The Literary World

Men Behaving Badly

I’ve so far resisted the urge to post on the great plagiarism scandal that is currently rocking the literary competition world, mainly because – whatever the rights and wrongs of the case (and there do appear to have been several serious wrongs committed) – I have a slight aversion to mobs with blazing torches and pitchforks. Although, having said that, I’m still not entirely sure how else the whole sorry saga could have been handled. If, incidentally, you’ve missed all of this and you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about, the relevant thread (all 100+ comments of it) is here.

I can’t say that any of this has affected me personally in any way, although I was longlisted in the Cadenza competition mentioned (so there’s an outside possibility that I might otherwise have scraped onto the shortlist – nah, forget that). The worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my short literary career (as far as I know) occurred during Eurofiction 2007-8, where one of the entrants was so incensed that an (admittedly weak) entry of mine had won one of the rounds, that he copied it from SlingInk and pasted it on another private forum, inviting everyone there to pitch in and criticise it. Which they did, with considerable enthusiasm. I know this, because – unknown to him – I was also, temporarily, a member of that forum under an alias. No names, no pack drill; the perpetrator made a decent apology and no lasting injury occurred. I even incorporated some of the criticism when I finally got around to editing and submitting the story elsewhere (it’s this one).

But weird things happen. In the recent Calderdale competition, where I picked up the third prize, Douglas Bruton was in fact one of those highly commended. And if the results are ever published on the Calderdale website, you will notice that, by a gruesome coincidence, my prizewinning piece, “Possible Side Effects” has precisely the same reverse chronological structure to the Tania Hershman story, “My Name is Henry”, mentioned in the above thread.

Now, I originally wrote my story back in February 2008 for Round 8 of the same Eurofiction contest, at which time I don’t think I’d even heard of Ms Hershman, let alone read any of her stories. (Incidentally, I finally bought “The White Road” a couple of months back and thoroughly enjoyed it – particularly the title story, which is excellent.) The reason why I picked the structure for the story was that it was based on a picture prompt – the picture being a bottle of pills. Thinking the way that I do, I felt that with that as the prompt, there was only one way that the story could end. So in order to make it a bit more interesting, that’s where I started, and the rest of it followed from there.

As it happens, there is a grand tradition of reverse chronology stories, as detailed here, so it’s kind of nice to know that if I was ripping anyone off, it was Virgil, amongst a whole host of others. Either way, if they ever do publish the winning stories at Calderdale, I’m ready for the mob. In the meantime, the plagiarism saga rumbles on. I suspect that we have not heard the end of it even yet.

[EDIT: This is the 100+ post thread that I mentioned above. Apologies for pointing to the wrong one.]

25 thoughts on “Men Behaving Badly

  1. Ah, it shows how small the writing world is, Jon, as I’d heard the tale about a story from slingink being published elsewhere, but didn’t know it was you.

    I gather the plagiarism case is a bit more complicated than just following the same structure (allegedly), but your post is a timely reminder that there is no such thing as a new idea, and that we can all, quite independently, come at a story from the same direction.

  2. Thanks for dropping in, Sally – as I said on your blog, your post today on the subject was excellent, and articulated much of my unease about the whole thing.

    Yes, that’s my understanding, too. But without seeing both stories in front of me, I really don’t feel that I should make any judgement. Then again, if someone was to slip me a copy in a plain brown envelope …

    [EDITED TO ADD: I was, of course, only kidding 🙂 ]

  3. BTW Jon, one of the best stories I’ve ever read, about three years ago, and by Cecilia Aherne and called ‘The End’ uses reverse chronology too. It’s the story of a love affair which starts as it’s all ending, then we get the middle, then it ends at the beginning. It’s all the more heartbreaking for that, because they’re going into the relationship with such hope.

    Anyway, the point is, that it is a well used structure. I suppose what matters in the plagiarism issue is how many more aspects of the story were ‘borrowed’.

  4. a timely reminder that there is no such thing as a new idea, and that we can all, quite independently, come at a story from the same direction.

    A classic example of that, I think, concerns the disputes over Groundhog Day. Two writers, Leon Arden and Richard Lupoff, both claimed their plots had been uniquely ripped off for Groundhog Day. The focus on plagiarism has obscured the most interesting detail: that Arden and Lupoff independently came up with stories about living the same day over and over. I think writers often overestimate the originality of their ideas (especially mainstream writers who try SF without having read much of it). See Déjà view for a longer account.

  5. Thanks for dropping in, Ray (recognise your name from a few comps!), and thanks for that link. Fascinating story. And I’m pretty certain that in any of the cases referred to in the HPRW posts, there isn’t anything that would stand up in court either. I’m less certain about the ethics of it all, though.

  6. Jonathan wrote, “I’m pretty certain that in any of the cases referred to in the HPRW posts, there isn’t anything that would stand up in court either.”

    Before I wrote about the plagiarism case I showed the stories concerned to a couple of lawyers who specialise in intellectual property, and they both assured me that even though the transgressing writer didn’t simply copy the stories word-for-word and present them as his own, he used enough of the original pieces to be guilty of plagiarism. They were both very confident of that: his defence–which I think went something along the lines that he’d only “built” on their idea–wouldn’t hold, because so much of “his” stories were also present in the original (for example, in one case he used exactly the same structure, premise, story, characters, and minor events).

    Sorry to dig this all up again: I only just read this, and didn’t want to leave that question unanswered. Let’s hope it all goes away again now.

  7. In which case I stand corrected. Interesting. Thanks for pointing that out. And I agree with your last sentiment 100%.

  8. Jane – I think the writer in this mess says different:

    ‘I used another writer’s story to shape a work of my own. I took the opening setting and the reverse chronology that was used in the story and the climactic event. I gave my character a similar name, so similar that I thought people in the know would recognise where I had found my inspiration. However, all the other settings in the story were mine and all the characters were mine including the central character, and the voice of the original is not the voice of my story. My story is about infidelity and love and the revenge (of fate) and as such differs significantly from the source work. My story also had a very important extra quality which gave a very different dimension to the story and which gave it a very original twist at the end.’

    He also talks about the another story and the matter of how much he ‘took’ seems a bit uncertain.

    Isn’t he the guy that you fell out with over the Greyling Bay thing, Jane? Are you really so sorry to dig this up again? And do you really want this to all go away? Seems to me you could have handled all of this with greater sensitivity right from the start. Not that I want to protect the guy, but how much of this whole thing can be said to be fair treatment?

  9. In defence of Jane, I don’t think that Greyling Bay has anything to do with this – apart from the fact that Jane has since felt obliged (quite reasonably) to take down his posts, which has had a damaging effect on the whole project. The Greyling Bay dispute was solved quite amicably in the end, as far as I am aware.

  10. Actually Jonathan, it might be that Greyling Bay has more to do with the storm Jane Smith has made of all this than was at first seen.

    Pop over to my blog and read my latest post ‘Fun With Nik and Jane’ to see what I mean.

    Plus, go read my ‘offending’ stories… they have been posted by someone sneaky who calls himself Doug Cheadle. The stories have had almost 280 views and only one person other than myself has made comment… and that comment was supportive of me.

    And now Jane resorts to further fabrications to undermine me.

    On my blog I have written several essays about this whole plagiarism thing. I believe they are worth reading and they throw some light on this whole thing to do with me.

    It is difficult to unpick the lies. And why would you trust me over anyone else? So all I ask is that you read my stuff and everyone else’s and then make up your own mind. It is not easy.


  11. I said above: ‘And now Jane resorts to further fabrications to undermine me.’

    She said my IP address was the same as a person called William Shears. William Shears had the courage to voice support of my stories not being examples of plagiarism. Jane Smith said that using her technological wizardry she had worked out that William had the same IP address as Douglas Bruton. William has now posted details of who he is and Jane Smith can be see for the liar she is in this matter. William is not in the same country as me and not even close to the same decade judging by his picture.

    If she has lied about this, in order to discredit me, how much more of what she has said is a lie? This is the point in a court of law where her entire testimony would be thrown out and the jury told to disregard anything she has said.

  12. Hello again, Douglas. It’s a bit too late in the evening to construct any sort of sensible response to this, so I’ll postpone making any comment until I’ve read everything else that’s been published on the subject recently. I’m intrigued by this William Shears chap, though, and I’d be fascinated to know where he’s been all this time. You must be quite disappointed that he’s taken so long to come to your defence!

  13. I’m not a writer, I just happened to stumble into this community, saw the vendetta being waged against Douglas. Read both sides,and came to the conclusion that one jealous person instigated all this, and the hierchy of this community have rallied round her, bringing with them their “mobs with blazing torches and pitchforks”. Read the facts, read Douglas’s defence. For a community of so-called educated people, I can’t understand why you all can’t see through this bullshit.

  14. William Shears says on Nik Perring’s blog that he is not a writer and that he just stumbled across this debacle and read the works and thought that the charge of plagiarism was suspect. I admit I am curious as to how you stumble into this thing, but i am glad that he did.

    But what I think is key here is that Jane Smith has now been caught out in the lie. She said William and myself were one and the same computer address. She had proof, she said. She had matched up our Ip addresses with her technical gadgetry. I am a computer illiterate and if I hadn’t been me I would have believed what she said. But I am me and this William is as much a stranger to me as he is to you. Jane did this to discredit William Shears’ comment on my work and to further blacken my character and to defend her increasingly suspect position in this whole sorry mess. This is the length she goes to in order to get at me. This is not honest and begs the question how much more of what she has said to back up her charges against me is a lie.

    I have written extensively on my blog about the prosess of borrowing and how artists are fine with this but small writing communities seem not to be. I have never stolen another’s words and passed them as my own. No law has been broken here. I HAVE used structures I have seen others use to tell my stories. I have never hidden that. I am completely open about what I do.

    Vanessa Gebbie does the same; I like her writing and think her work is worthy of respect; but she finds more than inspitration in the work of some other writers. I have covered this in revealing the similarities between her story ‘The Collector’ and Carver’s story ‘Collectors’. BUT, and this is an enormous ‘but’, I do not think what she has done with Carver’s story is theft or plagiarism; it is what artists do. They build on traditions, they emulate others, they add their own spice to the mix. VG has done something the same as I have, the difference is I admit it and I am being charged with plagiarism.

    I have written more than 100 stories in the past three years; I wrote more than 300 flash fiction pieces last year; and I am being held to account for two pieces of work and people like Jane Smith and VG and the mysterious Mrs Jones have all raised their voices to cry me villain.

    Now my ‘plagiarist’ works are visible and more than 300 views of the site and only one comment aside from my own – and that comment in support of me. At the very least this tells you that it is not obvious – not as obvious as Jane and Vg and Mrs Jones would have you believe. I still maintain that I have done no wrong. I don’t expect everyone to agree…

  15. Just to confirm: According to Sitemeter, the comments that Douglas Bruton and William Shears left on my blog both came from someone using a BTCentralPlus internet connection, who was based in Edinburgh, using one computer with the IP address 86.131.241.

    After I pointed this out on my blog Shears commented, insisting he was not the same person as Bruton. This comment also came from a BTCentralPlus account, but this time one based in Brentwood, Essex, with a different IP address: 217.44.136. At first I thought that I’d made a mistake and was just about to apologise when Bruton commented on my blog again–this time from the same IP address in Brentwood, Essex, which Shears had commented from.

    I live in Sheffield, and when I visit my own blog from my own desktop computer, Sitemeter reflects that. But when I’m out and about and use my laptop and mobile connection, the IP address is naturally different–and my given location changes depending on which wireless connection I’m using. According to Sitemeter I’ve posted from Manchester, London, and Glasgow when I know I’ve just been down the road.

    You can draw your own conclusions.

    As for the rest of Bruton’s increasingly libellous comments: I’m not even going to address them. He won’t allow me to comment on his blog, he twists my words, and he misrepresents me at every turn. He’s a talented writer and I wish him the very best: but I don’t see the point in rehashing this very old, and very unsavoury story any more.

  16. I am not sure what Jane is now saying. Is she saying that I am in Brentwood now? Or is she saying that there is something faulty with her gadgetry that made her speak false?

    She is once again miles wrong, or further fabricating. I am not in Edinburgh. I live miles from edinburgh in the scottish borders. I teach near edinburgh. So how can my IP address be based in Edinburgh? This is yet another error, or dare I say it lie.

    If what I have said is libellous, then let Jane seek legal representation… she says she has lawyer friends.

    She will not want to rehash this very old unsavoury story precisely because she is one of the architects of the story. And now that she has been shown to lie and now that the ‘offending’ stories are there fro the public to measure my ‘crime’ (and no one has yet come out to say that Jane’s analysis of the offending stories is correct) Jane will want to be very quiet on the subject. I think we can all understand that.

    Sorry if I am being tedious and obsessive here, but I am defending my nam, which has been muddied by Jane Smith for one.

    I have once omitted to allow Jane to comment on my blog precisely because she has been unsavoury in her use of my private e-mails to her… something that she addresses on her blog in a discussion of copyright… but seems ok about breaching copyright when plundering my e-mails to her. Funny thing, Doug Cheadle does exactly the same in posting my stories on the net without my permission!

    YOU draw your own conclusions!

  17. OK, I really don’t have the time or energy to respond in any great detail here and I probably should have simply just deleted the two posts last night and had done with it. However, the cat is now out of the bag and as a number of people that I like and respect are having mud thrown at them on my premises I feel obliged to say something.

    First of all, Mr Shears (assuming for the moment that Jane is wrong and you are indeed a separate person from Mr Bruton), can you please tell me what your particular interest in all this is? Are you a friend of Mr Bruton or just a general crusader for justice? If the latter, it seems odd that you pick on this particular small dispute in a field that you are not familiar with (you do say you are not a writer, which would mean that you are probably not familiar with the case’s particular nuances).

    Secondly, Mr Bruton, you say that it all came about because of what happened over Greyling Bay. The fact is that I for one had worked out a lot of what happened long before Jane’s “Anti-Plagiarism Day” post, by simply reading between the lines on other blogs. I’m guessing that Jane’s specific interest arose because you had been such a prolific member of the Greyling Bay community. Moreover it must have struck her (as it struck me) as more than a little odd that someone who had got so worked up about other contributors to GB taking a different view of one of “their” characters could find themselves being accused of stealing other people’s work. Ironic is probably not a strong enough term to describe it.

    You might be interested to know, by the way, that one of the most popular search terms to be used by people finding their way to this place is “douglas bruton plagiarism”. You might also find it interesting to look up “Streisand Effect” on Wikipedia. Just saying.

    As for the IP address thing, I have no reason to doubt what Jane is saying and it does look mighty fishy to me. I did note that the only poster to previously speak for you here (the mysterious “R Donald” above – who also posted as “Anon” on another post of Jane’s, BTW, and has the e-mail address has an IP address starting with 81.156.144, which – spookily – is also how the IP address used by you on January 10th starts. Could be a complete coincidence, of course.

    I guess the problem, Douglas, is that we ARE all drawing our own conclusions, and that they’re not necessarily the ones that you’d like us to draw. And personal attacks on people like Jane and Nik Perring (really, the Andrex puppy thing was LOW) ain’t gonna help you. Believe me, given your awesome track record as a writer, I desperately want to respect you, but you’re not making it easy.

  18. That’s fair, Jonathan.

    Fact is I do not know who william Shears is. He will have to speak for himself. What I do know is that he is not me and that Jane is wrong if she says that he is.

    As for the irony you speak of… there is in fact no irony there – I am on record as having said that i do not mind other people using my characters or ideas in their own stories. However, in the context of Greyling Bay it was stipulated that if you wanted to do something with your character on Greyling Bay then you should say so and so prevent anyone leading your character astray from the path you had mapped out; I had done this and trusted that the editor would see to it that the rule would be honoured. The hi-jacking of my character within Greyling Bay was against the rules. I am now posting many of my pieces on my blog, not at all concerned that someone might find inspiration in something I am writing. So there is no irony, Jonathan.

    And is my andrex puppy thing even on the scale of what Nik Perring has done/is doing to me. I e-mailed him nearly two months ago to point out an untruth he had said about me (I have never ever been asked to leave a writing group. When I had outgrown a writing group, I left. People there tried to persuade me to stay. Nik again last week said that I had been asked to leave.) Is it ok for him to damage me, and not alright for me to question his intellectual grasp of the issues here?

    My problem here is that so many people had time and energy enough to call me vile back on anti-plagiarism day in July, but now they do not have the energy to read what i have to say and to get to a better understanding of the subject and of my particular case.

    I am not a plagiarist. I expect people with intelligence to draw that conclusion only after a full examination of the facts… I agree some of the facts of this case are difficult to arrive at… but the real facts are beyond dispute… they are the stories themselves and they have been posted for all to see.

  19. I have considered what you have said about the andrex puppy thing and have just now publicly apologised to Nik for this on his blog. Maybe it WAS low, but borne out of my frustration at the leis he had repeated on his blog. Thank you for making me think this over.

  20. I am who I say I am; an outsider who has stumbled in, I’m not Douglas nor he I, and nither of us has access to one another’s computers. For you to describe me as a “defender of justice” implys you accnowledge an injustice. As an outsider I’m “probably not familiar with the case’s particular nuances” but I’ve obviously read more on this case than 90% of the “mob with blazing torches and pitchforks” who leave damning comments, on the heresay of just a few. It seems no one can be bothered to seek out the truth for themselves. Nik Perring viciously condemns Douglas, and Douglas is said to have reached a “new low” by describing Nik as an Andrex puppy,(for which he has appologised), I think Doulas’s remark not only showed great restrain in the circumstances, but also showed he hasn’t lost his sense of humour in all this.

  21. Hi. Three years on I don’t know what happened to this – but I notice Douglas Bruton is still unrepetentant.

    Plus, today – of all days – there is a “sock puppet” controversy in the literary world, albeit with another writer. Brought back to mind a few things…

    I don’t know if we really want to open this can of worms again, but…

    If you click on William Shears’s blog (on Blogger –, you’ll find he runs an antique shop on eBay. His original user name was willshears_blvd, but it is now silvianantiques.

    Do a search on eBay under this seller, and you’ll find a link such as this one:

    The seller’s name?

    Ian Bruton.

    Coincidence? Is DB still going to insist he doesn’t know who he is?

  22. Not that extraordinary; my last comment on this blog does state, “I am who I say I am; an outsider who has stumbled in, I’m not Douglas nor he I, and nither of us has access to one another’s computers.”
    The key line is, “an outsider who has stumbled in”. I happen to have the same surname as DB, how many of us have ever googled their own name?

    William Shears, Will Shears, B Shears, willshears_blvd, are all on line identities I use; and not for any sinister motive.

    What I find is ‘extraordinary’, is why no one has stood up and said “Hey, if it’s now confirmed that they’re two different people, how come they were posting from the same two computers, at the same time, situated 300 miles apart, as Jane Smith claimed?”; we didn’t Jane Smith lied.

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