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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Author Envy

Ever read a really great book and wish you'd written it?

Actually, this happens to me quite a lot, and is probably a large part of what inspired me to want to write myself, after reading incredible authors such as Jodi Picoult (my literary idol) to Caroline B Cooney, Jacqueline Wilson, Sharon Creech.

Conversely, have you ever had a really great idea for a book, only to discover that someone else got there first? As the saying goes, there are only 5 possible plots in existence after all...

Both of these occurred to me most recently whilst reading Tamsyn Murray's "My So-Called Afterlife".

I first discovered the book after a fairly dismal meeting with a prospective agent who'd basically told me she liked my writing but what was selling these days was paranormal fiction.

My heart sank - all due respect to Stephanie Meyer and all the other supernatural writers out there but I just could not see myself writing a vampire book - nor could I see a way to incorporate vampires or zombies into Someone Else's Footprints! So I went to Leicester Square McDonalds and started brainstorming over a McChicken sandwich, watching people as they passed by (people-watching is one of my favourite hobbies in London).

Then inspiration struck - so many teen girls feel invisible - what if I wrote about one who actually was - because she was a ghost! Teen angst + supernatural! Hurray! Problem solved! And what if one day suddenly a guy did see her...?

I spent the next few hours furiously plotting - only to get home, go on Amazon and discover "My So-Called Afterlife", a book with an incredible title - and a rather similar synopsis...

"I knew it was time to move on when a tramp peed on my Uggs..."
Meet Lucy Shaw. She's not your average fifteen year old - for a start, she's dead. And as if being a ghost wasn't bad enough, she's also trapped haunting the men's toilets on Carnaby Street. So when a lighting engineer called Jeremy walks in and she realises he can see and hear her, she isn't about to let him walk out of her afterlife."

To say I was gutted is an understatement. But I was also extremely intrigued and was eager to read MSCA when it came out. Now I finally have I must say this:

I am SO glad Tamsyn got there first.

My So-Called Afterlife made me laugh, made me cry, and the plot races along like a wonderful rollercoaster, part-mystery, part-romance, part-comedy as it covers all aspects of being dead, from the difficulties of kissing when you have no lips and the agony of missing your favourite soaps and being stuck in stinky toilets, to heavier subjects such as bullying, grief, and murder, all dealt with truthfully and with Lucy's (and Tamsyn's) characteristic warmth and flair.

We may have started with the same seed of an idea, but Tamsyn's creation is an entirely different creature to what mine would have become - and all the better for it! It's MUCH funnier, faster, and probably a fraction of the size mine would've ended up, given the 140,000 words that poured into the first draft of my novel!

What it comes down to I couldn't have written this book, and I'm really glad Tamsyn did.

What books do you wish you'd written, and why?

And have you ever come up with a great idea only to find someone else wrote it first (if not better...?)


RK Charron said...

Hi Katie :)
Thanks for the great post.
Yep- I've had author envy but it quickly turns to author admiration.
Have you ever had author-inspiration? Where you read a book so badly written you KNOW you write better than that & IT was published?
All the best,

Nick Cross said...

I have terrible idea angst and I think it's a lot worse with books as they take so long to write and publish! High concepts are the worst actually, because by their very nature they are easy to describe and also (it feels to me) easier for someone else to come up with independently.

But as you say, yours would have been a very different book, so I think there would have been room in the market for both your and Tamsyn's take on the subject.

Book Maven said...

I loved My So-called Afterlife too! And I have given up John Grisham - used to read them all but in the last one I read - can't remember the title - the villain won after 500 pages!

Nick Cross said...

I am terrible for reading things and thinking I could write something better! I wish I could turn that critical bit of my brain off, actually, because it can be really hard to get into a book when you're constantly picking holes. On the flipside, it's definitely improving my own writing.

Candy Gourlay said...

>have you had experiences where you've read a published book so awful it's inspired you to write better?

one good thing to do is read the first novels of really great authors. and then you think, yeah, i can do that. and then you think, so this means i will get better someday?

you really made me want to read tamsyn's book. adding it to my to read pile. argh. it's a tall pile. health and safety will not approve.

Matt Buckingham said...

Hi Katie

Many thanks for you're comment, and so sorry for not replying sooner but amazingly I have only just seen it on my blog, I will now sign up for email notifications!
Its great to be working with you on your fantastic fairy tale book series, its such a lovely job and great fun to do.

Best wishes

Matt x

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