CBC/QWF Writer-in-Residence: The truth about liars

In some ways, our lies reveal the truth about us. They hint at who we want to be and what matters to us. Meet Her Royal Highness Princess Monique and a would-be famous actor.

Being adept at lying proves to be great skill for future career as actor, magician - or fiction writer

Monique Polak - aka Her Royal Highness Princess Monique - has channeled her childhood impulse to lie into her work as a fiction writer, where it's all about making the stories up. (Marilla Steuter-Martin/CBC)

At sleepaway camp in 1971, I told the girls in my cabin I was a princess.

Every night, they asked for stories about the royal court. I described my solid gold bed and the round-the-clock room service from the royal kitchen. 

I insisted on being called Princess Monique.

Monique Polak arrives at summer camp, minus her crown. (Joanne Jonas)

That July, I never once made my own cot. My 11-year-old ladies-in-waiting did it for me. 

I don't remember feeling guilty for telling a lie. Besides, pretending to be a princess was way more exciting than just being me.

The trouble came several years later, when I was riding the 161 bus. A girl my age eyed me nervously.

"Excuse me," she whispered. "Aren't you Her Royal Highness Princess Monique?"  

That's when I learned it's easier to stick with the truth. At least in real life. 

These days, I save that old impulse to lie for my fiction.

The kids' book I'm writing now? It's about a girl pretending to be a princess. 

Most of us tell "white lies" to prevent hurting others.

Then there are bigger lies — people lying about their age on dating websites or about the value of merchandise they are bringing over the border. 

In some ways, our lies reveal the truth about us. They hint at who we want to be, and what matters to us. 

This month, I had to do some serious sleuthing to find a Montrealer willing to admit to having lied. 

Knack for deception

Mark Correia likes lying.

A third-year student at the National Theatre School, Correia, 20, uses his knack for deception in his acting and his work as a magician performing at festivals and corporate events.

"I know how to pretend I am telling the truth," he said. 
Mark Correia in front of the Monument National where he and his fellow graduating students will be presenting the play Vacuum. At 20, Correia admits to being an experienced liar. (Monique Polak)

When we met at a bar near the Monument National, where Correia was rehearsing for an upcoming NTS production, I asked him when he had last lied. 

"Yesterday," he said. "I told a female friend who wanted to hang out that I had a meeting. Hanging out could have been awkward. I think she likes me."  

Correia has been lying since his elementary school days in Oakville, Ont.

"I used to get sent to the principal's office a lot. I'd sit in a chair outside her office, then leave and walk the halls. I'd go back to class and say I'd met with the principal, and everything was fine," Correia recalled.  

Sometimes lying is easier than telling the truth.

In high school, Correia told his parents he was sleeping at a friend's house when he was really at his girlfriend's. 

"I felt guilty lying to my mom. She still doesn't know," he said. 

'We created a buzz out of nothing'

Correia says he especially enjoys pretending to be someone else — a good thing in an actor.

"Sometimes," he said, "you don't want to be yourself. If you delve deep into your soul, you can have a nervous breakdown. But through the filter of someone else, it's safe." 

Mark Correia and friends rented a white stretch limo for their experiment in being famous for a day. (Noodle Boys/Youtube)

A few years back, just for fun, Correia pretended to be famous. He posted fake photographs of himself in New York, then arranged for friends to meet him at Toronto's Eaton Centre and ask for his autograph.

"We created a buzz out of nothing," he said. 

Mark Correia trolls Toronto's Eaton Centre, persuading people he's famous:

No Rosie

But be warned -- some lies can get out of hand.

That happened to Correia in Grade Four, when he pretended to have a girlfriend named Rosie.

Things fell apart when his friends realized there was no Rosie.

"They made fun of me for a long time," Correia said. "If you're going to lie, you have to be able to think on your feet."

For me, lies (even the ones that land us in trouble) are another sort of story. 

They are, after all, stories we tell to others — and sometimes to ourselves. 

I'll be back next month with my final installment as the CBC/QWF inaugural writer-in-residence. Until then, I'll be sleuthing for stories.  

Catch Mark Correia and the NTS graduating class in their performance of Vacuum, from April 26 to 30 at the Monument National. For tickets, visit the Monument National's website.

About the Author

Monique Polak

CBC/QWF Writer-in-Residence

Monique Polak is the author of 19 novels for young adults and a non-fiction book for kids. She is a two-time winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. She has been teaching at Marianopolis College for 31 years and is a frequent contributor to the Montreal Gazette.