The @firstparagraph account is still running. He still promotes his own work in it, but now has a theme of posting pictures of cute kittens. This means he can keep his 'official' account, @stephenleather - the one most of his readers and his publisher will know about and see - 'clean', while under his hilarious kitten guise he can throw out thinly veiled barbs at his critics without damaging his 'brand'.
Back to 2012, though. On looking deeper, I found an even more unusual sockpuppet Leather had set up. After a self-published writer Steve Roach had repeatedly criticized him for his promotional tactics on Amazon, Leather set up two Twitter accounts in Roach's name. This served two purposes: firstly, he could recommend his own books from behind the disguise, fooling people into thinking the recommendations he was making for his own books were from another writer; secondly, he could exact revenge on Mr Roach for having crossed swords with him by spamming everyone with how wonderful a writer he was while posing as Roach.
The story of how Leather used sockpuppets to promote himself, and how he cyber-bullied Steve Roach for over a year, was reported by Nick Cohen in The Observer. It even made the Danish press. The broader issue of his sockpuppeting was covered by The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Bookseller and several others. I also signed an open letter to The Telegraph with around 50 authors, in which we condemned the use of sockpuppetry and other unethical practices to deceive readers.
In August 2012, a website appeared, jerermyduns-watch.blogspot.com. This purported to have been set up by a human rights lawyer called 'Maria James', who had a Twitter account to go with it, but this was scarcely believable. After I pointed out to 'Maria' that she had spelled my name wrong in the url, they set up a similar site, which they've been adding to ever since, falsely accusing me of being a homophobe, a rape apologist and much more besides.
I don't believe Leather set up that website. But he was aware of it - he posted comments on it. And I think he could see that, despite it being filled with accusations that most sane people would never believe for a moment, it could nevertheless damage my reputation. It also takes minutes to set up such a blog, and there is no need to register a domain name - it is very difficult indeed to figure out who runs a Blogspot or Wordpress blog.
Some months after the 'Jeremy Duns Watch' website appeared, several other sites devoted to attacking me were created:
http://jeremydunsjournalist.blogspot.com (first post January 25 6 2013)
http://jeremydunsauthor.blogspot.com (first post May 5 2013)
https://authorjeremyduns.wordpress.com (first post May 5 2013)
https://jeremydunsjournalist.wordpress.com (first post May 6 2013)
The first of those claimed to have been set up by a 'Peter Williams', linking to an empty Google+ profile. I think a perusal of any of these sites show they are vindictive and filled with false accusations and misrepresentations (as well as using private photos without permission, including one taken by my daughter). They're rather more plausibly put together than 'Maria's, though. The idea behind them seems to be to simply sling as much mud my way as possible and hope that something sticks, and to make it so that if anyone Googles me - readers, potential readers, publishers, producers, etc - they might be influenced by the fact that apparently lots of people hate me and I am a Terrible Person Who Has Done Lots of Terrible Things.
The fact that the accusations are false and in most cases fairly obviously so doesn't matter much, as there is nothing I can do to take them down (I've tried); I can't comment on the sites; someone might well believe some of the accusations; and as whoever set them up is anonymous there are no negative repercussions for them. It's why sockpuppeting is so rampant. It's why Stephen Leather did it with Steve Roach, for instance.
This situation has frustrated me for a while, especially because it has become increasingly clear to me that Leather set up these websites. Notice the domain names, for example, and how they echo the form Leather has used for his own sites:
Like Leather's own sites, they also repeat material, and are all really about the same thing: again, the idea is to spread their presence when you Google. But most strikingly, they all have a preoccupation with my being a failure as a writer, and in particular with my book sales. This is also a major preoccupation of Stephen Leather, many of whose blogposts are about his enormous sales. For Leather, everything is about material success, and he thinks my not having sold as many books as he has will humiliate me, or even cause trouble for me. He did this with Steve Mosby, too, as you can see in one of the screenshots I've used above. On August 24 2012, Leather left a comment here under his own name defending himself. He wrote:
'According to Neilsen, Duns has sold a grand total of 3,278 books in the UK. That's over his whole writing "career". According to Neilsen, his latest book, The Moscow Option, has sold 162 copies. I think you need look no further than that for an explanation of the jealousy that is driving Duns. I sell more copies in one week than he has sold in his life.'
Leaving aside for the moment that these figures were a) irrelevant and b) inaccurate (Nielsen doesn't capture everything, and my books also sell outside the UK), it's really quite remarkable that Leather had access to information like this at all. Publishers and literary agencies usually pay for access to Nielsen Bookscan's data, but it is very expensive. To have access to one's own figures is something very few authors can afford, or are willing to pay for. And to have access to the top 5,000 authors in the UK costs over £20,000 a year. Only very wealthy authors indeed would spend such a sum to get insights into how many books other writers are selling. But, according to his own comment, Stephen Leather is clearly in this exclusive group. Note, then, that among the false accusations presented here, the author of that website quotes and even presents screenshots of my sales from... Nielsen Bookscan.
Golly gosh, what a surprise.
On October 6 2014, someone registered two new websites with GoDaddy.com:
fuckjeremyduns.com (registered at 9:04 and 31 seconds)
fuckstevemosby.com (also registered at 9:04 and 31 seconds)
And then, just over five minutes later, at 9:09 and 34 seconds:
I am sure you will agree, more ingenious diversionary tactics than the latter touch have never before been seen in human experience.
As well as the five-minute delay between the first two sites being registered and the third, there is another difference between the sites. They have changed a few times and at the time of writing are devoid of content, but the ones devoted to me and Steve Mosby were very clearly attacking us. Here's what the site about me looked like when it launched: