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Plagiarised by the Collective Unconscious

October 7, 2013

Two years ago, while suffering a particularly nasty bout of writer’s block, I did what every floundering neophyte novelist does at some point and began a second novel before finishing my first.  It consoled me to know that I had more than one idea in me, something to go on with if the first book really couldn’t be resuscitated.

   Here’s part of the outline I wrote back then:

A group of well-meaning, left-leaning Melbourne hipsters establish a ‘non-ideological commune’ in a cluster of farmhouses … Unfortunately their almost total lack of practical skills creates disaster: crops fail [and] the owners of livestock are too tender-hearted to slaughter them for food …

   If you’re thinking that this sounds oddly familiar, perhaps it’s because you’ve read the publicity for Eddie Perfect’s new play The Beast, due to premier soon at the MTC:

 A group of inner-city thirty-something friends, vowing to live a more grounded, sustainable lifestyle … up sticks and move to the country. But few of them are prepared for the challenges that come with their new life, and when they’re forced to decide which of them will kill their fatted calf, simmering tensions erupt into open conflict – threatening to tear their new world apart.


   It’s not the first time this has happened to me. In 1996 I was studying TV Production and had to pitch a show pilot for an assignment. My idea was a Frontline-style mockumentary covering the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games and focusing on the inept fumblings of the bureaucrats in charge of the event. Yep, I thought of The Games before – or at the very least, simultaneously to – John Clarke. I even had ideas for some of the same episodes, like a subplot concerning an endangered frog living on the Olympic site before construction.

   Unfortunately I was a bit deadline-challenged at this point in my academic career, so I never even submitted the assignment and now have no way of proving this story is true, which doesn’t stop me going on about it occasionally after one too many wines.

   Then there was the time around 2009 when, in the aftermath of the Fritzl case, I considered writing a story narrated in first person by a child imprisoned from birth in a home-kidnapping situation. Too dark, I decided. Too bleak. Who’d want to read a story like that?

   A year later, Emma Donoghue’s amazing novel Room came out. Here’s the blurb:

 To five-year-old Jack, Room is the world. It’s where he was born, it’s where he  and Ma eat and sleep and play and learn … but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years …

Emma Donahue_Room

Man Booker Prize finalist Emma Donoghue with her bestselling novel, Room.

When I recently had the idea to give Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca the  Wide Sargasso Sea treatment,  – narrating a prequel from Rebecca’s point of view, with a  feminist slant, as Jean Rhys did for the first Mrs Rochester from Jane Eyre – I knew to Google the concept before getting too excited. Sure enough:

Rebecca’s Tale [by Sally Beauman] is set in the summer of 1951 in England. … Part three is an extract from a journal kept by Rebecca, detailing the events of her early life … While in the original novel, Rebecca was ultimately described as a cruel and wanton woman, in this sequel she is presented as a tormented girl, haunted by her traumatic childhood and deeply sad despite her outward boldness …*

   It’s almost enough to make me start wearing a tinfoil hat to prevent the world’s writers from stealing my thoughts, whilst wandering the streets muttering to myself and pushing a shopping trolley full of cats. But no.

If nothing else, I can take a couple of useful lessons from this experience, which I share with you now:

   1) Get on your arse and finish the damn project you’re on, so you can tackle your next idea before somebody else does, and

   2) Have faith in your ideas – at least have a go before rejecting them.

   Not ground-breaking wisdom, perhaps, but the only comfort available to me in being unwittingly plagiarised by literature’s collective unconscious. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get on with my current book, before someone else beats me to that idea as well.

* Thank you Wikipedia

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jayne Caruso permalink
    October 18, 2013 5:51 am

    I’ve had this happen also with a few children’s storybook ideas. One story was about the moon following a small boy with some adventures thrown in along the way. I had finished it ready to send to a publisher. I went to the library and, on the stand, was a book staring right at me called “And the moon came too” about the moon following a child. My jaw dropped to the floor. How could someone have thought exactly what I was thinking? I do feel the collective unconscious may have something to do with it LOL.

    Jayne C.

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