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The Same - but Different, by Harry Downey.


I had a phone call one evening from a guy called Kevin. Kevin Trotter to be exact. I didn’t know him and the call came right out of the blue. All because my name is David Cornwell and I live in a little village in Dorset called Winsome. Not clear? Well let me explain.

I’m a writer. Like two very well-known authors, Patricia and Bernard who share my surname. Bernard writes the Sharpe stories and Patricia – American forensic stuff. I like what Bernard writes, and though I haven’t read anything of Patricia Cornwell’s books, my wife rates them highly and I know what else she reads, so they won’t be rubbish. As for me – you’ll never have heard of me – nor what I write. I’m a part-time writer of short stories - right at the other end of the literary greasy pole.

But last month I had a story published – my fourth one actually, a tally that’s something I’m secretly rather proud of, and this Kevin bloke had seen it. What he’d read was ‘Hidden waters’ in the winter edition of The Reading Room. Now, that’s one of the mags that shows where the author comes from, so I was listed as David Cornwell of Winsome, Dorset. Cute name, Winsome, isn’t it? That’s my little joke. Good, isn’t it? With a full name and a home village shown, it was easy enough to find me in the ‘phone book.

Kevin, apparently, is a committee member of the Inky Fingers Club, which he told me, is a group of wannabe writers and scribblers in and around Chulmington – that’s about fifteen miles away. He’s new to the area, has just been voted on to the committee as Events Organiser, and is obviously very keen to make his mark. Reading between the lines from my own experiences of numerous committees, if a new member arrives on the scene and seems just half-way keen, he’ll be co-opted on PDQ and given things to do. I’ve seen it a few times before and it’s happened to me on occasions too. That is until I learned better and began to know the ropes. In many committees, so often it’s the same few people who seem to finish up doing most of the work. So, if some work can be farmed out and passed on to a willing mug – sorry, volunteer ? well, you jump at the chance. Delegation they call it. I’ve heard it called other things as well – a bit less flattering.

Back to my tale. This Kevin bloke said how much he’d liked my story and put it to me that he’d like me to talk about my work – as a published writer – at one of the Society meetings. Of course I was flattered, who wouldn’t be? I stood there with the phone to my ear preening myself. Then, with provisional agreement between us about that, he suddenly changed tack, and started talking about John le Carré.

Now this is where this Kevin bloke put two and two together, but clearly, he’s no mathematician because he made it five. He told me that he’s a long-term admirer of John le Carré’s writing, and knowing two things about him – that his real name is David Cornwell and that he lives somewhere in the South West – well, he jumped in feet first. He had come to the conclusion that I was J le C, and that I was having a bit of a busman’s holiday with a switch of style and genre from my usual writing by turning out the short story that he’d read. Being a literary man Kevin couldn’t resist using the word ‘hedonistic.’ And he assumed that J le C had put it out under his real name too, believing that no-one would make the connection. That is unless you were as keen-eyed and observant as Kevin Trotter believed he was. To be honest, when I think about it, apart from the coincidence of the names, it would have been difficult to think of a plot further removed from anything that John le C had written – and I’ve read most, if not everything, he’s had published. My little effort was a thing that you would class as sci-fi, with a time traveller from earth managing to avert a war between two alien peoples. Not quite George Smiley and The Circus territory, is it?

Then, when he went on with telling me about who he thought I really was, it was clearly a complete mix-up and misunderstanding. Obviously, I tried to put him right. The trouble was, he wouldn’t believe me. He was convinced it was a matter of undue modesty and a ‘big name’ trying to retain a degree of privacy. But Kevin had a theory – and he’d made up his mind: so he didn’t want anything as much as inconvenient as facts getting in the way.

He kept on and on about how keen the folks down there were, and what an appreciative audience he would guarantee for my talk. Anywhere between fifteen and twenty, he said, in ‘a pleasant upstairs room in a nice pub’. Real Ale too, he said, but as a wine man, that meant nothing to me. After listening to all his spiel about his John le C idea, I told him that I’d decided not to talk to his members after all, and finally got off the phone thinking that was the end of it. No way. He’d already wheedled my email address out of me, and messages from him started to arrive regularly. Eventually he wore me down. I sent him a reply and said I would go and speak to his members on the clear understanding that I was David Cornwell – a nobody – and not John le Carré. He agreed, we fixed a date, and that was that.


Came the day and it turned out rather well. I kicked off by making it clear to everyone just who I wasn’t. Kevin had taken charge of me when I arrived, and when I told them this he did get a few rather dirty looks. Obviously, despite what I’d agreed with him, it looked as if he’d persisted in spinning this line and a handful of folks had fallen for it. Come re-election time for the club committee he may pay for that. Even so, the evening was decent enough.

Over the years I’ve had quite a lot of experience talking to groups of people as part of my job - anything from half-a-dozen people up to several hundred. Once I had to try to quieten a screaming mob of angry women – that was back in the days when I was trying to run a factory and stop a strike. But that’s another story. So there was no problem there to bother me, and I just talked about my own efforts trying to get a story published, the mass of rejections and the occasional ‘Yes, please, we like it’ from an editor. I told them where to look in Duotrope for outlets for anything they’d written, and stressed how important I had found it was to put a story away and return to it with a fresh eye after a decent break. And other tips – formatting, attention to proof-reading and so on – I was happy to pass on. All the little things I’d learned the hard way. There were some excellent questions at the end too before we all adjourned downstairs to the bar.

I got the usual vote of thanks at the end and I came away happy enough, even after turning down the offer of a few quid for my exes. End of story I thought. Not so. Just days later I had a phone call from a chap who had been at the meeting. He was from another society over in Exeter and he wanted me to speak to them sometime on a similar theme. I was quite flattered and this time I didn’t hesitate – but this time said I needed something for my petrol money.


The big surprise came about a week after that in the form of an email from John le Carré himself. The real McCoy, this time. What he said was that he’d heard though a contact about the meeting over at Chulmington. Once he’d accepted that there were no intentions to dupe anyone, and that we really did have the same name, he was quite happy – and amused by the whole business of the mix-up.

He said he’d heard good things about the talk and, would you believe it? – What he’d heard had triggered an idea. Would I mind if he wrote a short story about it? Wow! THE John le Carré asking MY permission to allow him to write a story about ME? Unbelievable.

I sent him a reply back pronto. And did I agree? You bet I did. Wouldn’t you have? Of course you would. Alright, the email was dated April 1, and as for the email address he used, well, we all know how easy it is to give yourself a new identity anytime with Hotmail, but what clinched it for me was this simple fact. Who ever heard of anyone making up a story from such a feeble little nothing? Only a proper writer like John le Carré would be good enough to do that. So it must have been him, mustn’t it?



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