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I have knocked on flyscreens and said to mothers of kidnapped toddlers, ‘Don’t you feel guilty for leaving your child in the front yard alone?’ I have shamed them to tears for the photographer. I have gatecrashed funerals, linked innocent corpses to local crime syndicates. Or feigned empathy to the grief-stricken to make copy from their hard-luck stories. I enjoyed the kudos of my name beneath headlines on front pages and became used to the heartlessness as if blank inside. I was doing it for my family—it was worth the cruelty.
That line of work gives your eyes a plastic appearance. I’ve noticed it in the mirror, a dead glitter.
Callum Smith—Wordsmith, Words for short—is a newspaper journalist of the old school. He knows how to write a story that sings, knows all the tricks of the tabloid trade. And he likes to drink with his colleagues, sometimes to flirt dangerously with young women.
When his marriage blows up after a night of drinking goes way too far, Words is forced to leave the family home. Desperate to impress his estranged wife and feckless teenage son, he quits his job, taking a pay cut to work with a new online publication covering local crime. There the plum role of editor will soon be his, he reasons.
To Words, ‘Honesty is a thief—it steals your life.’ Better to do whatever it takes to get back in someone’s good books. And that is what he sets out to do, in a series of ever more calamitous, destructive and amoral adventures.
Will the irredeemable Words win back his family? Or is comeuppance around the corner?
A satirical novel by Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlisted author Craig Sherborne, Off the Record stylishly skewers tabloid journalism and male vanity.
’Sharp, taut and sizzlingly mean, Off The Record paints a biting portrait of a hard-boiled hack you would not want on your back…It is an expertly crafted almost-satire, that, though billed as dark comedy, is a cautionary tale about the true cost of selling your professional and creative soul, and of unbridled vanity. Ruthlessly riveting.’
‘Ambiguous, funny, and refreshingly unwise.’
‘Off the Record, a page-turner so scorching it makes realism seem like a form of pornography, is about sensationalist and exploitative journalism…The narrator is such a supreme wordsmith, as Sherborne was and is, that he is known as Words, and boy can he use them as acid and anthrax in the world’s water supply…It is part of Sherborne’s genius — it’s not too big a word — to revile and deconstruct every tabernacle of good taste…Pacy, sleek, muscled…A mesmerising portrait of how a creep of a guy (who can look very much like you or me) can weave a web in which he finds himself.’
‘This novel is a demonstration of Sherborne’s virtuosity as a writer.’
‘Off the Record is a deliciously droll satire.’
‘Monstrous yet moving.’
‘A satirical romp through the seedy undergrowth of a headline hunter.’
‘Certain of his skewed world view, there’s a perverse delight in watching Words work, and an even greater one in watching him unravel…A smug satire of old school journalism and male pride.’
‘Callum “Words” Smith is an egocentric, chauvinistic, manipulative scumbag: a detestable man. But he is a brilliant character…He is a terrible person but somehow you find yourself rooting for him. It is a tribute to Craig Sherborne, who has created a character embodying all that is wrong with journalism, yet made him human enough to be likeable. It is grounded in the humour the author employs…Sherborne, a former journalist, sheds light on the industry with comedy and subtle sensitivity.’
‘Reading this novel is like watching a rabbit caught in the headlights of a vehicle. There’s an awful fascination, almost a voyeuristic delight, in watching a man dig himself deeper into a hole of amoral sensationalism.’
`Sherborne’s talents with narrative and poetry combine to produce a striking fiction…offering a unique, vivid portrait of his characters. With the crystallisation and compression of poetry, Sherborne explores ideas of property, freedom and loyalty, and produces a novel as beautiful in its conjunctions as the chandelier swinging over its landscapes. ‘
‘A riveting piece of writing that is liable to transfix any reader who gets past the opening chapter…Sherborne is a breathtaking writer because he writes of unspeakable things with a kind of affectless gaucherie that dazzles the mind…this is an engulfing, heart-stopping book - a performance that dazzles the eyes and leaves the reader gasping for air.’