Wednesday, 14 October 2009
There's been such a kerfuffle about inspiration versus copying over the last few months here and elsewhere. And only recently, a law student (apparently) from Liverpool has been found to be using the exact words of other writers- trawled from published work on the web - to get published under his own name. (Here - if you can be bothered...)
I have to say, I don't get it. I don't get why anyone would bother, really, when it is so easy to get caught out for one thing. And for another far more important reason - it means you can't always hack it yourself. That sounds a bit dodgy, but I know what I mean. It means that you need to take from others, inappropriately, in order to fulfil your needs.
Sometimes, of course - you do recognise something seriously appealing in the work or ideas of others. And there are ways in which to seek to use something legitimately, nicely, decently. The reason for this post is to illustrate how I recently approached this issue -when I found something fascinating and inspirational enough to want to use it, in the work of a friend and colleague.
This happened while I was writing in Ireland, a month ago.
There I was, half way into a new story, and I find my character doing something lovely, surprising, and totally fitting - digging up spoons from the soil. But it is something I KNOW has come from reading a published flash by friend, Sarah Hilary. I stop writing, and go to the sources I've read by Sarah until I find it. HERE on Smokelong Quarterly.
I emailed her, and told her that I'd love to use that image, as it was wonderful...but in a totally different way, different characters, different context... and Sarah was lovely, and gave her blessing. And said ta for asking!
At this point I must say - of course, digging up or burying spoons ain't 'owned' by Sarah. But see, I knew it was her image, thought up by her, not me. So I felt I needed to ask.
Of course, at that point, had she said 'Look, I'd rather you didn't' I'd have backed off and found something different for my character to dig up instead. But I think most writers, if approached by a colleague asking something similar - to be able to use a single lovely image and make it 'their own' - would be pleased and say 'yes'.
And the upshot was that I was able to carry on writing, my character was able to carry on digging up spoons until the cows came home, and the story was able to flow freely with no sense of inappropriate behaviour on my part to hold it back.
very expensive spoon pic from here