Piles of books in a bookshop

The Lies Start Here *(if you believe the facts)…

Although I’ve never kept a diary, as a facts-lover, the idea of a blog is strangely appealing. Thanks to the European Nuclear industry’s Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, it is now possible for just about any living person to read what you have to say about the world.

George Walker Bush.

Fidel Castro.

Gordon Brown.

Paris Hilton.

All you have to do is write it and the world will be your audience.

There are somewhere around 20 billion blogs currently active in our solar system. All of them spewing out over a million words an hour. Read by 26,759 people every single minute. It’s staggering.

Facts: It Figures

Well, it would be if I hadn’t just made up all those facts and figures. That’s one of the many great things about the web, you can make up anything you like and people will believe it. Partly because it might be true. No one really knows.

I’ve done more than my fair share of creating facts over the years. In fact, some of my facts are becoming very well known.

A few years ago I subsidised my interesting but less than successful independent publishing company by journalism. This mostly involved writing reviews.

I was a primary contributor to many London guide books, knocking off 250 words each on pubs, restaurants, cafés, bars, shops, markets, whatever. This was my daily life on a regular and quite monotonous basis. I once visited and reviewed 186 pubs and bars in a single week. The pay per review was low and frankly, there wasn’t much to say about most of the places they sent me to. So I made it up.

Guide books contain all the facts in the world

Nothing significant, and not all the time. Just occasionally I’d add an interesting ‘fact’ here, a snippet of ‘well-researched information’ there.

“A house on this site was the regular meeting place for Lord Horatio Nelson and his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton, the seemingly respectable wife of William Hamilton, British Ambassador to Naples.”

“Beatles manager Brian Epstein was a regular here until his untimely suicide in August 1967.”

“Back in the 17th Century, Welsh drovers rested their cattle here, en route to slaughter at Smithfield Market.”

Techniques for Invention

It’s important to include a sprinkling of genuine facts, if such a thing really does exist. The name of Emma Hamilton’s husband. The date of Brian Epstein’s death. And the ultimate destination of the Welsh cattle

This served a twin purpose. It added credibility to the lie and it ate up the word-count very nicely. When you’re being chased for 150 words per review and you’ve described the furnishings to death, the beers they sell, who drinks there, these little extras are a godsend.

As Edith Piaf suggests, I have no regrets. The lies were never huge and they did brighten up some pretty dull reviews. In the final analysis, the reader won, the businesses themselves received increased cred, and the publishers got a more readable and more salable product.

Everybody wins!

Who Knows What’s Really Real?

The only vaguely disconcerting side effect was that much of what I made up has since been adopted as real truth. That’s how journalism, especially guide books, works. You check out the competition to make sure you’re not being left behind and you snaffle the most interesting tidbits.

In my position as creator, I feel a little cheated that I was paid peanuts for such groundbreaking and much-copied fiction. On the other hand, I realise that throughout history, the true originator has always been penalised. It’s just something I will have to learn to live with, even if it’s not always as easy as I make it look.

The moral of my story might well be that we have to question everything we are told. And yes, that goes for you. I don’t care if you’re President Bush, Fidel Castro, Gordon Brown, Paris Hilton or the supermarket check-out assistant. Ask the questions.

Of course, all I’ve just written could be another huge lie. Maybe we’ll never know where truth diverges from fiction.

If a tree falls down in the jungle and no one is there to see it, did it really happen or was it just another line in some lying idiot’s blog?