Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Kathy O'Beirne update

You may remember that, a while back, there was a blog set up by a homeless (possibly) woman who called herself Wandering Scribe. As noted here on 27 June, not everyone was convinced that the lady really was homeless. Some suspected that the blog was an elaborate stunt to get a book contract, or that the contract was already signed, and that the blog was advance publicity.

So suspicious and annoyed, in fact, were some people that they set up a counter-blog, specifically to debate the issue of whether or not Wandering Scribe was genuine.

If you visit the two Wandering Scribe blogs today, pro and anti, you will see that our homeless friend now updates us on her life rather irregularly. You will also see that the the counter-blog has widened out to consider the whole question of unreliable memoirs, including those of Norma Khouri, Helen Darville, Laura Albert, et al. And now, of course, Kathy O'Beirne.

In relation to the famous Kathy O'Beirne, what we find now is that there is a newish and, I suspect, important blog set up by Honora Hemple, who says that she has 'a low tolorance (sic) for doing nothing when annoyed'. This blog is called, quite plainly, Kathy's Story Scam.

Note: the Kathy's Story Scam blog does not display correctly in IE6. It does work OK in Mozilla. So, if you're using IE6, you need to jump down to the bottom of a very long page to find Honora's details in the right-hand panel. She claims a background in journalism, but it has not, I fear, inculcated any great proof-reading skills -- we get two versions of her name in the first few lines -- and her spelling is dodgy too.

But let us concentrate upon content. The content of Kathy's Story Scam is not complimentary of Ms O'Beirne. Rather the reverse. And there's a lot of it. Much of it is reprints of newspaper articles (umm... ever heard of copyright, Honora?). But there's also some original stuff, including copies of letters to the publisher.

It's only when you read the transcripts of some of O'Beirne's radio interviews, for example, that you begin to realise why some of this stuff is the cause of outrage in certain quarters. You also realise that, if her story is not true, then this woman is one of the champion bare-faced liars of all time.

The principal point, I think, is that there are some people around who have suffered genuine abuse as children; and while some such victims want nothing more than to forget the past, some of them are very angry indeed that a third party is (apparently) 'borrowing', so to speak, their childhood suffering and using it to make money.

It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the strength of feeling involved; and it would also be a mistake, I think, to assume that the opposition to Kathy O'Beirne is coming from a small group of cranks.

This is a very messy business and it's getting worse by the week.


Anonymous said...

Earlier this year (as some of your readers may recall), The Beginning of the End, my memoir of growing up in Belfast, was published by Mainstream – the same Edinburgh-based outfit that gave us Don't Ever Tell, by Kathy O'Beirne.

I wrote my book in the spring of 2005 and was pleased to have it accepted for publication. The advance of £1,000 seemed to me a bit on the mean side (who would have thought it?), but Bill Campbell, the managing director, assured me that the book could do very well, perhaps selling as many as 22,000 copies. I remember thinking that 22,000 was an odd figure. Why not 20,000, or 25,000? But the man obviously knew his business.

Over the months that followed, I was required to do a great deal of fact-checking. This process was exhaustive and, thus, exhausting. Every claim I made was put under the microscope. How sure was I of this? Who said that? Could claim A be verifed against claim X, 50 pages later? They did not make it easy for me. I was even asked to track down the copyright holders of various snatches of song I had included so that I could pay them hundreds of pounds for the privilege of quoting a line or two lines of something written in 1935, or 1969.

Anyway, my point is that Mainstream did not take my assertions for granted. I either put up or shut up: that was the deal.

Subsequently, when the book came out, I was a bit dismayed when the company neglected to distribute more than a token number of copies in England, by far the biggest potential market. Worse, the "bulk" of these copies were not delivered until six weeks after publication. Despite the fact that it earned, for the most part, excellent reviews and got serialised in the Sunday Times, and in spite of the fact that I made a successful appearance on Loose Ends, with Ned Sherrin, 90 per cent of the print run of 4,000 was confined to Ireland.

I have emailed Mainstream several times recently to protest about this. They have not replied.

But for my book it was indeed the beginning of the end.

My point, however, issued through gritted teeth, is that I cannot complain about the editing and fact-checking process.

If Kathy O'Beirne was put through the same inquisition I was, she will have come out the other side with The Truth imprinted on her like the town's name in a stick of Brighton Rock.

Brighton Rock was, of course, a novel.

Best wishes, Mr Grumpling. You do us all a service.

Walter Ellis
New York

Anonymous said...

Messy indeed. So messy it just leaves a really bad taste overall.

Anonymous said...

Interestinger and interestinger.

A publisher so punctilious in making sure the facts are... checked.

I do enjoy a good novel.

"Every claim I made was put under the microscope."

Is that the microscope where they implore you to get your facts right or the microscope where they check for themselves? (M'lud, what more could my client have done?)

Isn't this the same thing that happened a little while back to Daniel Dafoe? But in reverse? Were not some readers angry to find out that Crusoe was fiction? Perhaps she's simply a great novelist, creating her characters not from life but in the pages of life itself?

Perhaps publishers have found a way to package the author and their family and the rest of life into their products?

The 'name' of the very first reviewer of her new book on Amazon is: "I care".

So do I, inasmuch as I'd like to know what happens if the books are indeed a crock.

Would this be different from shouting 'Fire' in a cinema? Is not the public good, in this particular case, tarnished if the publisher absolves himself of responsibility by imitating rigour? Being implored to get your facts straight sounds more like a scene from a Kirk Douglas movie than an attempt at integrity.

Is this the publishing equivalent of the professional foul? Is it a politician explaining why people are dead but it's not their fault?

Where on earth will this end? Maybe they've taken a leaf out of the music business's book? For years they had to put up with cranky 'artists' but now they only have to formulate a plan and stick one of thousands into the human variable that is the modern rap artist. (Woops, if I knew what I was talking about I'd use more modern vocabulary than 'rap' - and I'd change my name to F. Diddy while I'm about it.)

A novel about an abused child is, well, it's abuse but a biography about an abused child is a surefire hit in the rubberneck market.

wanderingScribe said...

Thanks for the link to my site.
All these fakers (is that the right word?) should be highlighted for the scammers that they are.
Anya Peters.

Anonymous said...

I have been looking, but failed to find, anything from anyone who could say 'I knew Kathy and was in one (or more) of the homes with her'. Where are these other inmates, why are they silent, do they exist?

Anonymous said...

Many ex Inmates from the Irish Industrial schools and Magdalene laundries are very angry with Kathy O'Beirne, she spent just 6 weeks in a Home when she was 11, and according to herself was very well treated there. Otherwise she has no right to use other peoples stories as her own. Her school records show she was in primary school until over 12 years old, her birth cert and family resemblence show she's 4 years older than she claims, and also is definatly not adopted. Mainstream have published hoaxes before. Apriest she accused of rape was so badly crippled with arthritis he could hardly dress himself. He was cleared of any wrong doings against her...but since he's now dead she can claim what she wants. She's a very cruel evil woman.

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