When Someone Has Already Written Your Book

book_of_rose_flower_pink_soft_nature_hd-wallpaper-1562660

‘There is no such thing as a new idea’, Mark Twain once wrote. Which is bad news for anyone trying to be original! But as he goes on to say, we can create new and endless numbers of new combinations. Still, what if you find that you keep coming up with ideas that have already been done? I’m reading a charming little book at the moment, ‘How To Fall In Love With A Man Who Lives In A Bush’, (quite easily, it seems, apparently Austrian men aren’t up to much) where the protagonist dreams of becoming an author. The only problem is that every story she comes up with has already been written …. by Charlotte Bronte or Stephen King!

It’s something of an occupational hazard for storytellers – even when it comes to choosing a title for your book. A quick search on Google will reveal that your unique, edgy and entirely original title has already been used by a handful of other authors, in some shape or fashion.  It’s happened to most of us, at some point or other in our writing lives, but thankfully it doesn’t always sound the death knell for your book.

On reading Graeme Simsion’s novel ‘The Rosie Project’, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of deja vu.  Not surprising really, considering one of my favourite movies in recent years is ‘Adam‘, the story of a young man with Asperger Syndrome and his efforts to connect with a young woman who moves into his building.  It’s a really touching love story, as is The Rosie Project, because we can all see a piece of ourselves in these characters as they fumble unsuccessfully on the road to true love and self-determination.  Anyway, my point is that, as I was reading Simsion’s novel, I realised that while both stories had their similarities, they each had their own authentic voice. Imagine if either of them decided to give up on their project, because the story had already been done?

I believe that it is our job as writers to bring our unique viewpoint to these stories, regardless of whether the idea has already been explored.  Because nobody can truly write the same story in the way you’ve written it and that is your gift as a writer.  Original thought might be as rare as hen’s teeth, but it is the writer’s perspective which makes a story ‘new’, recycling old ideas and creating something different. I  found a great article by Melissa Donovan on Writing Forward.  She states that “Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.”  The following is a little test to prove her theory:

A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger, which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.

If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.

So it’s not unusual for people to independently come up with the same ideas in the creative sphere, or any sphere for that matter.  We all share the same collective unconscious.  Plagiarism, however, is another issue entirely. Plagiarism is the intentional copying or lifting of another person’s work and passing it off as your own. When I hear stories like this, it makes my blood run cold. I was in a chat group recently where a writer lamented the fact that a novel she had written a few years previous was now a major hit for someone else. Obviously, I have no proof as to whether or not this was true, but I could feel their helplessness.  What can you do if you see a book that shares more than a passing resemblance to your own (even the twist that ‘you’ll never see coming’?)

The most recent high profile copyright lawsuit involved the 2012 novel ‘The Light Between Oceans’ by M.L. Stedman (author Margot Louise Watts) which screenplay writer Joseph Nobile alleged was based on his 2004 screenplay, A Tale of Two Humans. The case, which was taken after Dreamworks adapted the novel for screen, was eventually dismissed, despite the plaintiff arguing that there were striking similarities between the work of the two authors, (the story’s setting on a remote storm-swept island, the central couple and specific scenes in chronology and specific passages of dialogue).

Equally being accused of plagiarism, based on mere coincidence, must be an unsettling experience. Unless you’re Daphne du Maurier, whose much beloved ‘Rebecca’ bore many similarities to A Sucessora (The Successor), a 1934 book by writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco and her editor alleged du Maurier had stolen the plot and much of the dialogue, but Du Maurier scoffed at the claims, arguing that the plot itself was too common to have been plagiarized. Although sued for plagiarism in 1947, du Maurier won the lawsuit.

As Oscar Wilde once said, as only he could, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ Although I wouldn’t say that to anyone’s face!

While the majority of us don’t set out to write novels that have already been written, it’s almost impossible not to end up treading on the toes of stories that have already been told.  Having said that, publishers and readers alike don’t want the same old tropes churned out year after year. The trick is to tell a tale as old as time, but in a new way. Mix up genres and avoid the predictable cliches. The real challenge is to find your own unique voice as a writer and tell a story as only you can tell it.  That is what will make your work original.

The Author Is Dead, Long Live The Reader

 

 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit

 

A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world.  Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go.  With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled.  But not with this one.

My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house!  One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay ‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author) by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes.  Coz that’s our life now.  Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.  I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author!  ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said.  ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’  I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.

But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself.  In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author.  To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that.  We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text.  Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are “eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading.  I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that.  Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward.  It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important.  We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader.  It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.

Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books.  There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher.  Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book.  Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance.  Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it.  And that’s okay.  That’s normal.  I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer.  Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers.  I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful 🙂

Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now.  Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them.  So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.

Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector

The_Story_Collector_7.indd

Be Creative – It’s not a waste of time

paper-3192207_640

With the Oscars coming up, I’m reminded of one of my favourite speeches by composer Michael Giacchino for (coincidentally) one of my favourite animation features, UP.

Of all the things he could have said, he spoke about the pervading myth/belief that doing something creative is a waste of time.  Sure, we honour those at the top and authors are often on the receiving end of comments like, ‘Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter?’  Either your creativity wins you fame and fortune, or you’re wasting your time.

Since time immemorial, parents have been telling their kids to get a ‘real job’, so there’s nothing new there, but that doesn’t mean we have to discourage them from exploring their creative side.  It’s all well and good plastering the fridge with abstract works of art in the early years, but what’s the real message from society when we try to carry this creative spirit forward in our lives?  In an article I wrote for the Irish Times last year, I considered the impact of paying lip service to creativity.

When our children are very young, we teach them that they can be anything they want to be. Yet at some point, this wonderful sense of openness and opportunity changes. We ask them to pick courses that will lead to good job opportunities. We even have “feeder schools” for universities, which sound more like something out of a dystopian novel than an inclusive education system. The artistic talent you showed as a child is suddenly frowned upon as you edge ever closer to the first round of state exams. Facing into adulthood, we are told to put away childish things.

Yet, for so many of us, that hunger to create persists.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t go on to become Oscar-winning performers.  Creativity leaks into everything, how you play with your kids, how you approach a project at work, your relationships.  The ability to think creatively isn’t just a soundbyte for your CV, it’s a way of life that brings an element of playfulness and lateral thinking to everything you do.  As children, we learn through play.  Why does that have to stop when we get older?

One of the hardest parts about starting out as a writer is not giving up.  We always hear the same rhetoric; there’s no money in it, it’s impossible to get published, you’re not good enough anyway.  It’s really hard to persist with something when everyone and everything is telling you that it’s a waste of time and that it’ll never go anywhere.  We are compared and compare ourselves with people who are at the pinnacle of their career and see our own efforts as falling miserably short of these standards.  And yet, there are so many of us, persisting, creating.  Why?  For me, it was simple.  It made me happy.  No, not happy, fulfilled.  It was a kind of compulsion.  First, I wanted to see if I could do it.  Then, I wanted to see if I could do it better.

My whole life I have been inspired by other peoples’ creative expression, in the movies I’ve watched, music I’ve listened to and books I’ve read.  More recently I’ve been inspired by visual artists and sometimes I wonder what it is that they have given me, by pursuing their creative passions…  And I suppose, at the end of the day, we’re sharing parts of ourselves and our experience of the world.  When I see a beautiful painting that resonates with me, I can’t say exactly why it does, it just does.  And it connects me to the artist, to humanity.  It makes me feel like I belong.

That’s how important creativity is.  I can only hope that my books make people feel something and I know every author is the same – when you get a review from a reader that says, ‘I loved that character’, or ‘The story really stayed with me’, it’s such a wonderful sense of connection.  Then there is the sense of fulfillment, purpose and self-expression that I feel when I write – I know myself better through writing and painting.  Making stuff gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world.  Of possibility.  So I guess it depends on your definition of value and worth, but for me, creativity is most certainly not a waste of time.  You need to give yourself permission to express who you are creatively, even if those around you do not.

 

Every Day Is January 1st

2017 There’s something about the start of a new year that always induces a collective existential crisis.  We’ve all been allowed to indulge ourselves for about a nanosecond, and now it’s time to overhaul our creaking ship of a life and become better people.  TODAY!  At this very moment, people are being mowed down by MAMIL’s (middle-aged men in lycra) and virgin cyclists, trying to atone for their yuletide gluttony.  What is it with our obsession over deadlines and dates, meaning that new beginnings always have to begin, well…. at the beginning of something?  Want to change your life?  Well, best time to start is the beginning of the year, right?  When it’s cold and miserable and dark and depressing A.F.  Has to be Monday, beginning of the week and usually first thing in the morning, to start the day out right.  To me, this seems like a recipe for failure.  What if you miss the beginning?  Does that mean you have to wait until the following week or the following year to get started again?  And why is investing in  yourself made to feel like a competition, or worse, a punishment?

As you may or may not know readers, I am at best headstrong and at worst, recalcitrant when it comes to these matters.  I can’t bear to be told what to do or when to do it.  Conforming is just not in my nature (and believe me, I’ve tried).  So when the rest of the world wakes up on January 1st with a list of things they are going to give up, I start writing a list of things I’m going to take up, or simply do more of.  I try to think of all the things that made me happy the year before and vow to do more of them.  But that doesn’t mean I have to complete the challenge during the first week of January.  Why rush when you’ve got all year?!

The wonderful thing is, every day can be the first of January.  You can choose to begin at any point in your life and the most important thing to remember is that it’s never too late.  Back in 2004, I began reading a book called The Artist’s Way, a kind of workbook on the subject of creativity.  I would highly recommend this book to everyone, as it teaches you that every journey begins with one small but very significant step: giving yourself permission.  This quote always makes me smile:

“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?” Yes … the same age you will be if you don’t. So let’s start.”
Julia Cameron

Let’s face it, when you tell people you want to be a writer or an artist, the response isn’t always encouraging.  ‘There’s no money in that,’ is the usual refrain.  Or ‘Aren’t you a little old for hobbies?’  Becoming an adult can really suck the fun out of life and as for dreams?  They have no place in a world where everything is valued in monetary terms.  But honestly, what are we here for if not to explore our talents and express ourselves?  Why waste your creativity because it seems silly or ‘childish’ or worst of all, selfish?  You don’t have to become a concert pianist or win the Man Booker to justify your passion.  People are writing, singing, acting, painting and all manner of things right now, even if they’re not making a living out of it, and their lives would be the poorer without it.  So I guess its up to you to decide where the value lies.

For some bizarre reason, when 1st January rolls around every year, people don’t bat an eyelid at you if you decide to start training for marathons or triathlons.  Somehow we’ve decided that physical activity is a ‘worthy’ pursuit.  But compare this to the reaction you would get if you started taking singing lessons or announced  your intention to write a novel – it’s somehow seen as self-indulgent or in layman’s terms, a futile exercise.  Well I’m sorry, but I think running is futile, but I wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way (for obvious reasons).  I have read so many blogs and articles where writers were afraid to tell their family and friends that they were writing out of some kind of misplaced embarrassment.  I’m not sure why we view the arts in this way, but my wish for anyone of a creative disposition this year is to explore it, enjoy it and see what happens!

I think Neil Gaiman says it best in his New Year’s Wish.

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t  forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

You can decide to follow your heart any damn day you please.  I know this blog post risks sounding a little bit trite or like something you might find on a kitty poster, but my heart is in the right place.  I began my creative journey in Spring 2004, taking art classes and writing the draft for my first book.  Things didn’t change overnight, but I stayed on my path and this year I had my first solo exhibition and typed the words ‘The End’ on the manuscript of my third novel.  I’m making some money (at last!) and it’s possible that one day, I could make a living.  But these last 12 years have been about so much more than that.  I got to pursue the things I love doing and for me, there’s no greater reward.  (Well, maybe a favourable review in The Times).  The point is, once I decided what I wanted to do, I had lots of gentle nudges along the way; coincidences that encouraged me to keep going and confirmed that I was doing the right thing.  For me.  So I suppose this is my way of paying it forward.

Life isn’t about big dramatic changes (I mean, it can be, but they’re rarely sustainable).  It is the small steps you take every day that will, over time, take you in the direction you want to go.  Every day is a chance to begin something new and the only thing that matters is how badly you want it.  Happy 2017 everybody!

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin

new heirloom1+1 Amazon (Paperback)Kindle

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy Amazon (Paperback) ~Kindle ~Nook ~ iTunes ~ Kobo 

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

When writers are asked, ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ and they reply with a vague, ‘Oh everywhere and anywhere really’, they’re actually telling the truth. You never know where your next idea will come from and more often than not, it finds its roots in some throw-away comment or idea that just manages to cling onto your imagination. A newspaper headline; a passing remark on a TV show; or a piece of gossip you heard on the bus, can lodge itself in your subconscious and present itself as a story begging to be told, just when you least expect it.

medium_307745952  This was exactly the case for The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris. A few years ago, I stumbled across a cookery show by Trish Deseine, an Irish woman who moved to Paris and embraced French food and culture wholeheartedly. Being a huge fan of both food and France I figured, what’s not to like?! Anyway, during one of her shows, she saunters around Paris sharing her favourite spots for shopping and eating. Then she points out a bakery, famed for its secrecy and delicious breads, whose patrons include the A-list of Parisien society. I can’t remember the story entirely, but apparently no-one was seen either entering or leaving. It was an old stone building with a basement entrance and there was something very mysterious about its clandestine operations.

A half-forgotten story about a mysterious bakery waited patiently at the back of my mind for years. Finally, I decided to write a short story about it, but it just didn’t seem to work. Then along came NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) and I seized the opportunity to breathe new life into the story. Writing a novel in thirty days is a daunting task, but it certainly focuses the mind! My bakery took on a life of its own, and lots of new characters to tell the tale. I decided to set my novel in a town that lies one hour north of Paris – the town of Compiègne, which is full of history and has very strong connections with World War II. Even though this book is not in the ‘Time-Slip’ genre like my first novel, there are still a lot of historical elements in the book and Compiègne seemed like the perfect location for the story to unfold. I really enjoy tracing the influence of the past through my stories and exploring its effects on my characters, and so the bakery’s story really begins during Nazi Germany’s occupation of France.

I also wanted this book to retain a light-hearted quality and I relished being able to describe the culture shock that is ‘la vie en France’. Having lived in Toulouse for a year in my twenties, I had a lot of personal experience to draw from. My protagonist, Edith, also brings a lot of warmth and humour to the story. A woman in her thirties, who is trying desperately to recapture her ‘student years’ by flitting off to a job in Paris, but needless to say, nothing goes according to plan (which is usually when you have the most fun!)

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris is a blend of all my pleasures in life: Pastries, travel, history and a good old fashioned story about finding yourself, your bliss and hopefully, some romance. Where do you find your ideas and how do you translate them into your writing? I’d love to know 🙂

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue de Paris (7) - Copy  The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris Amazon ~ Kennys.ie ~ iTunes 

new heirloom1+1 Amazon (Paperback)Kindle ~ Kennys.ie

Betwixt ebook by Evie Gaughan Free! Kobo ~ Kindle