If you’ve been following my anti-plagiarism blog posts, you might be interested to know that Vanessa Gebbie has now blogged about the whole sorry mess in detail, giving names of all the writers, stories and publications involved. It’s a sordid story, but I’m glad it’s all out in the open now. Here’s the link.
To summarise, Vanessa Gebbie shared some very specific story ideas with Douglas Bruton, the writer at the centre of this plagiarism row. He proceeded to use those ideas to write his own story, and to use extracts of her novel in progress (which he beta-read for her) as the basis of his own work. He has since won a couple of prizes with those particular stories, which has left an understandably sour taste in Gebbie’s mouth (in the comments to this blog post of mine, Gebbie and Bruton discuss some of the details). This might all be seen as a nasty storm in a literary teacup if it was an isolated case: but sadly, it’s not.
Bruton also appears to have used the plot, characters and theme of Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium as the basis for his own story, Waiting in the Scriptorium. He submitted it to Cadenza Magazine’s literary competition (coincidentally co-edited by Vanessa Gebbie), and won a prize. The editors hadn’t read the Auster novel and so didn’t spot the many similarities between the two works: but several of Cadenza’s readers had. They complained, and some cancelled their subscriptions as a direct result. Cadenza has now closed, as it didn’t have enough income to continue.
More recently, Bruton took a prizewinning story by Tania Hershman (who was a member of the same online writing group as he was), rewrote it in his own words using Tania’s unique structure, theme and plot, and submitted it to a competition where it won first prize. Bruton’s story, Mondays Smell Of Burnt Toast, has since been taken down and so is not now available for anyone to read (unless someone is clever with the Wayback Machine, which I am not).
This wasn’t a case of Bruton using someone else’s work to inspire: neither Auster’s novel nor Hershman’s story was used as a starting point for a story which covered new ground. They were simply rewritten by Bruton, scene by scene, which looks suspiciously like plagiarism to me but Douglas Bruton remains convinced that he has done nothing wrong. In his most recent email to me he wrote,
Please be assured that I stand by my conviction that I have not done anything more than many of the writers in this debate have done… I truly believe that Art/art moves forward by building on what has gone before or through the ‘sharing’ of ideas.