Do you believe in horoscopes?
If you answered yes, then I am about to do you a very, very big favour. Or possibly ruin your life.
You know those star signs you’ve read and relied upon for so long, those small sentences of hope you scan fervently each week, searching for a hint of light in a future shrouded in darkness?
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they’re not real. Not even a little bit.
I know, because I used to write them.
Not all of them of course. Although, if you believe that being born under a ‘water’ sign makes you peaceful, calm and susceptible to custard you probably would believe that a single person is behind the almighty magic of Star Signs.
If you do believe that, then we have bigger fish to fry. When this is all over, let’s grab a coffee. I have some info on the Tooth Fairy that might interest you….
It all started in my final year of university when, as a starry eyed student desperate to be a news journalist, I would hang around the newsroom for hours after my work experience shift had ended.
Just in case the police scanner suddenly pinged to life and I’d be needed to help cover a breaking crime story.
If was during one of these late nights when, perched behind my makeshift desk in the corner, I watched the night editor storm out of his office and stride towards the chief sub-editors desk. Spewing forth words at the rapid fire rate that can only be achieved by a newspaper editor whose print deadline is approaching.
From his frustrated tirade, I quickly gathered that the woman who usually penned the star signs column for the paper had once again missed her deadline.
The editor practically stamped his feet in frustration as he peered wildly around the somewhat deserted newsroom, his eyes finally falling on my little corner.
"You know anything about star signs?" he bellowed across the room at me no doubt trying to remember my name, while refraining from calling me by my official newsroom moniker 'tall intern.'
"Um, no. I mean, I've read them in the paper," I answered. "But I don't really follow them or anything..."
"You write them, then," he barked. "Make them short. Make them upbeat. Don't tell anyone they're going to die. And do it fast."
Horoscopes might be hog-wash, but what's the biggest lie you've ever told (post continues after video):
With a rush of excitement I turned to my keyboard, thrilled that I'd been called upon to help out. With this kind of luck, I would soon go from 'tall intern' to 'helpful tall intern'.
I didn't believe in the power of horoscopes or follow the wisdom of star signs, but all I had to do was slam out a few words about hope/destiny/voodoo and then call it a night, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong.
Half an hour later, I'd written exactly ONE star-crossed prediction and thrown everything I had into it.
A turbulent decision about love was on the horizon. A special sign will point them towards their financial destiny. I told them to say 'yes' to an overseas opportunity that will change their life. Mercury was having an off month, they would feel his wrath. Peanut Butter is better then Vegemite.
I really let those poor Aquarians have it.
Then, I was tapped out, realising that although horoscopes might be as fake as the fading tan on my arms, they were pretty damn hard to come up with.
As the final print deadline drew closer, a lovely sub-editor sensed my growing panic. Not hard, seeing as my face now resembled a sunburnt beetroot, and wandered over to help me.
Together, we pulled copies of old newspapers from a rusty cupboard and flicked to the horoscope columns. She showed me how to take a line from here and a prediction from there, and fuse them all together in a series of new copy that looked like it had fallen straight from the heavens.
"The thing to remember is that people read this shit religiously," she said, as I slammed out some lines for the Virgos. "So you can't repeat copy, or they'll know. But if you keep them vague and upbeat, people will be happy and send us less hate mail."
My faux predictions were completed in the nick of time and the next morning I opened the paper to see my eloquent lines of bullshit staring back at me. It wasn't exactly how I'd planned to publish my first piece of fiction, but it was a pretty good start.
That same week, the newspaper's official pyschic announced she packing her bags and heading off in search of her true destiny. She'd been pretty set on India, but a few months later I saw her wandering the aisles of our local Woolworths.
I guess that's what happens when Venus makes your travel plans.
So, the task of churning out the horoscopes fell to me and once I got the hang of it, oh what fun I had.
I took great delight in waxing lyrical about lusty loves, forgotten friends, and a thousand and one career moments. When things got bad, I just blamed it all on Mercury. That shifty bastard.
The reader emails (and even letters) flowed it, with people either cursing the mystery psychic woman for leading them astray or marveling at how spot on the day's predictions were.
Sometimes, I'd lose track of which star sign had been assigned which lie. Which was brought to my attention by an avid follower, who angrily pointed out that I'd told the Sagittarius brigade they needed to trust their instincts when it came to fulling their career dreams an embarrassing three times in a row.
I quickly learned that my tangled web of horoscope inspired lies worked best when I kept the predictions vague and open ended. When lost people are looking for guidance, they'll relate their own situation to any hope of resolution. I only had to give them a nudge and they did the rest of the work themselves.
A few years into my career, I found myself working as a senior journalist for a group of rural newspapers and once again my knack for writing believably horoscopes was called upon. It was comforting to know that Mercury could cause as much havoc in the bush as he had in the city.
To the outside world, the horoscopes never came from me. To my friends and colleagues, it was a bit of a running joke.
One of the great things about media is that as you rise through the ranks, those lackey jobs that once delighted you lose their shine and you get to pass them onto the next crop of eager young journos.
Which is how I found myself a few years after editing a a lifestyle magazine and website, trying to decipher a horoscope column so badly written it looked like a chicken had run across the keyboard. A psychic chicken, perhaps, but a chicken none the less.
In a mad deadline induced rush I tossed the copy to a scared looking intern and asked her to rewrite it.
"Make them short. Make them upbeat. Don't tell anyone they're going to die. And do it fast."
"You mean, these aren't real?" she asked. And then, I told that poor girl what I'm going to tell you now.
Most horoscopes are written by eager interns, overworked journalists and only occasionally someone who truly believes they've got a link to the cosmos. If you're looking for a star to hitch your wagon too, this isn't it.
Now, are we ready to talk about the Tooth Fairy?