56905_Cover  I was asked this question by a student at a school visit this week, and my answer was to warn her about the dangers of plagiarism.  But I realise now that there’s a whole lot more I could have said on this topic, and I hope this blog will be of benefit to students struggling with school assignments, and also to other authors who may use this as a reference point.  There is no copyright on ideas – although you steal other people’s ideas at the risk of damaging your own reputation. But you cannot lift text from other people’s books – unless you signal this clearly,thyme-for-trust-lge and give a reference.  But what about using someone else’s idea as a jumping-off point for your own (quite different) story?  I’ve long been a fan of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Chronicles: a medieval monk/herbalist who solves crimes, set in the 1130s-40s during the turbulent civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.  I freely admit that these books were the inspiration behind my own series, The Janna Mysteries.  I’d done some research on the Empress while writing the last novel in my Shalott trilogy: Shalott, the Final Journey. My heart went out to the Empress; from then on I was firmly on her side, and I thought what a great background for a series that treacherous civil war would make.  I enjoy writing crime short stories for adults (and have had quite a lot of success in competitions) so having a character who solves crimes and mysteries was very appealing. I didn’t want to write about the royal court per se. I wanted the series also to be about a teenager’s journey to adulthood, taking her from the fringes of society right into the heart of the royal court itself – and with the capacity, perhaps, to interact and perhaps even influence some of the events that happened so long ago.  I needed to give my outsider some sort of talent that would transgress the very real social boundaries of those times, so I gave her the gift and the knowledge of healing.  So there are some similarities to the Brother Cadfael Chronicles, but Janna’s journey is all her own.  Most recently, at a workshop for the Society of Women Writers, I asked participants to work with a passage from Tolstoy’s War & Peace: a deathbed scene with all the relatives gathered around, some of them hoping to inherit. From that has sprung a new story, set in contemporary time, concerning a group gathered around a rich woman’s bedside.  She is dying – and every one of them thinks (s)he is the sole inheritor.  Plagiarism?  Or a jumping off point into something else?  You decide!

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