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I've always been an avid reader and have nearly always had a huge 'to be read' (TBR) pile.  My usual rule for which book to read is read the borrowed books first.  Back in the early eighties, when I was on holiday in Crete, I had several novels in my suitcase.  The first one I read was a bestselling book by a hugely successful popular novelist.  This, had been borrowed from the friend who was on holiday with me.  The plot was quite riveting.  The main character was a woman who at age sixteen, was thrown out from her live-in service job in the north of England, pregnant and unmarried after a foolish love affair with the son of her employer.  It was a rags to riches tale, of  how the main character fought back, defeating all the odds, to build a happy and successful life. 

After I read that book, I returned it to my friend.  Then I began reading a book which I'd picked up  while on holiday in the UK about two years earlier.  This book was called 'Katie Mulholland' and had been written by Catherine Cookson.  It had been originally published in the early sixties.  As I read, I noticed something strangely familiar.  The main character in this novel, like in the one I'd read previously, was a northern Englishwoman.  She too had been thrown out of her live-in housemaid's job having been made pregnant by the son of the house.  In this case, the girl had been raped.  In this book, the heroine also fought back and built a successful life, becoming the dowager of a powerful family.  She too found true love and became rich. It seemed to me that the plot of the recent, bestselling novel which I'd just  read, had been copied from an earlier work, the one by Catherine Cookson. True, the writing style was different in each book.  The more recent one was written in a more modern style than the Cookson one. They were two different books but the story was, to my mind identical.

Catherine Cookson was a legendary novelist who died years ago at a great age.  The writer of the more recent novel (which I don't want to name) is still doing well.  But the truth is I've never had much as much regard for her as I've had for Catherine Cookson after that.

A few years ago here in India, a television serial was launched starring a Bollywood actress who had retired from films having recently married.  Apparently the plot of the serial was (although I didn't watch it) about another young servant who loses her job when unmarried and pregnant, who goes on to build a successful and happy life, finding true love and wealth in the process.  Sounds familiar? Imagine my surprise when I read in the newspapers that the author of that successful eighties novel had actually sued the makers of the serial for a large sum of money, on the grounds that they had stolen her idea.  This serial was set in India.  It was in the Hindi language. This was a television serial, not a novel. However, the writer and her spouse were adamant that the idea had originated with her and that if anyone else wanted to use it, they had to pay for it.  I thought that if this writer wants to sue the makers of the television serial, then she had better prepare for a similar suit from Catherine Cookson's estate, as her novel bore more than a passing resemblance to Cookson's 'Katie Mulholland'.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I do know that the case was thrown out of court and the writer got nothing.  She certainly didn't deserve to.  I am quite sure that her plot was inspired by the original Catherine Cookson novel, which she must have read in her youth, even if the actual memory of reading the book had faded.  This could be very true of a voracious reader.

Yes, there is no copyright on ideas.  Recently, the Harlequin Mills and Boon writer Kate Walker brought out a romantic novel inspired by 'Wuthering Heights', the Emily Bronte classic. The book called 'The Return of the Stranger', concentrated on some aspects of the plot and had a happy ending unlike the original classic.  Kate Walker  and her publishers were quite upfront about the fact that the book was inspired by 'Wuthering Heights', which was fine.They were also sincere in their admiration for Bronte's genius and work.  It was nice to see an old classic getting some modern treatment.  I'm sure Emily Bronte would have approved.   

This is the weekly post for my blogging group, the Loose Blogging Consortium.  We post weekly (usually simultaneously) on a given topic and visit each other to see the different takes we have on the same topic.  We are, in alphabetical order, Conrad, Delirious, Rummuser,  Grannymar, Magpie, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit and Will.  If you have time, please visit my friends too.
This topic 'Ideas' was suggested by Will.


  1. Maria--I too have read most of Catherine Cookson's books. Great stories!

    If you go back to Dickens and Defoe you will find this story. It is in fact a classic tale from our Puranas and folk tales.

    It is finally the human interest that carries any story. Yes...I do remember the famous writer and her case.

    Lovely post.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post. It seems justice will prevail in the end.
    I remember reading many Catherine Cookson books in my youth.
    Happy New Year to you and yours.

  3. I do wonder if someone else could make the claim that the idea was their's first! :)

  4. The story has been repeated under many guises down the years, with each author adding their own little twist. It always seems to tug at the female heart strings no matter whether it be on paper or celluloid.

    Did you know that Catherine Cookson (née McMullen) also wrote books under the pseudonyms Catherine Marchant and a name derived from her childhood name, Katie McMullen. Her books were inspired by her deprived youth in North East England - the setting for her novels. She died just days before her 92nd birthday at her home in Newcastle. Tom, her husband died 17 days later. He was 86 years old. Even that has a touch of romance about it!

  5. I'm so glad the case was thrown out.

    Catherine Cookson, what an inspiration that lady was - I particularly loved the Hamilton books which I read a very long time ago and really quite fancy reading again.

    Lovely post x

  6. I couldn't possibly comment.


  7. That was really interesting, especially your point about the author reading the Catherine Cookson novel in her youth and forgetting about it. I always wonder whether my ideas are truly my own. I'd hate to think I was, even subconsciously, stealing someone else's idea. But with all the novels, short stories, plays, TV programmes in the world, there's probably a likelihood that something will get unintentionally repeated.

    Great post!

  8. Thanks for dropping by my blog. Can't recall reading any of Cookson's novels, but I certainly have seen them around.

    There certainly is no copyright on ideas, so it's really hard to look at someone else's writing and and say they stole it, particularly when it isn't exactly plagiarism.

  9. It's hard to protect ideas. Occasionally people talk to me about their fear that someone will steal an idea if ever they let it come to light, offer it for sale or seek advice on it. Sure - it's a risk. But more often it's an excuse not to get round to actually acting on the idea.

    Anyway - my lawyer says I have a watertight case to sue you for nicking the ideas from this blog post from here

    But then, you know what lawyers are like...

  10. Intellectual property right has to be one of the trickiest legal fields around. As more and more technology and communication becomes available, as the ever-shrinking world hits the intellegentsia, how do you determine whether someone stole or created fresh? It is VERY tricky in novels and software and everything between.

  11. @Padmum - OMG the story is even older than I thought. No wonder her ase sank without trace. I'm glad you liked this post.

    @Mimi - Same to you dear. I think justice certainly prevailed this time.

    @Delirious - There really is nothing new under the sun. How many times was the wheel reinvented?

    @Grannymar - thanks for the info about Catherine Cookson. Very interesting. I know another couple, neighbours of mine who died at a great age and passed away within days of each other. Something strangely romantic about it all right.

    @Teresa Ashby - you're so right. She was an inspiration.

    @Ursula - Yikes! What have I done now?

    @Annalisa - I suppose there are no really new plots, just fresh ways of presentation and fresh angles. It's the treatment rather than the idea, I suppose.

    @JL Campbell - Thanks for visiting, I enjoyed my visit to yours too. Like I said to Annalisa above, there are probably no new plots just new treatments of old plots.

    @Blackwatertown - Well, I must read that post, I seem to have missed it unless my memory fails me LOL. Tell your lawyer that I have my alibis ready!

    @Conrad - The whole IPR thing is another area completely. Isn't it?

  12. Now you know why I don't share my ideas. They are not protected by intellectual property rights. So much so that, now I have run out of ideas due to lack of regular generation of them.

  13. @Rummuser - Now dear brother, don't go depriving the world of your genius!

  14. I started reading it, but is a litttle lenghty, so I will continue it.sounds interesting, like a novel....


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