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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Writing – ideas and synchronicity

In my review of Gravity by Tess Gerritsen, I mentioned her lawsuit against Warners.

That has now been dropped. The situation pertaining to that is of some interest, regardless of the outcome.

Many new writers worry about copyright infringement, fearing that unscrupulous literary agents and editors will steal their book and republish it under their name. Plagiarism does exist, though it is rare and not worth losing sleep over. As soon as you commit your words to paper, those words are your copyright. They are protected by law. However, should your words be stolen, then you have to prove the theft and could spend considerable sums of money in the attempt. The greater concern is the concept of ideas. Sadly, ideas are not copyright. Over the decades I’ve seen some of my ideas appear elsewhere after I’d committed them to paper, but I must be philosophical about this.

It could be something to do with Jung’s collective unconscious, or even the so-called collective consciousness. In essence, ideas (and this includes inventions) often seem to percolate through the ether and lodge in several minds at once – or they’re submerged very much like being entombed in an iceberg and gradually surface as the ice melts, spreading to receptive centres. Coincident with this is the idea of synchronicity. As an aside, Jung suggested that parapsychology and occult religious ideas could contribute understanding of the collective unconscious. These ideas have a certain attraction – particularly when linked to my psychic spy Tana Standish (The Prague Papers and The Tehran Text). Based on Jung’s interpretation of synchronicity and extra-sensory perception, he argued that psychic activity transcended the brain. This is all moot.
I tend to believe that synchronicity has been at work regarding some of my past efforts.

In the early 1970s I conceived and roughly plotted a sci-fi book set underground after some apocalypse (doubtless inspired by Daniel F Galouye’s Dark Universe). The characters communicated by telepathy, they’d been there so long. At the time I was interested in the plight of whales, too – having read Farley Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing (1972) among other books and tracts. I thought of linking the underground people telepathically to whales (it’s explained in the notes…) Some years later, along came that most endearing movie, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home which neatly combined whales and sci-fi. The ideas I had then are still in a file; they may resurface one day.

Also in the mid-1970s I decided to write a vampire book. I’d found it difficult (!) to square the mass of a human being converting into the mass of a single vampire bat (which seemed to be the norm up to this point). It wasn’t scientific – well, no, it was fantasy.  Anyway, I developed my vampire from the past of Malta and he would transform into forty-six bats, each with his mind and sight, slightly splintered. True, even that number of bats would not equate to the mass of a man, but I felt it was marginally more believable! It began life as a short story but had no success so then harboured dust until I got around to writing the novel it was meant to be. In the meantime, along came Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s comic, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999) [subsequently filmed in 2003] and the vampire splits up into many bats… I finally found a publisher for my vampire tale, Death is Another Life (2012); though it picked up good reviews, it’s now out-of-print.
In the early 1990s, I wanted to enter a crime story competition and did a bit of research to find out what, if anything, hadn’t been done before. I settled on a nun who used to be a cop and set it in the US (since I thought at the time that there was likely to be much gun-play and there are plenty of guns floating around there, unlike UK). She would run a hostel for the homeless in Charleston (a place I’d visited); she had been a cop in New York. I sent off the short story, but it failed to win. Yet I found that the concept and characters cried out for a novel (this happens quite often, I find!)  So I wrote the novel and sent it out and got very very close to an acceptance on three separate occasions.

Imagine my surprise when I found Alison Joseph’s Sacred Hearts (1994) on a bookstore shelf – ‘a Sister Agnes mystery’. Coincidentally, her agent was one of those I’d approached with my nun manuscript. The only vague similarity was that Sister Agnes ran a hostel for runaway teenagers. Her series ran to nine novels, the last being published in 2008. My nun book won a prize in the Harry Bowling competition in 2006 and in 2007 it was published as Pain Wears No Mask (now set in Newcastle upon Tyne and London; it had featured Sister Hannah but now featured Sister Rose; it picked up rave reviews!); it’s presently out of print.

So, there you have it, synchronicity at work. There are other instances where ideas have lodged in my head and then been given life elsewhere, going as far back as the 1960s. That’s the nature of synchronicity – it happens all the time; that ether’s all around us!

The moral of all this? Don’t get anxious about your work being stolen. It probably won’t ever happen. I’m sure that, like me, most writers have more than enough of their own ideas to work with to bother filching them from newcomers. But bear in mind, ideas are floating out there, and they could be part of a shared consciousness!
If you wish, you can try my in-print books here… (e-books/print)

PS - The Prague Papers is selling as a bargain e-book all this week!


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