The problem with being an UK author published by a US company with primarily US authors and readers is that I’m always missing Facebook drama when it kicks off. Curse you, time difference!
That’s not really right. Facebook drama isn’t anything to get excited about, and proper grownups should avoid it at all costs. My mother calls is washing your dirty linen in public, and I get where she’s coming from. The thing is, it’s just too interesting to ignore!
When I blearily checked my author Facebook account at six o’clock this morning, news of alleged plagiarism was being discussed. I don’t know too much about it, and I’m hesitant to name names. I don’t know the people involved, and I don’t know the full story. It does make me realise that my gut reaction to the thought of co-authoring a book with someone – running away, screaming in fear – is probably the right one considering what seems to have happened.
That made me think about something else though, a real pet peeve of mine, and that is authors who write using characters created by somebody else. I call it piggybacking, and I mean all the Jane Austen books that write about Lizzie as Mrs Darcy, or have the Dashwood sisters fighting off sea monsters, and all the authors who have Sherlock Holmes help their own plucky detective out. What’s worse, all the authors who include actual historical characters in their work – Freud helping to solve murders, Oscar Wilde dropping in to share a few bon mots.
This all makes me so angry!
For the love of God, people, create your own bloody characters! Stop piggybacking on the work of people who were creative enough to invent interesting characters! Just because their work has gone out of copyright and you can do it legally, it doesn’t mean that you can do it morally. It’s lazy, uninspired writing and I can’t stand it!
Authors who use real people as supplementary characters annoy me even more. How the hell do you know that the real historical person would behave like that? That they would say the words you put in their mouths? That they would espouse the beliefs you give them? The very best biographers would be hard pressed to do this. What self-inflated sense of ego makes you think that you could manage it?
I think the closest I’ve ever got in my own writing is have Daniel and Annabelle attend an audience with Queen Victoria, and have Sophia Preston be presented to her. In both books the queen is mentioned but not seen, which is as comfortable as I am with including real people in my books.
Historical fiction that tries to accurately represent actual history, through the medium of fiction – well, I have my doubts. A run-in with a Sharon Penman book made me dig in my heels on the topic, and no matter how minutely researched Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is there’s no way that I can finish it. C J Sansome gets away with it because the main character isn’t a real person, but even then I only read the first book once.
Let’s not get me started on P D James, who should have bloody well known better than to write Death at Pemberley, or Ben H Winters who would be best served by never trapping himself in an enclosed space with me; I am of the firm opinion that if Jane Austen had wanted zombies or sea monsters in her work, she would have included them in her final draft.
So authors, do yourself a favour. If you can’t invent interesting, memorable, relatable characters yourself, don’t steal other people’s. It does you zero favours with this reader, and I’m sure, many others.