Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Conf 86 Theft or Homage

No. of words: 30,606

Philip Hensher writes about the Judith Kelly plagarism case (article: Conf 83) in the Independent. Sorry, one of those annoying items you have to pay for but you get the first few paras. All writers are thieves, he's saying, which is true. They steal from their own lives, friends', strangers', nothing is safe. He seems to think, however, that she deliberately stole in a 'homage' kind of a way which I just don't believe.

One of the most fascinating things about writing, and reading, is the exploration of your own subsconscious. When you read, your imagination interacts with the author's, conjuring up the pictures the words suggest. One of the craft skills of writing is to make these pictures as vivid as possible with as few words as possible. This woman would never have deliberately taken those chunks of prose and consciously reproduced them, not unless she's a complete nutter. If you're trying to get away with something like this, you're not going to use such closely resembling figures are you? ("45 out of 80 girls lay ill" from Jane Eyre. "45 out of 60 girls lay ill", Judith Kelly.) It seems obvious to me that the poor woman's subconscious brought up those phrases all by itself. In her defence, her publisher mentions her photographic memory. Philip Hensher doesn't consider this possibility.

I can understand Hilary Mantel's concerns, of course. Though, like Hensher, I'd probably be more flattered than anything.

When I wrote in an earlier confession about my own theft activities, saying we don't steal from each other. What I meant was we don't steal from each other in day to day chatter, if a writer says something to another writer, you know that whatever they talk about is coming from them and they might want to use it themselves. Or that's how I see it anyway. In my pub times with Keith Waterhouse, there was a lovely English "can I use that?" pause in the conversation with his friends sometimes, as the listener realised he'd just heard something he could use if the speaker didn't want to use it first. But when non-writers speak it's all there for the taking.

Not so the written word, I make notes all the time from books, fiction and non fiction. In fiction it's style. For me, the way the she saids, he saids are handled. The way they get from one scene to another. I would never take a phrase or a sentence knowingly, but there's no copyright in words, and if I see a word I like, I might note that down to use in my own way later.

Hooray, ">> Bridget Jones is back. What's the betting she's preggers, I said to partner the other day. My first novel was a complete, well, maybe 'homage' is the best word here, about a pregnant single mum. I wanted to get published, and this seemed worth a shot. Whilst I was writing it, I was terrified Helen Fielding was going to pop out of the tiles of LA swimming pools any day and announce Bridget's pregnancy. As it turns out, today's instalment (I missed last week's) starts with a menopausal rant, ARRGH I came over all hotly flushed as I read it, this is Abandoned Novel 4 haglit territory - damn. Then it moves to the pregancy test and I think aaah, phew, good, this will be fun, this will be funny, ten million times funnier than my book. But that's no matter. The original is back and I'll drink to that.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

No comments: