Writers among you will almost certainly identify with this, and even the non-writers are likely to understand the sheer, nauseating horror. You pour your heart and soul into a long-ish story. You’re damned pleased with the result. There’s a lot in there, and among the themes and devices, there’s something that’s novel. It might not be a totally original idea, but your spin on it casts the whole notion in a new light, breathing fresh life into it. You’re pretty sure you’re on to something good, and can’t wait to show it around…
And then, before your story sees publication, you read somebody else’s, and they’ve hit on pretty much the same thing as you. What’s worse, they’ve done a pretty good job with it.
The sinking, crushing, nauseating feeling you get when that happens is indescribable, and probably very common. I don’t think it’s restricted to writers at my level of the business either – at least, I like to imagine Stephen King or Neil Gaiman having to go through the same thing every now and again. It makes me feel better, in a perverse way.
It’s actually happened to me once already. Two years before Razorblade Press published my own Cuckoo, they produced a wonderful novel called Hush, by Tim Lebbon and Gavin Williams. While the plot went in a very different direction from Cuckoo, it used a very similar central conceit regarding memory and identity (I won’t say more, in case you haven’t read one or t’other, and plan to). Reading that was, frankly, a horrible feeling, although it was a brilliant novel, well told. In fact, it was even worse for being a brilliant novel, well told. Obviously, Razorblade Press went on to buy Cuckoo anyway, so can’t have felt the book was ‘compromised’ by Hush, but still…
Sometimes, ideas just come of age. I was interested in those themes of identity precisely because I felt they were relevant and engaging at that moment in time. Why would I be the only writer to think this?
It’s just happened to me again, though I won’t tell you what story of mine this affects until much, much later. Right now, I have the gloom (the only way to reasonably react when you realise you are not a one-of-a-kind genius), but eventually I’ll push on and find a market for the story. When it’s published, and nobody clocks the similarity, I’ll relax and remind you about it. We can look back on this entry together, on that distant day, and laugh.
Oh, how we’ll laugh.
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