Charli XCX prankster is latest in a long line of authors to fool the public | Books

Charli XCX prankster is latest in a long line of authors to fool the public | Books

On Wednesday, writer Gabriel Smith shared what at first glance seemed to be an email sent by the singer Charli XCX, asking if she could use the title of Smith’s forthcoming debut novel, Brat, for her next album, which is also being released this summer. “I have been a HUGE fan of your writing for ages,” the email states, adding that using the title would be a “tribute”.

Yet, looking closer, it is clear the email is faked – the recipient is Charli, not Smith. On Thursday, Charli responded to the faked email: “ive never heard of you. good luck with your book tho !” she wrote.

Smith’s fake email has been viewed 7m times and liked 15,000 times, while Charli’s response has been viewed 4m times and liked 54,000 times.

BBC Radio 1 were fooled by the email – Dean McCullough read it out on air and commented on the “beautiful synergy between novels and records”. A few minutes later, McCullough corrected himself, saying that he had been the “victim of fake news”. Co-host Vicky Hawkesworth added that “it’s very clever isn’t it, it’s smart because now we know all about his book”.

Brat by Gabriel Smith.
Brat by Gabriel Smith. Photograph: Simon & Schuster

Smith said that a couple of people had texted him about Charli XCX’s next album title being the same as his book, and he started thinking it would be “hilariously egotistical” to claim that the singer had been inspired by his “completely unknown, yet-to-be-published” novel’s title. “The idea is ridiculous, so it’s funny. I like making fun of how insanely, deludedly self-important novelists often act.”

Smith has a history of internet pranks: he claimed to have been appointed senior fiction editor of Gawker magazine, which led to an editor having to deny it; he used AI to create a fake photo of the “famously anti-advertising” writer Samuel Beckett posing with a Bowser mascot at a launch event for Super Mario Bros 2. Smith said that because of his previous pranks, his followers are aware that something he tweets may be fake, but they retweet it to people who do not know he is “just mucking about”.

“A lot of people online seem to think it was funny,” said Smith. “But a lot of other people have been calling me various slurs, mostly homophobic. My agent texted to check that I wasn’t upset, and I was like: ‘Are you kidding, it’s hilarious.’ I love it. I can’t stop laughing about it. I get off on provoking people and if you grew up posting online then obviously you’ve heard it all before.”

Smith is not the first author to pull controversial publicity stunts. In 2010, writer Jennifer Belle paid actors $8 an hour to read her book in public in New York City and laugh while doing so. The women were sent to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Times Square, Washington Park and on to two subway lines. The story was picked up by the New York Times and Page Six, and radio shows invited her on to talk about the stunt.

Other stunts have had a darker edge. In September 2020, a Facebook post by somebody claiming to be the daughter of romance author Susan Meachen said that the writer had died by suicide. The next month, the “daughter” encouraged fans to buy Meachen’s “final” book in her honour, posting a link to it. Then, in January 2023, Meachen resurrected herself: she posted on Facebook, claiming that she “almost died” and that she is “in a good place” and “hoping to write again”.

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Thriller author Mark Davis wrote a book about a disgruntled novelist who, after a series of rejections, kidnaps the daughter of an agent and gives her a deadline by which to get his book into print. Davis then took inspiration from his plot, staging and filming a kidnapping to post on his website, and sent an email to agents: “By the time you receive this, I will have already kidnapped your child.”

“The first phone call I received the next day was at 7.30 in the morning, from an agent,” Davis told the Lynchburg News and Advance. “She was yelling at me, saying: ‘Are you crazy?’” The author eventually secured a book deal with a small publishing imprint.

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