Friday, April 25, 2008

Is anybody there?

I've been musing over the tribulations of Kamol Kamoltrakul, the business writer who's been threatened with a massive libel suit for his criticism of Tesco's operations in Thailand. While I have every sympathy for Kamol, his article did contain one pretty horrendous error: thanks to a misreading of figures, he calculated that the Thai operation contributes 37% of Tesco's global income; he now acknowledges that the figure is more like 3.7%.

I can imagine the combination of lurching stomach and sweating palms that occurred when he realised what he'd done. I've made mistakes, although fortunately none that had such potential for financial misfortune. (I say 'potential' because Thai libel actions are a bit like those damages cases in the States, when someone called BillyBob sues a fast food company because the hot filling in his hot fruit pie was too, uh, hot; the sum that eventually gets handed over is usually a small fraction of the headline demand.)

Anyway, I've gone into print saying 'My Life Story' when I meant the Divine Comedy; attributed a quote of Schopenhauer's to Nietzsche; confused one Asian cabinet minister with another (I mean, they all look the same, don't they?). And, yes, my ankles did go a bit wobbly when I got the product back from the printers, usually on a day when I'd vowed to give up alcohol, or coffee, or pointless self-recrimination.

But you know, that's not the worst feeling. The worst feeling is a slow, creeping sensation over the next few days and weeks and months, after the error goes onto the shelves. It's when the fear of sarcastic letters to the editor, even the fear of legal action, is replaced by a total silence: the realisation that nobody's noticed; nobody cares; for all you know, nobody's read it. It's the worst thing for a writer, or for anyone who does anything for any purpose other than personal gratification. It's the knowledge that what you've created has cast no shadow, created no echo. It's as if you've thrown a stone into a perfectly flat lake, and it's made not a single ripple.

12 comments:

Murph said...

Come on Tim, don't beat yourself up.

We've all done that Schopenhauer-Nietzsche thing haven't we?

wyndham said...

I make a point of incorporating at least five factual and grammatical errors into everything I write. Relieves the stress.

dh said...

Poor Kamol. He stuck his neck out. Now he will be dismissed by the ever-encroaching Western multinationals as just another Thai xenophobe. May the best lawyer win. And Thais do seem to like shopping at Tesco Lotus.

Tim Footman said...

I know, Murph. But it did make me look stupid in front of Jodie Marsh.

Only if someone notices, Wyndham.

They do, Dick. I'm more of a Carrefour kinda guy.

patroclus said...

I get very upset when no one points out the mistakes I make in my blog. Although I also get very upset when people do point out the mistakes I make in my blog. It's the writer's temperament, innit.

Rimshot said...

"It's as if you've thrown a stone into a perfectly flat lake, and it's made not a single ripple."

You mean that doesn't happen to everyone all the time?


I tread all over both sides of the line between pedant and polite refrain. That said, I can't STAND being sucked back into reality when I'm immersed in a novel and find a typo or some-such.

And if it makes you feel any better, MY life story is a comedy.

Annie Rhiannon said...

*makes ripple*

Tim Footman said...

Surely, Patroclus, the best bit is when people point out mistakes that actually aren't mistakes, and you can retaliate with an acerbic bon mot (or a digital Joey Deacon impression).

A black on, surely, Rimshot.

Thank you Annie. Annie's got a job, everyone! She's Jonathan Rhys Myers' fluffer, or something.

Annie said...

A black 'one'?

*Gets coat*

The Shark Guys said...

Ah, indeed, that's the great fear -- that nobody is paying attention. Some consolation can be had by considering those who do pay attention though.

At one newspaper with which I've been involved -- I'll leave the name out to protect the innocent, (even though God Almighty does this as a matter of divine routine) -- I dare say a good many mistakes went by unnoticed, but when the horoscopes repeated once, someone wrote in complaining.

Fat Roland said...

I once wrote a front page piece revealing that a major local employer was about to go bust. It was all based on whispers and off-the-record gossip; no-one else had the story. It went to print, I lost all of my notes, and then went cold when I realised the company was surviving quite nicely

The phone call from their solicitors was a little awkward.

Thankfully, they did go under, everyone lost their jobs and I got to look really smug.

A moral victory, then.

Um...

Tim Footman said...

Thank you, teacher Annie. Will write out 100 times.

Which makes me wonder, Sharkers - has anyone ever complained to a newspaper because she didn't go on a journey/meet a dark stranger/encounter tensions at work when a horoscope said she would?

Roland: I've never understood how journalists' (or police) notes can be accepted as evidence in situations like that. "Look! I wrote it down! So it must have happened!"