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Not What I Wrote – What’s Opposite Plagiarism?

This article by my friend Denzil Walton was frighteningly humorous, my worst nightmare about writing. He allowed me to reprint it for you. Enjoy.

Opposite Plagiarism
What’s the Opposite of Plagiarism?

That’s NOT what I wrote!

by Denzil Walton

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.

Reprinted with permission from Denzil Walton. Original story found here.

Biography

Opposite Plagiarism
Denzil Walton

Denzil Walton works as a freelance technical copywriter from his home in Herent, Belgium near Leuven. He also writes for Flanders Today; you can see a bit of his portfolio here. He’s married to Liz, who is a clarinet teacher, and they have four adult children.

denzil@discoveringbelgium.com

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23 replies »

    • Hahaha. Maybe ten was too young to know if I had talent. My parents thought I was brilliant. 🙂 I probably let that go to my head, and got a dose of reality with which I could not comprehend, let alone cope. 🙂

      Like

  1. Well, I didn’t have as sad an experience after the fact, but I did experience having my name added to something I had not written. I believe we should stand up and call it identity theft. It is not plagiarism. Maybe it is slander or libel? But not plagiarism.
    I am so sorry you had such a- unfair experience, Denzel.
    My experience was in newspaper reporting, after gaining a good reputation, while reporting on a small town meeting.
    Yeah, it was boring news. They basically met to decide they had nothing to meet about that month. I did my best with the facts. My editor, however, never said a word to me about his dissatisfaction over it. He just tossed it and wrote what he’d wished had transpired at that meeting, and signed my name to it. He totally destroyed my credibility with the good people of the small town, in the process.
    As soon as all my queued articles hit the press, I quit that job. The head editor nearly fainted, but defended my uber-editor all the way.
    Their loss; my gain? Maybe? Some?

    Thanks for posting this, Marsha.

    Like

    • That’s a great story Katharine. I quit working in journalism after high school after being on the journalism staff from junior high school on. I did not write much in that time. I remember my beat was the library. I equated library with books and librarian. She equated news with acquisitions. I sat on a gold mine of human interactions, but was too short-sighted and shy to notice what might be going on with students in the library. I was worried about talking to people without realizing I could do better to observe. I got distracted by the books and started reading, oblivious to the silent bustle around me! 🙂

      Like

  2. Geez, I saw red just reading this! No way I’d have held my tongue throughout that tirade. You’re a humbler person than I, Denzil. But opening my mouth on such occasions frequently got me into worse trouble, so you’re also wiser. Thank you for posting this, Marsha. I needed to get my dander up for a phone call I have to make tomorrow (actually today, as it is past midnight), and this fit the bill 🙂

    Like

    • Remember, Tina, Denzil was a teen. We get more outspoken as adults. I know I would have held onto my tears as long as possible and never gone back there to work again. Let us know how the phone call came out. I think Denzil has the gift of patience and holding his tongue. It would have been hard to know where to direct his anger – the mean-spirited boss, or the agendized editor. Both were wrong!

      Like

  3. Well Tina don’t forget I was only 17 years old, so I didn’t know anything about journalism, so didn’t think about calling the editor, and was the rookie in the factory so wasn’t going to start arguing with the boss, especially when I was only there for a short time. I would be very different today!

    Like

  4. They say you should never believe what you read in the paper and this story is a perfect example of it. Editors love going the shock/horror route. I’ve been misquoted so many times in newspaper reports that I now insist they change nothing of what I write. It’s an important lesson 🙂

    Like

    • So they listen to you? I agree that they do that. A friend of mine had a brother-in-law in the news business years ago. She got quoted a lot. He made it up as he needed to. 😦

      Like

  5. Wonderful article, albeit scary. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable having my work edited and not having a chance to go through the edits before publication. Just sayin’ 🙂

    Like

  6. No wonder more writers are self-publishing books and writing and controlling our own blogs. What a terrible experience for Denzil and a sad statement to the constant need for sensationalism. I have been on the wrong end of media hype at my former job after lengthy on-air interviews by media reporters who repeatedly took my 20 minute discussions and placed them into out-of-context soundbites that made me look and sound like an idiot!

    Like

  7. Yes, I took that into account, and of course, younger and less experienced are more vulnerable. Indeed it was a worthy share. 🙂

    Like

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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