Sunday, 2 August 2009


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 And will not post his story (since withdrawn from the competition site) for anyone to see the two stories alongside each other.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I have had unpublished work, sent to him as a trusted reader, plundered for unique combinations of images and devices.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.


Sophie Playle said...

Firstly - two great pictures!

Secondly - don't feel stupid about having trusted someone. For the most part, people won't be steeling your ideas and going behind your back like this person did. You couldn't have known. At least this has been a learning experience, not just for you but for every writer who has witnessed it.

As for the mention of the magazine getting sued for publishing something similar to an existing piece, I really hope that it would not be the case! How could the editors have possibly known? Surely they are not expected to know of every piece of writing that has ever been written? I would hope that if there was a legal battle, it would be directed at the writer, not the publisher. But who knows.

Good luck with your own legal proceedings.

Liz said...

That's awful, Vanessa, hopefully there are laws in place that will stop him using your unpublished of luck with solving it but how tiring for you to have to use up energy and hard-earned cash to get back what is rightfully yours...

Reading the Signs said...

I find myself wanting to say, I am very sorry for your loss. It is a loss when one experiences betrayal of this kind, and a wounding.

May your generous and creative spirit prevail.

SueG said...

Wonderful photos and wonderful news about your sister's visit. But so unfortunate about the continuing saga over the plagiarist. There will always be liars and cheats, I'm afraid, and although it's humiliating to feel duped, those of us -- like you -- who live our lives with open, trusting hearts must continue to do so and not feel blame. This guy's sins/crimes are hurtful, but he only wins all the more if he silences you or Tania or any of us in any way. Your last few sentences about signing off do worry me.
Sending love, V.

andewallscametumblindown said...

If you're going to take a break from blogging while legal proceedings are going on, that may be wise (I don't know). If the break is due to feelings of self-doubt following the events you describe, I think it's unnecessary. They could have happened to anyone, and I doubt that anyone feels your judgement has become less trustworthy because they happened to you. ~Miriam

Nik Perring said...

V, as Sophie's said: you couldn't have known. He's the mad one, not the rest of the world.


Ravi Mangla said...

This is shocking news. Very saddening. He was somone I respected and trusted as well.

Jane Smith said...

Vanessa, I'm glad you've finally made everything public as the weight of this whole mess has so far been bourne by the victims of the plagairiser. Which surely is wrong.

I've read Tania Hershman's excellent collection, including the story which was copied; I've read Paul Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium, too, just a couple of weeks ago. And I've read the two stories and have to say that they're both so clearly copied from the originals that they make me cringe. Here's a very talented writer throwing away not just the friendships he'd formed, but also his reputation and quite probably, his writing career.

I hope he does the decent thing now and apologises, and withdraws any other dodgy submissions he's got circulating before any more harm is done.

Meanwhile--wonderful photos! Your sister looks so much like you; and your father doesn't look anything like his age. What a happy day for you: I'm so glad that the sun shone, and you took photos to record it.

And please: have a word with your son. Tell him not to bungee any more because it scares me silly. I had to turn away from my screen while I scrolled past his picture!

(Word verification: talento. Lovely.)

Jane Smith said...

Vanessa, I've now blogged about this and directed interested parties over here. I know there are quite a few people who wanted to know the full story.

Emma said...

I've just come over from HPRW where I was following the anti-plagiarism discussion.

I'm so sorry to hear about this appalling breach of your trust.

It seems that you are drawing on the good things in your life to help you through this experience, and I wish you all the very best in sorting everything out.

DOT said...

There are always shits out there - I make no excuse for my language - and I am very encouraged you have named.

In different worlds and different times, I have suffered the equivalent, maybe not to the same personal degree, but the same. Walk on.

There are always shits out there and they should not be given the privilege of our thought.

catdownunder said...

Everyone loses when someone behaves as badly as this. It makes it harder for new writers to get anything published. It causes honest established writers to worry that they may be wrongly accused of 'borrowing'. It reduces earnings as publishers put aside more and more funds for legal advice and assistance.
Plagiarism is theft - and should be treated as such.

Merrilee said...

Of course the betrayal of trust is the worst, and it can happen. You can't judge by someone's face whether they are going to treat your work with respect; you just have to take it on faith.

Sometimes you get burned.

Hang in there, and keep writing.

Bird said...

I know that I've written stuff myself that's so derivative as to - well, that's so derivative that I can hardly way I wrote it myself. I've been in situations where people have riffed off each other's input etc.
But entering in competitions for money? They man's off his rocker. Good for you for getting this info out there (I picked it up from a thread on Eratosphere, so it's working).

Sally Zigmond said...

I have said all I have to say about what Douglas has done and hope your legal consultations bear fruit and you get some return for your money. Have you thought of setting up a fighting fund?

The photo, though, made up for all the nastiness. It's lovely. And doesn't your sister look like you?

Unrepentant Escapist said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. Good luck.

Bird said...

There's a whole thread on Eratosphere - wherein I found a link to this blog - about plagiarism.
Good on you for helping to take the lid off it.

dave pescod said...

I was moved by your unfortunate story. Plaguerism is very complex, with a level of subconscious in it, I think. Don't let one bad apple spoil the barrel. Being ripped off is also flattery. I,ve been ripped off a few times and it made for better writing, even if you want to puke at the time.Have a good break, and don't make the lawyers too rich. The picture of your son is a very positive image, bit like writing.

Calistro said...

Saw this print for sale and thought of this blog post! Maybe it'll make you smile at a difficult time.

DOT said...

I have been following the unraveling of this story.

As Sophie says, don't burden yourself with guilt. It is the means misogynists and other abusers employ to laden their offence on others.

Brutally, it happens. It has happened to me, in a different guise, and it'll happen to you again under another guise.

Reverse the thought and believe this w***ker only did what he did because of your original thought. In a perverse sense, to be ripped off alongside Auster is form of flattery. It certainly makes me want to read your work.

Be strong and put it behind you. (God, I am sounding as if I am speaking to my girls, forgive me.)


Gosh, I'm sorry he is being so pig-headed. The neck of some people! Best of luck, V. Thinking of you.

jeaniebgd said...

I hope to God you take this man to court and sue his balls off. It is the only way to prevent him from using any more of your writing and claiming them as his own. This man was rationalizing his actions. He knows it was wrong. It is against the law! But worse, he took advantage of a tender trusting person he was mentoring. He is pond scum. The only way you can claim what is rightfully yours is to have it proven in a court of law. I hope then it will be in every newspaper and television station in the land. And hope too, that you own his house and everything in it. And then some.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you to everyone for your messages. I have discovered that solicitors are expensive beasts, but I must pay whatever it takes to regain some peace of mind. No fighting funds, Sally... although it would be great to have a Geenham Common type demo outside his house, a line of writers in sleeping bags, chanting all night. Now there's a thought.

Bird said...

You'd have to be careful what you chant. He'd probably have a chapbook of it up for sale within the hour.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Bird, thats is the funniest thing I've heard all week. With your permission, I shall dedicate a whole post to it.

Bird said...

Permission granted, naturally.
How fast can a plagiarist plagiarise? Especially if he's chucking wood.
How can we hit the plagiarist where it hurts? Do plagiarists have a central nervous system?

Georgia said...

There is a sick feeling that comes over me, and surely most anyone who creates, to hear that someone's creation has been stolen from them. Thank you for doing something about it, but I'm very sorry for the trouble it gives you.

It's uplifting for you to focus too on your family. Please tell your father that he does not look 94!

~ Georgia

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you Georgia, for your support. yes, it is dreadful. But it will pass. And as you see I have not signed off for a while as I thought I would! Things are better.

cate said...

Thanks so much for the advice. I hope everything works out for you in the end.