Into Deep Water
I had a green-eyed moment recently.
I’m not too prone to these. I’ve abandoned the fantasy that writing is going to make me a lot of money and that I’ll be able to give up the day job. I do it because I love it and I have stories I want to tell and to be read. I’m very happy that I have had four novels commercially published and that these have won some acclaim in some prestigious national competitions.
But recently a very famous author – who is now well-off enough to give up work to write full-time, the holy grail for all of us – has had a lot of publicity over her new novel, which is also likely to become a million seller.
And here’s the thing that gave me my green-eyed moment: the plot sounds really similar to one of my novels.
In In Too Deep (2013), set in a small and small-minded Northumberland town, a woman is drowned in a manner very similar to the old tradition of witch-ducking. This happened because she was a troublesome woman, a journalist who’s about to expose some unwanted information about some local people. It’s down to another woman – her friend – to eventually reveal what happened to her.
I’m very proud of this story: it was my debut novel in terms of writing and of publishing. And I happen to think it was a strong and original concept.
Now let’s turn to a brand-new book you will almost certainly have heard of. Into the Water is the second novel by Paula Hawkins, who of course shot to fame with The Girl on the Train.
I hadn’t read it, though I enjoyed Hawkins’ first novel. I was aware of it, though: it’s been reviewed in every national newspaper and magazine I’ve seen lately, there are humongous posters for it in the railway stations and if you go into Waterstones, someone runs up and beats you around the head with it.
But it really came to my attention because someone I know read it and said, “It’s very similar to your novel.”
In what way? Well: it’s set in a small and small-minded Northumberland town. A woman is drowned in a manner very similar to the old tradition of witch-ducking. This happened because she was a troublesome woman, a writer who’s about to expose some unwanted information about some local people. It’s down to another woman to eventually reveal what happened to her.
Hmph. Sounded pretty familiar to me. I had a brief moment of jealousy – that was “my” story and not only is it likely to make Hawkins more millions, she’s already signed up for the film rights. You see, when others dream of winning the Lottery, I dreamed of the day a script editor would pick up In Too Deep in a charity shop and love it. Hawkins’ success means that’s now even more unlikely than it ever was.
When I posted this on Facebook, my friends rallied round and shared my outrage. One even kindly looked up the copyright laws. But actually: I just wanted a bit of a moan. I had no intention of doing anything about it – nor should I.
I honestly don’t believe this is a case of someone nicking my story. I don’t think for one second that Paula Hawkins has even heard of my novel, let alone read it. The similarities are genuinely coincidental. The fact is, there is no copyright on ideas. And nor should there be.
There’s a theory – you may even have read the book – that all stories are a variation on just seven general themes. Who’s to decide who told the very first version of star-crossed lovers, or of children with magic powers, or of a quest to defeat a monster? And who’s to rule that no one else can have a crack at telling their own version of any story at all? The world would be a lesser place if every story had to be 100% new. And of course, once you get past those plot points, there are more differences between In Too Deep and Into the Water than there are similarities. Because you can give any number of writers the same inspiration and they will all do something unique with it. That’s the wonder of storytelling.
So I wish Paula Hawkins all the very best of luck – genuinely. Any writer who gets to where she has in a tough environment deserves her success. And after all, it’s a really terrific storyline. Who wouldn’t want to read it?