One of the things new writers worry about when submitting their material to various agents and publishers is having their work plagiarised in some way. How do they know that the editor or publisher won’t steal the core ideas and rework them in a piece of their own?
It is a basic truth in the world of writing that authors are regurgitating themes, ideas, set pieces and characters that they have been exposed to throughout their lives. Some of their material might be culled from their own experiences or the experiences of people they know. Some of it might be an affectionate nod towards the fiction they themselves grew up on.
Working writers (that is, writers who are making a living from their work and go from one commission to another) are on the lookout all the time for fresh ideas to prevent their output drying up. Television script writers plunder newspapers and magazines for inspiration. Very often a popular theme or a striking news item finds itself reworked and presented as a storyline in a soap opera. It’s conveyor belt drama for the mass market, and that conveyor belt must not under any circumstances be permitted to stop.
When I was writing The Feeling’s Unmutual in 2003, I had the double thrill of learning that the BBC had invited top TV scribe Russell T Davies to be Head Writer and Executive Producer of a revived and reinterpreted series of Doctor Who. I knew that my book was featuring classic Who quite prominently and that the Six Doctor himself, Colin Baker, was going to endorse it.
Very excited, once my book was published (September 2004), I mailed a copy to Mr Davies courtesy of BBC Wales. Needless to say, I did not receive a reply. This bothered me a bit because I felt that Russell would have enjoyed reading it from a fan’s point of view. I knew we were very different people in some ways, but in the Doctor Who way we would be very similar.
I also sent Christopher Eccleston a copy. He had grown up in Little Hulton and had attended Joseph Eastham High School, the secondary school I went to. I knew he would be interested in the book, not only because he was filming the new Doctor Who, but because he would recognise the Little Hulton and surrounding areas described in the book. Needless to say I didn’t get a reply from him either.
The Feeling’s Unmutual not only details my life and the way Asperger syndrome has affected me, but covers the creation of my little robot school girl Anne Droyd.
In just a few months I began receiving emails from Doctor Who fans (one a prominent member of the Appreciation Society, another a fan in Canada) who were also readers of my book Anne Droyd and Century Lodge alerting me to the fact that Russell T Davies was going to include a robot of television presenter Anne Robinson in the episode "Bad Wolf" and call her Anne Droid.
When the episode aired in the summer of 2005, a number of people approached to ask, “Do you think Russell Davies has read your book?” I could not help but ask the same thing myself.
But – I also knew that Russell had grown up watching the same programmes I’d watched, and that his influences would be very much the same. I later learned that I was not the first to think of the pun “Anne Droyd”. An author in the 1970s had included a character with that name in a Star Wars novel. So Russell might have been influenced by that.
Nevertheless, it did irritate me enormously when the scribe declared that his Anne Droid was the funniest thing in the whole of the 2005 series.
Other similarities started to show through, such as organisations having secret bases beneath derelict buildings and ordinary streets. But – again – there were examples of this in many a sci-fi/adventure series in the 1970s/80s.
And so I dismissed the idea that my work was being ripped off.
Until January 1 2007, when The Sarah-Jane Adventures debuted. Davies executive produced that too, and oversaw the writing of the episode with long-time Doctor Who novelist Gareth Roberts. I had been a big fan of Roberts’ 1990s “Missing Adventures” The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death, and had written to him to tell him. This time I did get a reply, along with a signed copy of his then new book The Plotters (which was as equally well written and absorbing as his previous titles). To return the gesture, in 2002, I sent Gareth a signed copy of my original Anne Droyd novel.
I cannot say for definite that my autobiography and children’s novel have been mercilessly reworked, but I do believe that Davies and Roberts know of my writings.
The Doctor Who series goes from strength-to-strength in terms of popularity, and I’m glad it is enjoying a much deserved renaissance. Russell T Davies has received BAFTA awards for his involvement. But one rarely hears him crediting other writers or admitting that he has sourced existing material.
For my sanity’s sake, I will not be sending him, or indeed any other writer not known to me, manuscripts or even published books in future. All material is up for grabs and re-working. So if you are a fledgling writer, don’t show your work to anybody unless it is a trusted friend, an agent or a publisher.
Below are the similarities I have noted between my works and that of Russell T Davies since the revival of Doctor Who in 2005...
There is a character called “The Anne Droid” in Bad Wolf.
Secret Bases Under the Streets
Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Runaway Bride (Thames floods the base as Century Lodge does the Foundation),Torchwood, SJA: Invasion of the Bane.
I worked in a pop factory for seven years – there is a secret base beneath a pop factory.
I obsessed about Dr David Banner and The Incredible Hulk, my book references them frequently – Sarah-Jane lives on Bannerman Road.
Anne Droyd and Century Lodge features an ice cold villainess – Invasion of the Bane features an ice cold villainess.
In Century Lodge’s underground bunker, the villains are creating an android girl. She is like a blank slate, she doesn’t know anything, she has superhuman abilities (memorises a school register instantly), but she doesn’t understand social conventions. One of the human children in the story is called Luke – in Invasion of the Bane’s underground bunker, the villains are creating a hybrid human child. The child is like a blank slate, he doesn’t know anything, he has enhanced mental abilities (learns to read instantly), but he doesn’t understand social conventions. They name him Luke.
Rip-off or just coincidence? I can’t tell anymore. Am I just that bit too paranoid? Very probably. But it’s best to be safe.