case and present something more solid. Well, I think I can, yes. After three years, Stephen Leather finally tripped up and left a trail leading right back to his door.
Seemingly by accident, whoever designed FuckJeremyDuns.com left a link back to a page associated with a well-known character from Stephen Leather’s oeuvre. The mistake was soon covered up, but they got a screenshot. Duns concluded:
In 2012, I helped bring wider attention to Leather’s sockpuppeting and cyber-bullying. Four years later, Stephen Leather is attacking me and a writer he even shares a publisher with… by sockpuppeting and cyber-bullying. I think his behaviour is not just grossly unprofessional but pathetic and really pretty despicable. I can only hope that either his publisher or someone else intervenes to try to persuade him to stop it.
Among the new supporters of Duns and Mosby is none other than J.K. Rowling:
reports that Leather has not yet commented on the burgeoning scandal, and his publishing company Hachette (shared by Mosby) has condemned harassment in broad strokes while advising Leather to maintain his silence. The consequences of Leather’s alleged bullying, if any, are yet to be determined.