When a colleague of my husband passed him a copy of a London Evening Standard’s book review for Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney this week, I experienced a physical wrench to my gut. Here was a book which sounded frighteningly like The Key of All Unknown. I’m reproducing the review and my book blurb for comparison
Evening Standard Book Review, 3 April 2017
Thirty-five-year-old Amber wakes up in hospital after an accident. But is she actually awake? She can’t move, speak, open her eyes or remember what happened. Obviously. Hubbie, sis, Mum and Dad all crowd round for chatty bedside visits, believing her to be in a coma, while she can only listen, with that slightly sinking feeling. Gradually the memories begin to drip-feed back. Who’s to say which ones are right? Uh-oh.
Blurb for The Key of All Unknown
Brilliant scientific researcher Tilda Moss wakes up in hospital unable to speak or move and with no recollection of what happened to her. Determined to find answers and prove she is not in a persistent vegetative state, she travels back through her fractured memories looking for clues. Could someone really have tried to kill her? An indulged younger brother, an obsessive flatmate, jealous colleagues and a missing lover. Everyone has a motive. On the edge of death, and questioning the value of her life, Tilda’s only hope is to unlock the key of all unknown.
You might have thought my first reaction would be anger, or a suspicion that my brilliant idea had been plagiarised. But that was not my initial thought. Even though The Key of All Unknown was published in October 2016, and Sometimes I Lie was released in March 2017, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread. What if people thought I had plagiarised Alice Feeney? After all, her books seems to be getting all the attention.
I’ve always been one of those people who feel guilty, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. Psychologists might call it an overactive superego, that slice of the mind that acts as a self-critical conscience and deals with ethical conduct and morality. It develops through childhood as we receive rewards and punishments for our behaviour.
I have very clear memories of sitting cross legged in the school assembly hall while the head teacher berated the pupils on a serious misdemeanour, asking for the culprits to come forward and confess to their crime. An enormous wave of guilt washed over me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, so why was I blushing at the dressing down the Head was giving the school community? And what if a teacher observed my discomfort and wrongly assumed I was to blame?
Primitive emotions well up unbidden. They are as impossible to hold back as the tide. You feel what you feel. The only thing you can do is ensure they don’t control your behaviour. So I rationalised the ghastly sinking feeling at reading the reviews for Sometimes I Lie as just my childhood fear that people will find out I’m not as clever or as good as I should be.
My husband assured me that any examination of the facts would demonstrate I hadn’t plagiarised Alice Feeney’s idea, and she hadn’t copied mine. I began the book in the autumn of 2015 and signed a contract with Instant Apostle in January 2016 after they read the first few chapters and the synopsis. According to her Facebook feed Alice Feeney finished her novel in April 2016 just as I was finishing my first draft. It’s simply a case of two people having a similar idea at the same time. It proves the words of Solomon
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version of the Bible)
Even if either of us had caught wind of the other’s plot, you can’t copyright an idea. Give two writers the same concept – or a dozen writers for that matter – and they will all write completely different novels. That’s because the secret ingredient of any book is the author’s voice, which is as unique as a fingerprint.
I immediately bought the kindle version of ‘Sometimes I Lie’. There are some superficial similarities. After all, when imagining a woman in a coma it’s inevitable that descriptions of the sounds, smells and routines of a hospital will be included. But plot and tone are radically different. It’s a good read. And so, I hope, is mine.
I don’t want to be in competition with other writers. There are enough readers for everyone. Only I could have written The Key of All Unknown and only Alice Feeney could have written Sometimes I Lie. It’s only human for me to want my book to do as well as hers. It’s difficult not to see life in terms of an upward climb, keeping one’s eyes on the peak ahead, digging one’s feet into the mountainside in the hope you will reach the summit. But maybe there isn’t a top.
The writing process is all about making oneself vulnerable. You have to move downwards and inwards first, facing up to the darkness in your own soul, the feeling of being an outsider, a loser, an empty vessel, before you can create sometime of value. Writers proffer what they have – tentatively, fearfully, expectantly. They long for feedback and affirmation. They receive criticism and rejection. They always want to write something better, something that will reach into the soul of another human being with a message that can transcend time, geography and even the language they write it in, communicating with strangers through nothing but the medium of a piece of paper or a kindle screen.
A writer’s value isn’t dependent upon their success. The Key of All Unknown has value, irrespective of sales or Amazon rankings, because I created it. It’s an expression of my humanity and my own mortality.
I’ve never viewed my writing career (such that it is) in terms of a race, with many competitors but only one winner. I write reviews of other people’s books and recommend them to friends. I like to celebrate and promote the success of my fellow Instant Apostle authors and see them receive great reviews and increased sales.
Perhaps, after all, I’m OK with the idea that there’s another book about a woman in a coma . . . But sometimes I lie!