Garbhan Downey's scoop on journalism and crime fiction
"I think you've a good point about fiction being the second draft of history. I worked as a reporter and newspaper editor for 15 years, and the main reason I started writing fiction was to tell the stories (and voice opinion) I could never print as a working hack. All heavily disguised, he added (not entirely truthfully). About 70 percent of my short-story collection Off Broadway derived from unprintable stories I'd garnered as a hack — as did the central plot of my latest, Yours Confidentially — though in fairness, I made my land developers a lot more crooked and murderous.
"Also, I don't think the public have any idea how scared and over-regulated journalism has become — so much so that the editor is now de-facto third in line in dictating newspaper content, after the lawyers and the advertisers.”
I’d referred Downey to my interview with Matt Rees, who had similar thoughts about the freedom fiction gave him to tell stories he could not tell as a reporter. Here’s Downey on that subject:
“I identify a lot with what he said. One of the worst things about being a journalist covering atrocities is that often you feel your reportage is cheapening the pain of the people affected. That you are pandering to your public and/or your employer by capitalising on someone else's misery. A large part of that is because of the unspoken strictures that media owners place on you as a witness. You are expected to sanitise brutality into handy clichés, and categorise and quantify pain to such a degree that the extinguishing of life fits into a five-word headline or a five-second soundbite. (No blame on the copy-editors!) Anybody who's ever had to doorstep a grieving relative and ask them to describe what their loss means, into a mike, knows what I mean. (Could you give me your name and title till I test the sound levels ... ?)© Peter Rozovsky 2008
"Peculiarly, and I don't know if Matt Rees finds this, there are even two or three incidents I was unlucky enough to come across regarding the unearthing and murdering of informers in the North that I could never talk about in fiction, even now, because I wouldn't want to dishonour the dead or their families. These stories/events tend to be so sordid, sad and personal that to re-tell them for any form of profit — even critical approval — would seem like a betrayal. If it allows families to salvage a tiny bit of dignity, then what harm that a big-shot reporter keeps his mouth shut about a few dirty little secrets? There were days, honest to God, that I had to go home and shower at lunchtime just to get the grime off me.
"The late eighties and early nineties were not pleasant in the North.
"Any wonder I packed in the day job and started writing comedy?"