My father, a raconteur of considerable skill, has always lived by his mantra, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But at what point are lies unacceptable in literature and in life? It is a question being asked this year at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, with its theme, Lie To Me.
Artistic director Michaela McGuire says the theme for this year’s Sydney Writer’s Festival was inspired by a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ‘In the second season of the greatest television show ever made, Buffy the Vampire Slayer learns a hard lesson about who she can really trust. At the end of the episode, as she’s standing bereft and betrayed over a friend’s fresh grave, her most trusted confidant asks Buffy how he can possibly reassure her. She responds simply: “Lie to me”. I’ve thought of this often, at various points in my life, since the episode first aired in 1997. Those three words convey so much: they’re an admission of helplessness and complicity; a plea; a dare; a request for a bedtime story in a world full of monsters.’
All week at the SWF, writers have been examining the lies and deceptions we tell, from the harmless to the malicious. They’ve explored the personal and global impact of lies, and the ways that writing can be used to deceive others. At one end of the spectrum we have the lies we all tell, those lies that help create the persona we wish to project to the world. At the other end of the spectrum, we have lies on a grand, global scale in today’s political climate.
And what about in publishing? Belle Gibson is one author whose career was built on lies and has paid the price, and yet AJ Finn, author of The Woman in the Window, has a second book being published despite having lied about having cancer. Do authors have a responsibility to tell the truth about themselves in order for us to value their work, or should the work stand on merit alone? Do publishers have a responsibility for the fiction to remain on the page? And do we now live in an age where lies are so woven into the fabric of our lives that being lied to is less important than before?
It’s the final weekend of the festival, with two full days of exciting and inspiring events. For those readers who live in Sydney, explore the program for the festival here, and see which events you can attend to be lied to.
If you’d specifically like to hear more about literary lies and hoaxes, then listen to the Better Reading Podcast episode called Literary Scandals and Hoaxes, where Cheryl Akle and Caroline Overington discuss the scandal surrounding the less than truthful A.J. Finn. They touch on a number of famous hoaxes, including some closer to home.
And finally, let us know how you feel about lies, and if any, which ones are acceptable.