Lorraine Campbell, one half of sister writing duo Ellie Campbell, reveals how hard it is to be a convincing liar.
In our latest novel, To Catch A Creeper, housewife Cathy O’Farrell finds herself in a comically terrible situation, unwillingly living a double life, lying to friends and family. And not the usual white lies that lubricate many happy marriages. Single women with boundless freedom and idealistic notions may not get it yet but men’s fragile equilibrium often needs protecting for the sake of their blood pressure and our peaceful life.
Hence and true lines like: ‘No, it’s not new, silly – I’ve had it for ages’. (OK it MAY have been more successful with a sweater than the new horse in my pasture) Or: ‘No, really … 95% off. They positively gave it away, said they needed more room in the shop’.
Actually, I am a terribly unconvincing liar, which is why it’s so fun to write about someone who spins yarns as easily as a foreign backstreet rugmaker. But I well understand the stresses of living a double life.
It happened years ago – so many that the statute of limitations must have expired on these crimes by now. My friend – uh – Linda – OK, let’s just say it was me. In Los Angeles. No Green Card. No job. And not Mexican – which means, of course, not qualified for anything actually useful like handling a leaf blower.
And so friend and roommate Penelope, a struggling actress, ‘loaned’ me her name and social security number. Off I went, in my fresh-off-the-boat British accent, to sign on with a temporary secretarial agency. Too nervous to remember her prepping, I declared myself a native of Philadelphia, wildly claiming all manner of college degrees earned in improbably short periods of time. Impressed by these impeccable credentials the agency took me on.
Then the real farce began. Early mornings. ‘Penelope Smith, please.’ ‘Sorry,’ chomp, chomp, mouthfuls of toast. ‘She’s not here.’ ‘Oh? Would you tell that Waterloo Temps has work for her.’ Quick choke and pause to marshal brain cells for hasty backtracking. ‘Oh, ah … hah, hah, forgot myself there a moment … actually, I AM Penelope.’ Followed by the cool reproof. ‘Yes, I know. I recognized your voice.’ Or the reverse situation, Penny rushing into the bedroom. ‘Your temp agency called and I answered the phone. I’m so sorry, I said I was you – I mean me – and they made me – as you – accept a job. Sherman Insurance. In 5 minutes.’
Looking back I wonder if that agency was every really fooled.
Deception is a challenge. I’d space out in some stuffy office, listening to people yelling for me and idly wondering if this Penelope was deaf or just too lobotomized to respond. Chatting in the elevator, someone would ask my name and I’d answer ‘Lorraine’ then quickly amend, ‘Uh, I mean Penelope.’ Sticking to all three syllables was supposed to help prevent confusion with Penny’s friends but I grew tired of being saddled with such a stuffy moniker. ‘Does everyone call you Penelope or do you have a nickname?’ a fellow drone asked. What could it hurt? I missed being me. ‘Well, yeah, quite a few people call me Lorraine.’ He looked puzzled. ‘Is that your middle name or just something you made up?’ I thought of my employment form. ‘Made up,’ I said weakly, and felt foolish. Somehow I just couldn’t imagine anyone lying awake at night, thinking, Gosh, I wish my parents had decided to name me Lorraine.
There was more of course – the highlight being when all of us temps decided to reveal our deep dark secrets and I trumped them all with ‘Well, folks, let me reveal my real identity…
By then I didn’t care any more. Like our heroine Cathy I was anxious to abandon the stress of subterfuge. I threw in the towel with Waterloo Temps and returned Penelope’s name back to its rightful owner. A short while later, I – uh, I mean, of course, Linda – got offered a great job in Beverly Hills and graduated to her own fake social security number. But that’s a story for another day…
Cathy is riding high in her brand-new job at a (surprisingly bitchy) top London advertising agency working with best friend Rosa. But when Rosa’s pregnancy goes amiss and enemies sabotage her new career, she finds herself leading a chaotic double life of lies and deception, hiding a shameful secret from all, especially husband Declan who appears in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile she’s agreed to unmask the notorious Crouch End Creeper, a burglar terrorising their neighbourhood. Little does she know that her meddling, assisted by fellow mothers (the Wednesday Once Weeklies) and the Neighbourhood Watch, will lead their dangerous opponent to murder. And that it’s not only the tall elegant transvestite who is placing herself at risk…
We are Lorraine Campbell and Pam Burks, two sisters separated by the Atlantic Ocean. We didn’t exactly set out to write together. Both of us were already established short story writers before all those long telephone conversations led to Ellie Campbell. We are equally passionate about writing, travel, horses, dogs, the outdoors, and although Pam now lives in Reigate, not far from London, with a husband, three children and a dog, while Lorraine is on a small Colorado ranch near wild and wonderful Boulder with husband, three horses, five cats, one dog and four chickens – we both believe in enjoying life to the fullest, be it digging up carrots in the allotment, listening to audiobooks while scooping manure in the corrals or going on a trail ride in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.