A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be thoroughly alarmed by the late Diana Wynne Jones.
I went to see her at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. In response to the inevitable question about her next book, she said that it would be published in February and was about a child who goes to visit relatives in Ireland only to find that strange things connected with Celtic mythology begin to happen.
"Eeek!" I thought; and at the end of the session I approached her with a question of my own.
"How do I tell my publisher," I asked her, "that my next book, about a child who goes to visit a relative in Ireland only to find that strange events connected with Celtic mythology begin to happen, is going to bomb because Diana Wynne Jones's book about the same thing comes out a month earlier?"
Well, she was absolutely lovely. She told me that this sort of thing was always happening, and that she was sure my book would be completely different from hers. Which, as it turned out, was completely accurate: I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Game, and my Bansi O'Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy was - thankfully! - nothing like it.
summons an ancient deity. The deity accepts as a prayer something which wasn't intended to be a prayer at all, manifests before the boy, and asks for worship and sacrifices. In the story that follows, the gods are shown to be capricious, self-centred and arrogant, with little regard for the rights and feelings of mere mortals.
If you're familiar with my work, you might think I'm describing my first Zeus book, Zeus on the Loose. But many of you may guess that I'm talking about Wishful Thinking by Ali Sparkes - and if you haven't read it, I can thoroughly recommend it. It's very different from Zeus - much more of an adventure and less of a comedy, though it does have some genuinely funny moments - and is clearly aimed at an older readership. It's also beautifully structured, and includes, among other delights, one of the most nail-biting car chases I've read in a long time.
I have to say, I really enjoyed reading something that started with such a similar idea to one of my own stories and took that idea in such a different direction. I've no idea which of us first came up with the idea, and I don't really care; because the important point, I think, is that neither of us could have written the other's book.
Anyone can have an idea - and any two people can unwittingly share an idea - but it's what you do with that idea that counts. So today I feel like celebrating our creative differences - and in particular the fact that thirty writers could independently have the same idea, and end up with thirty entirely different stories.
And I'm sure - as Diana Wynne Jones told me - that this sort of thing really does happen all the time. Can anyone think of any other examples?
John’s website is at www.visitingauthor.com.
His most recent books are:
-> a retelling of Finn MacCool and the Giant’s Causeway for the Oxford Reading Tree
-> Bansi O’Hara and the Edges of Hallowe’en
-> Zeus Sorts It Out