Thursday, 27 February 2014

The same but different enough?

When I started writing fiction my biggest worry (apart from never producing anything good enough to be published) was that I might accidentally copy another writer. I’d been an avid reader for years so, when the germ of a story popped into my head, how could I be sure it was my own original idea and not a memory of something I’d once seen in a book or magazine?

I lost count of the number of stories I abandoned after a few pages because they seemed too familiar.

     My love story had been written before – by Shakespeare!
     That clever murder mystery had been solved years earlier by Agatha Christie.
     And the autobiography of a horse? It was just an updated version of Black Beauty!

Even after I’d had a few things published I still had nightmares about being sued for plagiarism.

Then I came up with a solution. If I based at least a part of a story on something I had experienced or witnessed in the real world that would surely make it my story. Other people might have written about similar situations, but the unique details in my story would prove I hadn’t copied them.

And that was how The Dancer came to be written.

I remembered sitting in a packed village hall watching a show put on by the local dancing school. The audience was made up of friends and relatives of the performers and every turn was greeted with loud applause.

A group of young ballerinas took to the stage. They wore identical costumes and danced in perfect unison, but one girl was obviously different. She was short and dumpy, with rolls of fat clearly visible beneath the tight dance costume.

Someone behind me whispered, ‘Poor kid! You’d think her mother would do something about her, wouldn’t you?’

Part of me agreed. It wasn’t healthy for a child to be so overweight. But I was also annoyed that the whisperer hadn’t kept her opinion to herself. The thing I’d noticed most about the girl was the expression of pure joy on her face as she danced around the stage. She was clearly loving every moment and neither knew nor cared what she looked like.

But suppose she had heard the remark from the audience? How would she have felt? Would it have changed the course of her life?

That was where my imagination took over from the true story and the result – I was certain – was a completely new story.

The Dancer was accepted by Best magazine. When it was published a few months later I was able to read it with fresh eyes – and what I saw made me groan. Why hadn’t I recognised that I’d written a slightly different version of a very well-known fairytale? There was a moment of panic until I realised that the editor had thought my story original enough for her magazine. And who was I too argue?

And I’m very pleased to say it has now been published again as an ebook by Alfie Dog Fiction. Keeping my fingers crossed that nobody who reads it will want to sue me!

Do you think it is possible to tell a story that has never been told before?

(I wonder where Hans Christian Andersen got his idea from?)

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Valentine Story

“What’s the date?”

“Um, thirteenth.”

“No! Really?”

That was almost half the month gone and I hadn’t ticked off any of my February writing goals. I needed to get cracking and … Hold on. The thirteenth of February? That meant it was St. Valentine’s Day the next day and I hadn’t got Him anything.

Oh, well, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t mind. The last time we were in town we couldn’t help noticing that almost every shop was decorated in pink and red. Everywhere we looked it was ‘Buy this for Valentine’s’ and ‘Buy that for Valentine’s’. We both had a good old moan about how the whole thing was too commercialised, and how all this romance nonsense had nothing to do with real life – or real love.

But I’d always given him a card (usually a jokey one) and he had never forgotten …

“Just going to post this,” I said, waving an envelope at him as I scooted out of the house. As soon as I was out of sight, I stuffed the empty envelope into my pocket and hurried to the village shop. The one, small card rack was still filled with half-price boxes of Christmas cards.

“Don’t suppose you’ve got any Valentine cards?” I asked.

“Only these.” The shop owner pointed to a box on the counter. It contained a dozen cards all with the same design, a rather tired looking bunch of red roses. “The missus and me don’t bother with stuff like that any more,” he confided. “Well, you don’t when you get to our age, do you?”

I put on what I hoped was my enigmatic smile, selected the card that looked the least shopsoiled and paid for it without saying another word.

When I got home, I was surprised to find Him pulling on his coat. “Thought I’d go for a walk. My knee’s stiff again. A bit of exercise usually sorts it out.”

“Don’t go too far,” I said. “Looks like it’s going to rain soon.”

“No, just round the block.”

I watched Him limping up the drive. He was right about the exercise doing him good. As soon as he turned onto the road he was able to break into a jog!

The next morning, there were two red envelopes on the kitchen table. We both pretended to be surprised as we opened them.


“Well, it’s the thought that counts,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

We put the two cards on the windowsill in the front room to show the world we hadn’t forgotten.


Did you remember? Did Someone Else forget? 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014


All my fictional stories are inspired by real people; usually real people I don’t know. Even when a story draws mostly on my own memories and experiences, the initial idea begins with a glimpse of a stranger or an overheard snatch of conversation that jogs my creative cells into thinking Who? What? When? Where? Why?

For example, Tree Hugger began when I saw two little boys having great fun climbing a tree. And Lifters might never have seen the light of day if I hadn’t noticed someone behaving rather suspiciously in a shop ….

I’d like to be able to thank all those anonymous people who have inspired me, but I’ve no way of knowing who they are and will probably never get to meet them. But I’ve just realised that as well as gratefully receiving inspiration I might sometimes be able to pass a little on to someone else.    

I was pleased to share what I thought was a very ordinary and uninspiring photo with Alice Algood. Just look what she did with it on her clever blog, A Word of Substance.

Who inspires you? And do you inspire other people?