Lying to tell the truth


Although it happened more than a decade ago, I still remember the time I asked my producer at the CBC if I could just download the sounds of crows cawing from the internet after a malfunction with my tape recorder left me without the sounds I’d recorded earlier that morning while in the field. 

The look of horror on his face had me instantly apologizing for having made such an outrageous suggestion followed by me then insisting I had been joking of course. After all, it being the CBC and all, a story about crows in Cornwall could only have, well, Cornwall crows cawing in the background.

For weeks afterwards I worried the producer had reframed me in his mind. No longer the keen and eager newcomer, trying to impress my boss with how many amazing stories I could file each month. Instead, now I was that dishonest news stringer, the one who had actually toyed with the idea of interviewing crows from out of town but try passing them off as locals.

Okay, I admit I’m still not convinced that anyone in Cornwall would have actually been able to tell the difference. But I do finally appreciate and understand why my producer was so horrified by my suggestion of deception. (And if he’s reading this, Laurence, I swear, I was joking. Honest.)

Unlike my work with the CBC, newspapers and magazines, one of the best things about writing fiction is the ability to write the ‘truth,’ even when it’s made up. For instance, my first book, “With a Closed Fist: Growing up in Canada’s Toughest Neighbourhood,” is a memoir. This means I was forced to follow a pretty narrow definition of truth. Time-lines, street names, exact dates, and other ‘facts’ have to be, well, pretty bang on if something has the label of non-fiction.

Some writers get around the whole occasional inconvenience of the ‘truth’ by including a rider in the beginning of their book that says something along the lines of names and places and certain facts have been changed to protect the privacy, blah, blah, blah.

But what appeals to me so much about my next book is that since it’s a novel, readers can’t get upset by any lies, no matter how true they are.

Wish I had thought of that with my first book.