This week has been the best of times. My new-found sister has been here. The first time any of my siblings have seen where I live. Susie has met my sons, and my dear Dad. (94 on Friday next). Here we are, in my garden. Friday 31st July 2009.
This week has also been the worst of times.
I discovered that a longstanding writing friend and colleague has apparently used/lifted whole stories and/or multiple unique elements from at least two writers we know of, (Tania Hershman and Paul Auster) submitting the results as his own work to competitions hoping to earn cash from their ideas. He also insists what he has done is no worse than writers like me who find occasional inspiration in a phrase used by another writer, a description, a character's occupation - and let their creative minds fly to create fresh work of their own. That comparison turns my stomach.
His story submitted to Cadenza magazine short story competition, Waiting in the Scriptorium, is published in Cadenza 19. Neither editor had read Paul Auster's work on which this story appears to be closely based. The novel Travels in the Scriptorium. But several subscribers had. The magazine has closed. Not as a sole result of this one incident. But Cadenza previously had a good reputation for publishing fresh, challenging work. Its reputation took a bad knock. Could we have been sued had Auster's agents read the piece? I don't know. Possibly.
Cadenza 19 is out there. So is the Auster novel. I leave it up to you to judge the extent of the similarities.
The same with a prizewinning story by Orange prize commended writer, Tania Hershman. He admits using her story closely and sending it out as his own work to a competition where it won cash. And yet says he has done nothing wrong. And will not post his story (since withdrawn from the competition site) for anyone to see the two stories alongside each other. See the debate on How Publishing Really Works, HERE. Many people, writers, editors, creative writing teachers, have seen Douglas Bruton's version and are aware of the great similarities.
I have had unpublished work, sent to him as a trusted reader, plundered for unique combinations of images and devices. Initially he assured me his piece was written as a bit of fun, and that of course he would not use it. He then submitted his work behind my back to a competition, where it was commended and published.
He asserts that he is furthering art by behaving like this. That he is improving the work of other writers. Tania. Paul Auster. Me.
He is also sitting on c. 40,000 unpublished words written by me. A magical, poignant series of 'letters' written in a close collaboration. And that novel section sent to him for feedback when we worked together.
I don't want to imagine what he will do with those. And I have a second meeting with a lawyer later this week. It is costing more than I have earned in a couple of years.
So, I am signing off for a while. I feel stupid, for trusting him. I am bewildered that he must have come to dislike me so much that he wanted to damage both me and my friend, and yet behaved sweetly to us as he was doing it. I no longer trust my judgement. And neither, my dears, must you.
Here's a final pic of my gorgeous younger son, who bungeed for charity last weekend.
Happy happy writing.