I haven’t been around much this week. There are so many things I’d meant to post about, from this week’s Find That Book (ghost stories!) to a give away for ARCs of Two Wars and a Wedding on Goodreads. But I haven’t done any of that because instead I found myself plunged into a deeply unsettling brush with plagiarism which has consumed my time and energy for the past few days.
There is something particularly special about your first book— which may be why I was so gutted to learn that someone is passing off a bowdlerized version of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation as her own work, under a different title, and with most (but not all) of the names changed.
It wasn’t just that this author used my plot (which she did), or that she used my characters (which she did– including a certain parasol-wielding chaperone turned novelist). I’ve always firmly believed that it isn’t the story that matters so much as the manner of telling it. There are, after all, only so many stories in the world, and one can tell them a thousand different ways. That’s where the sting comes in: this author not only used my story, she used my words. Not the odd fragment of a phrase here and there. Whole paragraphs. Whole chapters. She used my words and called them her own.
There is something very unsettling about looking at a page in someone else’s book and seeing lines you can vividly remember writing in your tiny room in a shared grad student apartment in Cambridge back in 2001– lines you labored over and chortled over, lines that made it through multiple rounds of cuts and edits, lines that were published in a shiny new hardcover in January of 2005 that you paged through and wondered over and marveled that your words– YOUR words– were in this actual physical book that would go into bookstores and people might even read.
Or, someday, plagiarize.
This is what plagiarism looks like. On the left, you can see the page from the 2005 hardcover edition of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. On the right, you can see the infringing work.
It’s not ambiguous. It’s not subtle. It’s a word for word copy– with the names changed. It is a textbook definition of plagiarism.
If you want more examples, I can give you roughly three hundred pages of them.
I want to thank the amazing member of this community who read an ARC of the book in question and went running for her old copy of Pink to compare passages and then sent it all to me. I’m so grateful.
Appropriately enough, the bit she first sent me was the line about the Marchioness of Uppington’s famed harrumph. I do feel that Lady Uppington would be harrumphing very pointedly at this sort of behaviour.
I won’t deny that I’m deeply upset and unsettled and all sorts of other unhappy words right now— but along with it is an overwhelming gratitude for the seventeen years and twelve Pink Carnation books that have occurred since I first held that shiny new hardcover, for the community we’ve built here, for the “design Miss Gwen a coat of arms” contests, and the Pinkoramae, and the Read Alongs, and so much more.
An unscrupulous person can steal the words of that first Pink book— or even the words of the second and third Pink books (apparently this is the first in a series, so one does wonder if the second will involve floppy locks of hair and ginger biscuits)— but no one can steal the fun we’ve had here together or the memories we’ve shared. And for that— for YOU— I am more grateful than I can say.
And if you happen upon a book that sounds suspiciously like Pink Carnation… it just might be.
In the meantime, the appropriate channels are being pursued and I’m trying to take a deep breath, pick up the pieces, return to the books I’m meant to be writing and the posts I’m meant to be posting, and spend some time with my poor children, who have been given short shrift these past few days while I’ve been distracted and distressed.
So many thanks to everyone who has reached out with support and sympathy. It means the world to me.
Hopefully, this will be the last I say about this– and my last brush with plagiarism!
Stay tuned for a new Find That Book and a post about Goodreads give aways coming up shortly….