On my way out from the writers’ group meeting last week I picked up a book in the library. It was by Alan Judd. I remembered reading his book ‘Breed of Heroes’ back in the late 80s. It was later turned into a BBC film and I was impressed by both the book and the screen adaptation. To my shame I hadn’t read any more. Indeed I hadn’t been aware of him writing any more books until I saw the paperback in the library. The late 80s and 90s had been a particularly hectic period in my life, both personal and career. At least that is my excuse.
So I looked forward to catching up with the career of the main protagonist from ‘Breed of Heroes’ as he left the Army and entered the world of intelligence. My joy at rediscovering a quality story teller rapidly drained away. It was not that Judd has lost his ability to weave an engaging and intricate plot or that his characters have lost any depth, the reverse if anything. My problem was that the plot became remarkably familiar the further into the book I delved. Judd has not borrowed anything. The problem is that basic conceit, a son discovering something nasty in the woodshed about his father’s past that ties all too uncomfortably with the son’s present intelligence work, is one I have been toying with off and on for some time.
I had the idea some years back after my own father’s death, but I only began to put something down on paper about ten years later when the grief had subsided sufficiently for me to address the issue. About a year ago, after going through my notes, I began to try and turn the idea into a novel. I haven’t got that far, other distractions have made it a continuing project in the margins of more immediate tasks, but far enough to know pretty much where it is going and what it is exploring and roughly what end it is moving towards.
And now this. I could, and probably still will, write it, but I know I will be looking over my shoulder trying to consciously avoid what Judd has done. This shouldn’t be too difficult in reality. There is not a direct overlap. It only that basic concept that is shared. The details and subplots and indeed outcomes are very different but I do have ethical concerns. If I had read Judd’s book before I had my idea I wouldn’t have touched my idea for fear of being thought lazy and taking another’s idea. And yet there are only so many plots about, especially in what is I suppose a genre piece. So do I continue? I think so, but despite my enjoyment of Judd’s writing I wish I had finished my own story before I rediscovered Judd’s excellent work.
To make thing’s worse (for me – not for him!) I have just realised his book has been adapted for television as part of BBC Two’s current Cold War series. Congratulations, but curses!