Panning for Gold: 2013 365 Challenge #112

Panning for Gold in New Zealand

Panning for Gold in New Zealand

We’ve had a great family Sunday today, taking the kids for a proper pub meal out in the sunshine before going to buy play sand at a DIY store. That’s what Sunday’s are all about.

I also spent a chunk of time in bed reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett because I’m still wiped. When I wasn’t reading I was sifting through my brain to locate ideas for my new novel.

I tried to explain the process to my husband and I decided it’s a bit like panning for gold. I throw a load of ideas, some mine, some influenced by books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen, into a big pan in my mind. Then I sift and sift until something sparkles. I know it’s a nugget because my heart starts to beat a bit quicker and I feel super awake, no matter how tired I am.

The thing I find hardest, however, is sifting out the real gold from the stuff that has been planted there. When we did Gold Panning in New Zealand on our honeymoon there was a vague chance of real gold, but the tour guides also put a tiny nugget in for us to find too. When I’m tilting and tipping for ideas sometimes the nuggets I find have come from another author.

There's gold in them there hills

There’s gold in them there hills

I never plagiarise deliberately, but I read a lot and I read within the genres I like to write. So ideas come that I think are mine, and as I look at them from all sides I realise they seem familiar. My question then is always, how much can you borrow before it becomes plagiarism? There are no new ideas in writing: there’s only so much you can do with 26 letters after all.

Today’s nugget involved my protagonist using books written by his father to investigate a strange place (I don’t want to give too much away as I haven’t actually written anything down yet!). Seemed like a new idea until I remembered Shadow Forest, where the children use a book to negotiate the monsters hidden in the forest. Now, is that close enough that I’ve stolen the idea from Matt Haig? Or is it far enough away that I can use it in my story?

When I wrote academic papers during my degrees I would cite references for everything because I was terrified of plagiarism. If only you could do that for novels: I didn’t mean to steal this idea but it was just SO good it sunk into my subconscious and came out as I wrote. Worst still is what happened to me in my dissertation: you write the whole thing and then you read a paper that has all the same arguments. I read a novel after writing Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes that had a very similar beginning. It looks like I’ve stolen my entire first chapter, even though I wrote mine first.

Does anyone else ever worry about inadvertently stealing stuff from other authors? How do you tackle it?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Hey Claire, how’s tricks?”

“Kim! You read my mind. I’ve been meaning to call.” Claire tucked her feet under the duvet and curled up round the phone, prepared to enjoy a good gossip with her best friend.

“I should think so, you old trout. I haven’t heard from you in a month. I have to read your blog to find out more about your Aussie fella and getting mugged. What happened to ringing your mate?”

Claire flushed hot and glanced down to where Sky lay sleeping next to her on the bed, glad her niece couldn’t witness her embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. I feel like I’m living in a bubble. It’s easy to forget there’s a real world going on away from these infernal hostels.”

“So, you’re not really enjoying your challenge? The blog’s great. I’d love to meet your Aussie friend. He sounds yummy.”

“You’d have to go a long way to do that. He’s flying home with his wife and kids any day now.” Claire swallowed hard and hoped Kim wouldn’t detect the wobble in her voice.

“Oh dear. You fell for a married man, didn’t you?” Kim’s voice was a perfect blend of sympathy and censure.

“I didn’t know he was married when I met him.” Claire spoke without thinking, before realising her hot words amounted to an admission of guilt. Not wanting to analyse the emotions pumping through her chest, Claire sought to change the subject.

“I’ve got my niece with me at the minute.” Sky stirred beneath the covers and Claire lowered her voice, not wanting to wake her. “I’m looking after her for the Easter holidays.”

“Oh.” There was silence.

“What is it Kim?” Silence was not a normal state of affairs when Kim was on the phone. Normally the challenge was squeezing a word in sideways.

“Jeff and I were thinking of coming to see you, that’s all. From the blog we gather you’re in East Anglia still. Be nice to have a day or two away. The rehearsals are fun, but a girl can only be Puck for so long.”

Her voice was light, but Claire could tell her friend was unhappy. “When’s opening night? I hope I’ll be able to come and see you perform.”

“Oh, not for a few weeks. Yes, do come.” There was still a chill. Part of Claire felt irritated. It’s not like Kim and I are the kind of friends who call every week. She wondered if there was another reason for her friend’s call, but a day spent with Sky had left her drained of all energy and emotion and she didn’t have the strength to delve behind Kim’s words.

“So, when are you and Jeff thinking of coming? We’re in Wells at the moment but we’ll be in Hunstanton for the weekend.”

“Sunny Hunny. Lovely. Why don’t we come and stay there? If we can’t get into the hostel we’ll book a B&B.”

“Are you sure you and Jeff are up to socialising with a six-year-old?” Claire realised how ungrateful that sounded. “Not that I won’t be delighted to see you both. It’s just she’s, well, quite full on.”

Another silence drenched the line. Claire’s tired brain tried to pick through the possibilities; for once her radar concerning her friend felt way off beam.

“That’s fine. Jeff likes kids.” Kim’s voice sounded strained. Claire wondered if her friend had guessed the cause of her own break up with Michael. That must be it. She doesn’t want to talk about kids and relationships because she knows it broke mine.

“Okay then, hun. Send me an email or text once you know what your plans are. If Jeff loves kids he can entertain Sky while we have a proper natter.”

“Thanks. I’d like that.”

As she hung up the phone Claire couldn’t shake the feeling that Kim was holding back. I’m probably imagining it. I’m so tired nothing makes sense anymore and I’m jumping at shadows. Nothing bothers Kim; she’s indestructible. She tried to think it through but her eyes refused to stay open. Even though the iPad cheerfully informed her it was only 9pm she ignored it, glad none of her erstwhile colleagues could see her hitting the sack when they were probably only just leaving the office and heading for the bar.

I’d take twelve hours of Boardroom bullying and office shenanigans over keeping up with a six-year-old any day.

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4 thoughts on “Panning for Gold: 2013 365 Challenge #112

  1. If the similarity is that generic, then I think you’re fine. It’s only if you’re stealing characters, places, or play by play storylines that it’s an issue. Many many novels could be described in similar sentences, but so long as you have a unique take on it, then I think it’s different enough.

    • Thanks! It’s tricky because unless you’ve read every book ever written you’d never know anyway. I do have to watch out for ideas in my head that have come from stuff I’ve read though!

  2. I tend to think there are no new ideas under the sun and your interpretation of that idea will be completely different. If 10 writers all witnessed the same event, for instance, we’d all come away with a different story about it. So I wouldn’t worry too much about it!

    • Thanks! That reminds me of when I used to do History at uni and they’d say ‘there are no facts: take three witness accounts of a car accident for the insurance companies and you’ll realise there are only interpretations of the facts’. I worked in insurance too and can vouch for that! 🙂

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