Steal your idols
This week I was listening to one of the eleventy billion writing podcasts that I subscribe to in the vain hope that they’ll somehow magic me into becoming a better writer, and they were discussing taking inspiration from existing works. Before you cry plagiarism, we’re talking about the kind of inspiration that sees Magnificent Seven taking Seven Samurai and giving it a John Wayne accent, or The Matrix following the exact narrative structure of Star Wars (which in turn took it from somewhere else).
The podcast moved into talking a bit about writing a plot only to discover it’d been done before, or being accused of being too close to an existing and well-loved story, and it brought back to mind something that happened to me very early in my writing career (lol, career).
Like a lot of writers, I considered myself a writer long before I had any tangible evidence that I was one. All through my teens I knew it was what I wanted to be, but aside from the odd short story, abandoned script idea and use of the label as a line on girls (boy, how that failed) there was little to actually suggest that was what I was going to be.
It wasn’t until I got to university that I had my first proper crack at writing a full-length story. You know, because clearly that was going to be more fun than actually paying attention to my degree. So I sat down, and started writing my first novel, Adam.
I was (and still am) a big fan of Vampire mythology, and this came slap bang in the middle of The Great Vampire Renaissance of the late 90’s. Buffy was the best damn thing on the telly, Anne Rice was the biggest thing in books, and From Dusk til Dawn had just come out and the cinema and everyone was cooing over George Clooney’s tattoo. Vampires were COOL, damn it, and it was still going to be a good decade before sparkly vampires would turn up to make them uncool. I’d been a huge fan of the genre since I’d read Salem’s Lot, and so naturally, I started to work on my own contribution to the genre.
I had a damn good idea, I was pretty sure. Speaking frankly, I was bloody pleased with myself. I sat down and wrote the first 25,000 words or so (not in one go, obviously) and couldn’t have been any happier with it. I’m sure if I looked at it again I would now be sick into my own hands at just how bad the writing was, but back then I was pleased as punch.
The book opened in a hospital, with a woman giving birth, a painful and awful birth. Something was very wrong though. She had bite marks to the neck, and she died during the birth, only to come back to life. Her baby, half vampire, half human, was taken away, and raised by a shadowy figure, who trained it to be a killer of the things that had taken its mothers life…
Yeah, I was pretty pleased. Right until I nestled into the filthy seat of the Flea Pit Cinema in Sunderland, and watched the opening credits of the newest cool vampire film on the block, Blade.
I was crushed. For those of you who haven’t seen the film (what the actual fuck is wrong with you? Go watch it!), it opens in a hospital, with a woman giving birth. A painful and awful birth. Something is very wrong, she has bite marks to the neck, and she dies during the birth. Her baby, half vampire, half human, is taken away, and raised by a shadowy figure, who trains it to be a killer of the things that had taken its mothers life…
Sound familiar? I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’d never read the comic of Blade (still haven’t, so this was like a stake to my heart. Add the things that Blade had that my story didn’t, like Wesley Snipes being a bad ass, martial arts that would make your head spin, and you can imagine how I felt.
I binned the novel, and didn’t look at it again. It would be nearly half a decade before I would start a new one, which would go on to become the book you’ll all be buying in January, Blood on the Motorway. You will be buying it, right?
Anyway, it was funny to think about that, so long after, long enough that the pain was mostly faded. And it made me wonder. I’d love to write a vampire story, still. No matter what Twilight did to the genre, there’s still a million cool stories out there to be told.
I watched Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter this week, too. While it’s no classic, it was good fun, (more entertaining than the Spielberg version anyway) and on the back of my earlier thoughts I found myself wondering.
What if I could find that old first draft, hidden away somewhere in a digital dungeon? Blade was an awfully long time ago, right? I could revisit the story, change it sufficiently, and pay good odds that Blade would be far enough back in people’s consciousness that I could pull it off.
The next morning I opened my Facebook, as I tend to do before I even take my first breath, because I’m an addict. Three of my friends, all talking about the same story.
Fuck you Wesley….