Newspaper editorMiscellenea

That’s NOT what I wrote!

When I saw my very first article in print, I immediately went in search of a big hole to jump into and disappear. Forever.

It was an article that I had submitted to my local daily newspaper, the Coventry Evening Telegraph. It was a mild nature article concerning the wildlife one could see along the local canals and rivers. It did have a bit of an edge: it gave a gentle reminder to fishermen not to leave their rubbish behind. Some of it, in particular fishing lines, could be dangerous to wildlife if they got entangled in it.

The article was scheduled to appear on Friday 24th March – many, many years ago.

Friday evening: WHAT?

I remember rushing out early that evening to my local newsagent, buying a copy and feverishly scanning through it while standing outside.

I could not find my article.

I searched through the newspaper again, desperately looking for my headline. I think it was “The Wildlife of Coventry Canal” or something similar. Still no joy.

On my third scan I did come across an article about fishermen that someone had written. The headline screamed “First Blasts in Rod War.”

What an antagonistic headline, I thought.

The subhead was no less hostile: “Fishermen? They’re enemies of the countryside, says battling student.”

What an aggressive writer. Who would write such a provocative article?

My eyes flicked down to the first sentence. And almost fainted with the shock.

“The noble art of angling holds no joys for Denzil Walton. He believes that when it comes to keeping the countryside clean, anglers are at the bottom of the league.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. And it got worse.

“Denzil is launching a one-man campaign against devotees of the rod and line.”

That’s NOT what I wrote! I NEVER wrote anything about war, enemies or campaigns!

I read through the whole article. I couldn’t recognize it from what I had submitted – or the me it described. In fact, it wasn’t me at all. I was a peace-loving, conscientious young man who liked walking along the riverbanks looking at birds and simply wanted to give anglers a friendly reminder to pick up their old fishing lines. I had been transformed into some kind of tough, aggressive, Rambo-like canal-side vigilante.

But it was about to get worse.

Monday morning: NO!

It just so happened that at that time I had a temporary job at my father’s workplace, Rolls-Royce Aero Engines near Coventry. I was replacing a clerk in the Planning Department who had suffered a heart attack and was off work for three months. I’d only been there for a week.

I arrived in the office at 8.25 on Monday morning and was just getting a coffee from the machine when the manager of the Planning Department breezed past.

“You. In my office. Now!”

I decided the coffee could wait and followed him to his office.

To my horror he pulled out Friday’s Coventry Evening Telegraph from his briefcase, slammed it on his desk, opened it to my article and stabbed a finger at the headline.

“You wrote this crap?” he shouted.

Please God, if you could just open up the ground underneath my feet, I will be a lifelong disciple of yours.

“Er, well, I did submit an article but the editor …” I began.

I had clearly not been called in for a discussion. He read the sub-head out loud, in what I can only describe as an “extremely aggressive and sneering” tone of voice.

“Fishermen? They’re enemies of the countryside says battling student.”

He lent over the desk.

“This is crap, completely bloody crap. I’ve been an angler for over forty years and I’ve never left a scrap of litter behind. I’m a member of an angling club and we have very – VERY – strict regulations about litter.”

He paused to wipe a bit of his spittle off his chin. I decided it was wise not to follow his lead and so didn’t touch the spittle that had flown onto my cheek.

“We would never – NEVER – leave lines or hooks behind. We always – ALWAYS – clear up after ourselves. This article is a total – TOTAL – disgrace.”

It was at that point that I realized that his office door was open, and there was complete silence throughout the whole department behind me.

“We are PROPER anglers. It’s the bloody GYPSIES you should be after. It’s them who leave their litter behind, whose dogs shit everywhere along the canal bank, who chuck their garbage into the cut. Instead, you point your finger at us, respectable anglers!”

His face was reminding me of the beetroot I had cut up to put in my lunchtime sandwiches.

“And another thing. We are not ‘fishermen’; we are ‘anglers’. There’s a difference. Anglers take angling very seriously, it’s our life, we are not your amateur fisherman who only goes out once a year, we are there every week, in all kinds of weather.”

I was beginning to wonder whether another member of the Planning Department was about to have a heart attack.

“You clearly don’t know anything about angling, and if you think you’re going to make it as a writer, forget it, because you clearly don’t know a thing about writing either.”

He slumped into his leather swivel chair and spun it round to look out the window. I thought he had finished, but he hadn’t. With his back to me, he cast his final line.

“I’d fire you right now if it weren’t for the bloody Union on my back. Get out of my office and get back to work.”

I turned round and left his office to find about 30 office staff transfixed by the Monday morning excitement. The Rolls-Royce Planning Department had probably never seen such drama before.

After that, I had absolutely no contact with the man at all over the next three months. He never greeted me, never acknowledged me, never asked me anything or said anything to me. If he needed me to do anything he would always ask the Head Clerk into his office who would then relay the information to me.

However, after 34 years as a professional writer, he was wrong about one thing.

Categories: Miscellenea

Tagged as: , ,

82 replies »

  1. The verbal thrashing you took makes for a great story, but man, I do hate it that you were so unjustly accused.

    Is this a common practice in the editorial world? Or just with certain publications?

    • I have never had that experience again Maggie. I think the editor realized I was a naïve 18-year old who wasn’t going to complain. Maybe also he didn’t like fishermen, oops I mean ‘anglers’

        • Yes I survived and it didn’t put me off writing for newspapers. I used to write regularly for Flanders Today weekly newspaper over here, and have nothing but the utmost respect for Lisa, the editor there.

  2. You are such a good writer, Denzil, especially the line “… he cast his final line.” had me snicker. 🙂 Did you ever get in touch with the editor of that paper to confront him about changing the article like that? Apparently, your boss did not know what kind of a person you are/were, or he would have asked: “Did you really say this?” Wow, though, that a publication totally turned your piece around. I would have been so mad!! I am already unhappy when an editor makes small changes, especially when typos are added to the mix, but what you have experienced beats it all!

    • You are too kind Liesbet, thank you for the compliment. I did not confront him at all. Looking back, I think I thought “oh is that how newspapers work”. It wasn’t until later that I realized they don’t work like that. However, having said that, the UK’s Daily Mail and Daily Express churn out such utter hate-filled jingoistic garbage that I realise sadly that some newspapers actually still do work like that. Maybe not turning round contributors’ submissions so blatantly, but certainly misquoting and misrepresenting.

  3. So he never did find out what happened? Did the other paper ever apologize? How in the world do you keep someone from altering your articles like that? That’s just ghastly!

  4. Oh my God. I can feel the shame, humiliation, anger, etc., everything you must have gone through. It’s horrible when people accuse you wrongly. One of my five sons happens to be a carp fisher …

  5. I actually felt myself tensing up as I read this. Perhaps you could’ve offered him a nice can of earthworms the next day, just to see him go fatally apoplectic on lures & flies & Izaak Walton and so on.

  6. Pingback: In lumina
  7. I had editors make minor changes to my articles, and once had an editor add his by-line to my article even though it was printed word for word just as I turned it in, but I never had an experience like the one you describe. I admire you for not letting that experience turn you off of free-lance writing forever!

  8. Doesn’t it just jangle your nerves that every single thing in the world has to be turned into some awful political mess by someone angling to make themselves more important than even their mom would do?
    At least you did become a writer and a kind, compassionate one at that.

    • Yes Sharon, I agree. The world of media is in turmoil at the moment isn’t it? On one side you have hate-filled media twisting stories to match their politics. On the other hand you have respectable media being banned from a presidential briefing; a president who himself seems to create his own share of untrustworthy statements. I can only see it getting worse before it gets better.

  9. What an entertaining story, sorry. I know the trauma that you must have gone through, but your blog story is so well written. I too have a beef with the anglers leaving line, lure and lead sinkers all around. We have a problem with lead pellets too. It is secondarily killing wildlife. Eagles are dying of lead from eating prey that contained it. As for the “gypsy” comment. Is that not racist in your country? They are not even called that I learned when in Romania. It must be good the guy has not acknowledged you since he seems to be such a …. you fill out in the word.

    • Glad you enjoyed it Donna. Your comments about lead sinkers are very apposite. It’s amazing that they still use lead, knowing its potential for poisoning. Yes, “gypsy” is a very derogatory and racist term and certainly not to be used. But this was in the latest 1970s when it was more freely used.

  10. Wow that is quite the story! Love your motivation and drive 🙂 This is quite inspirational, and I had a nice chuckle imagining your boss yelling with saliva spraying out of his mouth.

    • Thanks Heather; glad you enjoyed it. I sometimes wish I had coolly taken a silk handkerchief out of my top pocket, dabbed away the spittle and then handed it to him saying “Would you mind washing this and returning it to me tomorrow?”

  11. This is hilarious! Of course, its a travesty that an innocent article was butchered in such a way to make you look like some sort of angry anti-angler but at least it gave you the chance to use lines such as “…his face was reminding me of the beetroot I had cut up to put in my lunchtime sandwiches”.

    • Hi Emmalene, thanks for dropping by and commenting. Looks like your origins (Brum) are not too far from mine (Nuneaton). Glad you liked the post, and thanks for the compliment.

  12. What a great article, Denzil. I know exactly how you feel. Editors can slash and write whatever they want. You really had to pay the price! It’s too bad that no one could have at least relayed the truth to him. I would just have died. Glad you persisted. You are a great writer. 🙂 Do you mind if I reblog it?

  13. As much as I felt sorry for you reading through your post, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at this:
    “He paused to wipe a bit of his spittle off his chin. I decided it was wise not to follow his lead and so didn’t touch the spittle that had flown onto my cheek.” 😂

  14. The Coventry Evening Telegraph gave me my ‘big break’ too, printing about five of my travel articles and apart from choosing some rubbish headlines, they published my stuff word for word.

    However, I have a very embarrassing story of when I submitted a travel article to a woman’s magazine I can’t remember the name of. They paid me £100 which is the only payment I’ve ever received, but they re-wrote the whole article to make it sound like it had come from a retarded housewife’s perspective!

    • The good old Cov Evening Telegraph then! It seems you had a different editor to mine. I laughed at the thought of you writing from behind the apron of a retarded housewife! I wrote a letter to “Woman” and earned five pounds when I was starting out. 🙂

  15. Hi Denzil, You had a rough experience, but I admire your humble attitude towards such a harsh boss. You did not go low with him, and that is why you became such a great writer. I admire your writing skills, and I pray that someday I will be able to reach your level of expertise.
    Have a great day and God bless you.

  16. Just read your blog “not wot I rote” Denzil. After all this time Mum and I had a good laugh as we remembered all about it happening many moons ago, and the uproar it caused. Anstey has never been the same since. Certainly the replies you had were sympathetic and similar to your feelings. Best of luck. Mum & Dad.

  17. What a horrid experience that must have been! Newspapers don’t seem to like to publish anything that doesn’t have some sort of sensational slant. And negative. I’m glad it didn’t discourage you from pursuing your writing career. Loved the story.

    • Thanks Molly, glad you enjoyed it. Yes it didn’t put me off. I was very surprised when my 2nd article was published to see that it hadn’t been changed at all! I thought my 1st experience was how things happened normally!

  18. I don’t know how you held your composer so well, Denzil. What a horrible way to start the working week. At least it was only a temporary job, but to treat somebody like that is of no value what so ever. I’ve been told similar about writing, and I always smile at those people who said I couldn’t do it when I pass them. It gives me the upper edge.

    • Thanks for stopping by Hugh and commenting. If I had been older and wiser and more self-confident than I was when I was 17 I would probably have said something. But then I wouldn’t have had a job to go back to on the Tuesday!

  19. Oh my…….such a brilliant memory to look back on but how horrendous at the time. Still glad he was wrong about you as a writer…..

I welcome your comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.