A man of many letters

I have been thinking rather uneasily recently of a trick I once played on someone, and wondering what exactly my ethical situation is in the wake of that event.

It happened some years ago when I was at the Belfast Festival, playing in a concert, and had gone to a party afterwards. Belfast parties seem to be different from parties elsewhere. They are more - well, party-like. And at this party I met a lawyer, a local man, a very funny and congenial local man, who held some position of importance.

(As far as the law is concerned, that is. You and I, not being lawyers, never know if lawyers are important or not. We don't know what a QC is or what silk is, or even who the Lord High Chief Justice is, or what it means, and whenever a lawyer is said to be of some importance, that means only that he is of importance to other lawyers.)

So anyway, I got talking to this very funny and convivial lawyer, who was either a big Catholic or Protestant, but I forgot to ask him which, nor does it matter, and somewhere along the line he mentioned that he had once written a letter to Anthony Powell and got a nice answer back.

Why he had done this, I don't know. How we even got on to the subject I don't know, because I had never read anything by A Powell (still haven't) but I can still remember being impressed by the fact that this young whippersnapper of a lawyer had got a letter from an old codger of an author like Powell. I mean, anyone can write a letter to A Powell, but you have to have certain qualities to get an answer back from a gent like A Powell.

Juvenile cheek is a quality that always works, of course. I remember a young man who, 20 or more years ago, wrote to all the famous novelists he could think of who were still alive, asking for advice on how to be a successful novelist. Quite a few wrote back to him, including Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham, all offering tips and wisdom.

I know this, because when the young man had received enough answers, he didn't sit down and write a novel based on the advice he had received - he sent all the answers to a Sunday paper, the Sunday Times I think, where they appeared in a feature called something like "How to Write a Great Novel, by the Masters".

I don't suppose the young man ever sent any of the profits he derived from this feature to the great novelists he had used. Nor do I suppose he ever settled down and wrote a novel. The fact that he sent all those celebrity replies to a newspaper marked him out as a future journalist, not a future novelist.

But to come back to my Irish lawyer. When I got back to England, I decided to write a letter to him to say thank you for all his hospitality, but because he had been such fun, I decided to write a silly letter. In fact, I wrote a letter to him purporting to be from Anthony Powell himself. It went somewhat along these lines...

"Dear Irish lawyer, You may remember some time ago that I wrote you a letter in answer to your kind inquiry. I wonder now if you could kindly let me have it back? The fact is that in my old age I have recently run into money problems and have been advised that publishing my selected letters would make me a few quick, much-needed bob. Rashly, however, I kept copies of very few of the letters I have written, including yours. Therefore I wonder if I could prevail on you to let me have my previous missive back?"

I cannot remember now which address I used to write this letter. Did I write it from Powell's agent? His publisher? Or from his real home address in Somerset, which is listed in Who's Who? It had to sound authentic, or otherwise the Irish lawyer would never believe it. But if he did believe it, I would never know about it. He may well have sent the letter back to a puzzled Powell, or he may have ignored it totally. Either way, he never got in touch with me again.

And the ethical problem? Well, it's like this. I've had a few money problems recently. Nothing serious, of course. It's just that if I don't raise a few bob fairly soon, the creditors will be forming an orderly queue at the back door. So I've had the idea of issuing a small volume of selected letters of mine. Including the one pretending to come from Anthony Powell.

Unfortunately, I can't find a copy of the original.

Do you think I am justified in writing to the Irish lawyer asking him to let me have my Anthony Powell letter back again?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

£215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before