Collaborate with the dead

This list (pictured) is by Alasdair Gray. In my novel, I have used all three of Gray’s forms of plagiarism. Mostly, I have stolen ideas from Shakespeare.

One whole chapter is based on a scene out of Henry IV Part One, with added spot of spooky atmos from RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

An incident of thoughtless cruelty that I particularly liked, in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, now appears with very little change in a conversation between Queen Anne and her supposed friend Lady Abigail Masham.

And a description of the movements of party-goers at Anne’s court was lifted almost word for word from The Great Gatsby.

I am confident that there are many other examples. I wish that I had been as thorough as Alasdair Gray in keeping track of the things that I like and have been influenced by – and the use I put them to.

At journalism school we were trained never to use plagiarism – with the result that many journalists waste hours every week putting into slightly different words a thought that somebody else already put better.

I realise that there are downsides to plagiarism – for instance, when it puts somebody else’s livelihood at risk. I have no problem stealing from Shakespeare, Stevenson, Conrad and Fitzgerald, because a) they are dead and b) their reputation is secure. As for Shakespeare, he was the most terrific thief anyway. You might think that “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” was his but it was someone else’s first.

(I’m pleased to report that the last sentence in the previous paragraph, on Shakespeare’s thefts, was itself stolen from Lord Byron.)