Is Truth Stranger Than Fiction?

For my day job, I work in the legal profession.  Court rooms and private arbitration hearings are my office.  And before you say “Oh, that must be interesting”, for the most part I have to admit that no, it is very dry and can be deathly dull.  Like many jobs, it is full of routine and is often tedious.  And sometimes I have to check for a pulse at the end of particularly long-winded and technical court days.  Private business to business disputes, insurance cases, shipping hearings, VAT … are you still awake?

So why, when I’m watching TV or a film involving a court case, is it full of high drama and suspense?  And for those of you who are fans of Silk, let me also point out that in my 18 year career I have never come across a barrister resembling Rupert Penry-Jones.  Neither have I seen anyone leap the dock to freedom after being acquitted, but I guess the hour or so of release paperwork isn’t thrilling television.

Much as my colleagues and I enjoy howling at the inaccuracies of the TV court room, the truth remains that watching six hours of legal argument about a clause in an insurance contract does not great TV make. So much artistic licence is employed.   Most people are amazed to learn that in commercial cases, my bread and butter work, wigs and gowns are usually ditched in favour of formal business attire.  And on the whole, High Court judges no longer don wigs.

What about the written word?  My Work In Progress is set in the legal profession, but I am fortunate enough to be able to distil the highlights of 18 years into a single novel.  Yes, there have been a few instances of jaw dropping drama, but far more interesting are the characters I have met: not just barristers and judges but witnesses, oligarchs, court staff, solicitors, celebrities, politicians, captains of industry; the list goes on.  The large libel or fraud cases you see on the news, big public inquiries – I’ve sat through many.

There is definitely a book in there, but obviously all names and dates will have to be changed.  And I’ve also been involved in many cases where I’ve had to sign a confidentiality agreement so I can’t breathe a word to anyone.

But here’s the strange thing.  The truth can often be implausible too.  Several years ago, whilst doing a writing course to brush up on my dusty journalism skills, I submitted a rough draft of the first three chapters of my novel to my tutor as part of an assignment. Although he enjoyed it very much, it was returned with ‘highly improbable’ and ‘not believable’ scrawled across it.  But every single word was true. Everything I wrote about I had observed first hand, just altered situations and people to protect the guilty.

So perhaps the truth really is stranger than fiction!  Watch this space …..


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