I came across a book on a site on Facebook that seemed so incredibly similar to Shadow People, that I rushed off to Amazon to check if it had been plagiarised, or worse still that I had had some sort of cryptomnesia episode when I was writing it. It was a massive relief when I saw that it had been published well after mine, so if any pinching had been going on I wasn’t the one doing it. Still – even though it was a totally different story, quite a lot of the characters in it seemed to be described uncannily similar to mine.
Then I saw a bit of a movie about a ghost writer that again made me wonder if I was subconsciously swiping other people’s ideas, although to be honest the only similarities to my Emmaline were that there was a ghost writer in it, and one of the characters was called Emmaline. Even though my book had been completely written – albeit roughly – quite a while before I saw the movie, I immediately and crossly started thinking of other names for it – not wanting anyone to be thinking that I’d got the idea for one of my scribbles from someone else’s story. Finally I opened a new book from my TBR pile, and saw that one of the characters in it suffered from the same disorder, and displayed similar traits as one of mine, in one of my three books to be published this year. My first thought was that I’d wasted quite a chunk of my time writing a book that I now had to bin because someone else had written about the same issue. I’ve done that before – deleted whole stories – always wanting to be totally original.
After quite a bit of jumping up and down – tantrum wise – it occurred to me that pretty much everything under the sun has been imagined or written about by some scribbler or another, so my over the top behaviour with these things was actually not very clever. The penny dropped finally. There’s more than enough to be getting on with in this industry without inventing new hurdles for yourself to angst over, so I’m not ever going to worry again about what I write, because I know myself, and I know that what I write all comes from me regardless of whether the topics or issues in it are popular or written about by many others.
The cryptomnesia is quite an interesting thing though. It’s amazing how our own brains have the ability to nobble us. Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism at the age of eleven when her story The Frost King appeared to have been nicked from Margaret Canby’s The Frost Fairies. Helen insisted that she had found out that The Frost Fairies had been read to her earlier, but that she had no recollection of it when she wrote her story. She also said much later in her life that that incident had put her off ever attempting to write fiction again because of the furore it caused, although she did have a lot of supporters, including Mark Twain.
So even though this serious form of unconscious plagiarism seems to be a real thing, I don’t see any point in worrying too much about basic similarities in stories now. It’s all about the writing after all, and if anyone really does swipe any of mine on purpose, I suppose that’s quite a compliment.