Fair suck of the sav (or the revenge of the poo dinosaur)
On Twitter the other day, Angela from Literary Minded pinged me for wrongly attributing her quip about this year’s male-dominated Miles Franklin shortlist being a sausagefest to Kerryn Goldsworthy.
Angela was joking, but I know where she’s coming from. Every writer’s got stories about having ideas pinched or misattributed. And though it happens less often than a lot of people think, it does happen. I keenly remember pitching a story to a TV show and being told it wasn’t for them, only to see the same story turn up a few eps later in the season, virtually unchanged.
For the most part though, I try not to get too hung up about these things. But a few years ago I had the very disconcerting experience of sitting down to read a new book of essays by a highly celebrated Australian writer, only to come across two pages that had been transcribed pretty much verbatim from a conversation I’d had with them at Adelaide Writers’ Week a year or 18 months previously.
It’s difficult to know what to do in this sort of situation, since squealing just makes you look over-sensitive, so I just copped it. But it meant that when my friend Delia Falconer called me a couple of weeks later to ask whether I wanted to be acknowledged as the source for a section in her novel, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers, I told her I did. Definitely. No questions asked.
The catch was that the section in question was based on a story from my brother’s time working as a bouncer in an Adelaide pub. One night, at closing time, he went to check the toilets, and there on the cistern was a sleekly glistening brown dinosaur crafted from human shit. Disgusting, yes, but what was worse was the care its creator had lavished upon it, inserting little sticks for arms and match-heads for eyes. That and the fact that the tap in the toilet was broken, so whoever had made it had gone back out into the pub without washing their hands.
Of course in Delia’s hands the story gained a literary patina the original lacked, but all the same I was pleased when my copy of the novel arrived to see my name in black and white in the acknowledgements page. This time at least I’d kept control over my material.
Or so I thought. A couple of weeks later I went to the launch of the book, and quickly became aware people were looking at me strangely. At first I thought I was being paranoid, but then, during the speeches I realised what was going on. Having read the story and the acknowledgements people had put two and two together and decided it was me personally who’d made the dinosaur. Appalled at the notion I might have become known as some sort of demented coprophiliac, crafting little animals out of poo in between writing books, I told people they were wrong, it was a story my brother had told me, to which they smiled patronisingly, and said, ‘Oh right, whatever you say’.
But worse was to come. A few months later, when the book came out in the US, Delia did an interview about it which mentioned the story, and namechecked me as the source. which meant that for a long time afterwards if you googled my name and “poo dinosaur” you pulled up multiple hits (all gone now, I note with relief).
Oh yes, me and Auguste Rodin, artists of the living clay.