The unbelievable truth... about Louis La Roc
A new memoir about a serial-killer journalist has been accused of passing off fiction as fact. Darragh McManus reads between lines
Ironically, the story of Louis La Roc and the fact-or-fiction memoir is so strange, it almost reads like fiction itself.
Also known as Corkman Colin Carroll, he has been a solicitor, TV presenter and even Ireland's first sumo wrestler. He also claims to have ghostwritten autobiographies for several big stars, selling over two million copies.
Liberties Press has just published his latest, Numb: Diary of a War Correspondent. It purports to be the memoirs of an English war correspondent who died last year - and was a serial-killing psychopath.
However, it now turns out that Carroll mentioned in an interview, back in 2010, that he was writing Numb as a novel.
Liberties continue to back their book. Factual books sell well, memoirs sell even better, and misery-lit tales of pain and anguish sell best of all. Whatever about the authenticity of Numb, coating an invented story with the golden gloss of "this really happened" is not unknown to the publishing industry.
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven
Earlier this year Tyndale House, a Christian publisher in the US, announced that it would stop selling this memoir, written by father-and-son Kevin and Alex Malarkey (now there's an appropriate name). The best-seller, first released in 2010, claimed to be a vision of "heaven", seen by Alex - then six - as he lay in a two-month coma after a car accident. In a fairly predictable plot twist, it turns out he made it all up. Every atheist on Earth shouted, "Could have told you that!"
A Million Little Pieces
This is probably the most well-known modern literary hoax, if only because the entertainment goddess Oprah Winfrey got dragged into it. Written by James Frey in 2003, the memoir was supposedly an unflinching account of booze and drugs problems, rehab, time in prison, his involvement in a friend's death and - but of course - inspirational final triumph over his demons. Selected for Oprah's Book Club, it soon became a best-seller… and was then revealed as prime-grade bull-poop. Frey was subsequently hauled over the coals by an outraged Oprah. He half-heartedly admitted some of it was "fabricated", though weirdly enough, continued to insist that his story of root-canal work being carried out without an anaesthetic really had happened.
The Education of Little Tree
This autobiography of a Native American orphan rediscovering his heritage was acclaimed on publication in 1976. In another "weirder than fiction" moment, it was later revealed that the book had been written by one Asa Carter. Not only was he not Native American, he was actually a member of the Ku Klux Klan and had written an infamous speech on segregation.
Fragments: Memories of a Childhood
You could fill up an entire article with just fake Holocaust memoirs, and this was one of the most notorious. Binjamin Wilkomirski's 1995 book claimed to be a first-hand account of the Holocaust, from a child's perspective of life in a Nazi concentration camp. Four years later, it was withdrawn from sale. The kind view is that Wilkomirski wasn't deliberately lying, but honestly believed this imagined past was real.
Howard Hughes' biography
In the early 1970s, investigative reporter Clifford Irving claimed to have been commissioned to write the memoir of legendary recluse Howard Hughes. Publishers McGraw-Hill, rather over-eagerly, stumped up an advance of $750,000. It transpired that Irving had never met Hughes; he had to pay back the money and even spent 17 months in prison. Still, at least Richard Gere played him in the movie.
The Hitler Diaries
It was seen as the greatest literary coup of all time in 1983, when German magazine Stern bought 62 volumes of the "lost diaries" of Adolf Hitler. Supposedly discovered by farmers in the wreckage of a plane crash, their banal observations on domestic life were authenticated by a number of historians (reputations suffered in the aftermath). The Times published extracts. But it was all the work of a forger called Konrad Kujau.
Love and Consequences
This record of life as a poor, half-Native American foster child in LA was moving, even heartrending. It was also totally faked. Margaret Jones, who authored the 2008 book, was actually Margaret Seltzer. She was white, well-off and grew up with her own biological family. The publisher had pulled it from sale within a week of release.
Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years
Another disgraceful attempt to cash-in on the worst crime in human history. Published in 1997, Misha Defonsca's book was a huge success, with its story of a young Jewish girl surviving the Holocaust, wandering Europe in search of her parents, killing a Nazi soldier and even being raised by wolves for a time. Howlingly untrue: the author was a Belgian non-Jew called Monique de Wael, and none of that had taken place. In one final indignity, a court ordered her to pay back $22million she had earlier won in legal action against her publishers.