HIS renown as a writer is matched only by his distrust of modern technology, eking out masterpieces in seclusion using just a typewriter.
So when acclaimed US author Cormac McCarthy signed up to Twitter, it set the tongues of the literary world wagging, prompting warm welcomes from contemporaries and excitement among fans.
However, in the latest instance of the social microblogging site falling foul of fakery, an aspiring Scots writer has apologised for pretending to be the Pulitzer Prize winner.
Michael Crossan, an unpublished author from Renfrewshire, hoodwinked the Twittersphere last month into believing the septuagenarian author had entered the world of social networking.
Imitating McCarthy’s powerful gothic prose, 42-year-old Crossan convinced authors of the stature of Margaret Atwood that the creator of The Road and No Country For Old Men had opened the account, and was even enjoying friendly exchanges with his peers.
More than 6,000 followers registered to receive updates from @CormacCMcCarthy before McCarthy’s publisher revealed that, far from joining Twitter, the star did not own a computer.
Crossan, a long-time fan of McCarthy’s work, said the concept of a fake account took shape when he searched on Twitter for the author.
He explained: “I had looked for McCarthy and he wasn’t there. I didn’t think he would be, but I thought it’d be amazing if he was online.
“I came across Margaret Atwood’s tweets. I had read and admired her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and I tweeted her as Cormac. It just snowballed from there.”
Atwood, believing the introduction to be genuine, relayed McCarthy’s apparent arrival to Twitter to her 300,000 followers. “Hello! I’ve long enjoyed your work! T-pals, please welcome Cormac McCarthy,” she wrote on 23 January, the day Crossan created the account, before encouraging McCarthy to make contact with other celebrity tweeters such as Neil Gaiman.
News quickly circulated and, a day later, Twitter’s co-founder and executive chairman Jack Dorsey announced the news to his 1.8 million followers. “Join me in welcoming @CormacCMcCarthy to Twitter!” he wrote. “We have the best authors in the world right here.”
“It really took me by surprise,” Crossan recalled. “Every hour I’d sign in and there’d be another thousand followers.”
Encouraged by his growing number of followers, Crossan posted a series of tweets seemingly in keeping with McCarthy’s style, describing himself as “an infant swimmer in the Twitter ocean. Vigilant and raw and blithe,” later adding: “I feel like a boy today. I’m only worn on the outside.”
After posting 33 tweets over three days, the Scot said he was overwhelmed by the response, and believes that while many of McCarthy’s readers may have thought the account a hoax, they chose to believe otherwise.
“I think people wished the account was real, and although the odd person was savvy and knew Cormac wouldn’t be on Twitter, there were 100 people who said, ‘Of course it’s him!’,” said Crossan. “I acted very naively and it amazed me how it took off.”
In a rebuke to the detractors, Crossan used his pseudonym to address those who doubted the authenticity of his McCarthy tweets. “Already finger waggers spit envy and spite and doubt,” he wrote. “On a beautiful day this old stranger was just saying hello.”
Crossan, however, realised the “daft wee accident” was beginning to “get out of hand”.
The penny dropped when McCarthy’s publisher, Vintage & Anchor, reassured the author’s fans: “Not to worry, he doesn’t own a computer; we’ve verified the @CormacCMcCarthy handle is not the real deal.”
Atwood too came to realise she had been duped. “@CormacCMcCarthy Apparently not the real Cormac,” she wrote on 26 January. “Leg-puller.” By then, Crossan had attempted to tell people the account was fake, but found it had been suspended.
Tom Royal, deputy editor of Computer Active magazine and a social media expert, said a series of high-profile bogus accounts had damaged Twitter’s credibility, but questioned whether impersonating a celebrity online was necessarily a bad thing.
He said: “The whole verification system is in doubt, and to an extent we’re back to the old Wild West where you can’t be sure someone is who they say they are. But there’s a question as to whether it’s a bad thing – people set up celebrity accounts for a bit of hero- worshipping and fun.”
Crossan, who regards McCarthy as the “grand old man of American literature”, stressed that his “tribute parody” was “respectful”. He has apologised to the author using his own account, but believes he would be unperturbed by his Twitter doppelgänger.
“I think people have an impression of Cormac gnashing teeth and spewing spite,” Crossan added. “He probably wouldn’t spend a thought on it. I imagine he’d shake his head and say ‘Who cares?’ He is a giant storyteller.”