See this picture? It’s from an old episode of The Simpsons called “Simpson and Delilah”. Homer finds a miracle cure for baldness; his resulting hair turns him into a go-getter in the home and at work. He is a better husband, gets promotion. Then, one day, a man called Karl walks into his office and declares Homer to be a fraud, and that he shouldn’t be there.
It’s all by way of Karl, who styles himself Homer’s assistant, geeing up Homer and making him believe that he himself is the success, not his hair. But pretty much every day I imagine someone is going to come up to me and say, “You, David Barnett, are a FRAUD!”
This week I had a feature published in the Guardian about Jack Kerouac. And when the paper came out, I looked at it, and thought to myself, “What gives YOU the right to be writing about Jack Kerouac in a respected national broadsheet? Who, in fact, do you think you are?”
I was pensively reading the comments on the online piece, waiting for someone to call me out, to tell me I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, that this trash should never have been published. It hasn’t happened (yet) but the feeling remains… someone, sometime, is going to tell me I’m a fraud and I shouldn’t be allowed to do this.
Why? Perhaps it’s some huge working class chip on my shoulder. Perhaps it’s because I never went to university. Perhaps it’s because when I was at school careers advice consisted of: “Are you a girl? Then here’s some places you might get a job as a secretary. Are you a boy? Here are the local coal mines. Have you thought about the Army? Are you tall? You could try the police. Oh, scratch that earlier one, they appear to be closing all the coal mines down. Never mind, here’s the number for the dole office.”
I felt the same way when I got to interview Neil Gaiman for the Independent on Sunday. I somehow felt as though I didn’t have the right to be doing it. Similarly, reviewing books for the Indy. Any number of Guardian opinion pieces.
Really, who the hell am I to have any sort of opinion?
I didn’t go to university because I’d decided I wanted to be a journalist. I got through sixth-form college and went to see the careers adviser. He looked at me over his spectacles when I said I had only applied to go to a National Council for the Training of Journalists course and nothing else.
“It’s very hard to get into,” he said. “Perhaps you should apply for some universities…” he paused. “Some polytechnics, just in case you don’t get in the journalism course.”
I did, but didn’t particularly want to go spending three years studying media or something like that. Looking back, of course, I realise I missed out on three years of debauchery, which is perhaps the only regret I have. But I got on the journalism course, and have (touch wood) worked in newspapers ever since 1989.
Won a string of awards, too. Shortlisted for another one, Yorkshire and Humber Feature Writer of the Year in the O2 Media Awards, winners announced this coming September.
Still, the feeling won’t go away. You’re a fraud. You’re not allowed to do this.
And then there’s the books. Every time a review is posted for Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl I scan it in a blur, looking for telltale words suggesting that I really should never have been allowed to get away with this.
So far, again, that hasn’t really happened. I’m sure it will. But so far, the reviews have been pretty positive.
God knows how, but I look back over the past 20 years or so, and I think, “You’re getting away with this. No bloody idea why, but somehow you’re getting away with it.”