I had a phone call one evening from a guy called Kevin. Kevin
Trotter to be exact. I didnt 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.
Im 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 havent read anything of Patricia Cornwells books, my wife rates
them highly and I know what else she reads, so they wont be rubbish. As
for me youll never have heard of me nor what I write.
Im 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 thats something Im secretly rather proud of, and
this Kevin bloke had seen it. What hed read was Hidden waters
in the winter edition of The Reading Room. Now, thats one of the mags
that shows where the author comes from, so I was listed as David Cornwell of
Winsome, Dorset. Cute name, Winsome, isnt it? Thats my little joke.
Good, isnt 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 thats about fifteen miles away. Hes 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, hell be co-opted on PDQ and given things to do.
Ive seen it a few times before and its happened to me on occasions
too. That is until I learned better and began to know the ropes. In many
committees, so often its 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. Ive heard it called other things as well a bit less
Back to my tale. This Kevin bloke said how much hed liked
my story and put it to me that hed like me to talk about my work
as a published writer at one of the Society meetings. Of course I was
flattered, who wouldnt 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, hes no mathematician because he made it five. He told me that
hes a long-term admirer of John le Carrés 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 busmans holiday with a switch of style and genre from my usual writing
by turning out the short story that hed read. Being a literary man Kevin
couldnt 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 Ive
read most, if not everything, hes 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 wouldnt 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 hed made up
his mind: so he didnt 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
Id decided not to talk to his members after all, and finally got off the
phone thinking that was the end of it. No way. Hed 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 wasnt. 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 Id agreed with him, it looked as if
hed 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 Ive 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 thats 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
theyd 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 Id learned the hard way. There were
some excellent questions at the end too before we all adjourned downstairs to
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 didnt hesitate but this time said I needed something for my
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 hed heard though a contact about the meeting over at
Chulmington. Once hed 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 hed heard good things about the talk and, would
you believe it? What hed 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.
Wouldnt 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, mustnt it?