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.]