Peter Bromhead: Fear of cryptomnesia

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Cartoon / Peter Bromhead
Cartoon / Peter Bromhead

"Are you concerned," murmured an acquaintance, over coffee, "that you may be suffering from cryptomnesia?"

"Cryptomnesia?" I responded nervously, wondering whether this was a fear of being buried alive, or an inability to complete crossword puzzles.

"Well," my acquaintance continued, "it's inevitable that sooner or later you may unwittingly generate ideas you've used before - particularly when you've produced thousands of jottings over the years."

"Are you suggesting I'm going doddery?" I muttered, unclear where this conversation was leading.

"No, not at all ... but I did notice that in one of your recent books you repeated the same short story under a different title."

Of course, when a small bombshell like this is dropped on me, it's the equivalent of sticking an icicle through my heart.

Racing back to my studio, I flicked through the proof copy of the work in question, to discover alas, it was true.

Somehow, between writer, editors and proofreaders, a short story had been repeated, mixed up under another title, with apparently nobody noticing until my friend diplomatically wondered if I was showing the first symptoms of what he described as "cryptomnesia".

Looking up the definition, I came to the conclusion that cryptomnesia was too highfalutin a term for describing a simple book error; "cock-up" would be a better fit for something that might be dismissed as a minor publishing bungle.

I suggest "minor", because nothing beats an earlier literary "Minties moment", which took place in Christchurch some years ago. Attending a well-promoted book-signing event, I found myself in front of a TV camera crew and audience, opening a large box of cartoon books freighted out from England - only to discover that the entire consignment consisted of beautifully printed covers filled with blank pages, thanks to some ghastly error originating from the UK printers.

I could only hold up the book, and apologetically tell the bemused audience, "In this case, I must ask you to judge the book by its cover."

At this point my phone rang, because my editor had received an advance copy of this week's column and was querying the content.

"This Christchurch story, haven't you repeated it once before in a column?" he asked.

"Err ... have I?" I stammered back.

"Mmm, have you ever heard of a condition called cryptomnesia?" he muttered.

- NZ Herald

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