Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Inspiration stuff

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


Sarah Hilary said...

I was flattered to be asked, V. It was lovely to hear that something I'd written had inspired something you will write. It gave me a warm feeling. It's a shame to think that anyone going about this in another way - apart from all the nastiness it causes - misses out on the chance of that feeling. For the sake of a quick email.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Yup. When it is polished enough, I will send you the story...
It's also important to remind folks that this is a single image, a single flower from the bunch, not a total lift of the bunch itself, as happens to many writers by the looks of it! Funny old world out there.
Thanks again, Sarah.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Actively going out and taking stuff is one thing but I get a bit frightened when I read what you've written. You are clear enough in your head where an image came from- I just hope I am if such images pop in that whirlpool I call my mind. It's scary.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Lauri... I dont think it is difficult, really. I 'knew' I'd read this line in a story by Sarah. It worked its way to the surface and thats great - I obviously found it inspirational... but, just speaking personally, I wouldn't have been able to carry on writing easily unless I touched base with her... so I did. I didn't 'have to', but it felt much better to do so.
Thats different to just letting life percolate through... we are all an amalgam of infinite experience, arent we? We can't posibily know where everything comes from, thats impossible!

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, and so ... 'right'. I think Sarah Hilary says it all in her own comment. Theft is theft, however you look at it. The way you went about this, Vanessa, was absolutely correct. Exemplary - courtesy, based on respect for another's work, can add so much.
Minnie xx