Why Simon Pegg did not rip-off my idea.

Simon_Pegg_01There may well be a million stories in the naked city, but there are only so many plots to go around. That’s why, occasionally when you write something, you find you can trip over a story which has already been written.

Oddly, I’ve been on both ends of this literary coincidence. I have both written a story which resembles a much more famous piece of work produced years later, and I have written something which another author then claims to have come up with first. So here’s how I know it’s possible to come up with the same basic idea as someone else without plagiarising it.

Years ago I wrote a story called The Runner which won a big short story prize in the UK called the Bridport Prize. The Runner was about a divorced man who was separated from his young son. In an effort to win back the affection of his son, who was living with his ex-wife he runs a half marathon against his wife’s new partner who is younger, fitter and altogether more athletic than he is.

51wOdh7ByoL__SY300_A few years later Simon Pegg’s film Run Fatboy Run came out – and it has a very similar plot. Pegg stars in the film and is also credited with co-writing it.

Now Simon Pegg comes from Gloucester where I live – he doesn’t live here of course, he lives in That London, or in Hollywood or on the moon or somewhere. I don’t know.

But I do know that when my story won the Bridport Prize there was a chunk about it in Gloucester’s local paper, The Citizen – including the basic plot outline. And the same day there was a profile of Simon Pegg, local lad made good. So it’s conceivable he could have seen it – his family may have posted it to him at his house on the moon.

So do I think superstar actor, writer and movie mogul Simon Pegg took the idea for Run Fatboy Run from my story The Runner?

No, of course I don’t! That would be the ravings of a madman.

I think what happened is that we both had the same idea – assuming it was his idea anyway and not that of someone else on what, I imagine, was a big team who wrote the movie.

Whoever came up with the idea for Run Fatboy Run went through the same creative process as I did. What would you run for? What would the prize be? The motivation? They arrived at the idea that winning the affection of your estranged son by beating the rival for his affections in a race might be a good plot device.

And it also bears pointing out that, beyond the basic synopsis, the two stories are in no way similar – his is full of broad humour and slapstick, mine is wry and witty and a little sad.

I admit it is irritating that sometimes, if I tell someone the plot of The Runner, they say ‘Oh yeah – like that film Run, Fatboy Run – is that where you got the idea?’ But that’s life, and I can always say ‘no, it was written several years before that movie came out’ after which they give me dubious looks, secretly thinking that I have just ripped-off Simon Pegg’s brilliant concept.

But it’s a coincidence. That’s all there is to it – there’s no such thing as a new idea.

It happens, and that’s why famous writers have to take precautions against it I’m told. If you are JK Rowling and you are going on a book tour of America then you are instructed by your agent not to take any of the pieces of paper members of the public try to pass you as you are signing their books. Because on these slips of paper are people’s story ideas.

And if one of the notes says, for example: “Boy wizard goes through series of coming-of-age adventures, has crush on girl wizard, fights scary magical ghost monster and emerges victorious.” Then later when old JK writes Harry Potter and the Goblet of Hallows, or whatever, the person who wrote that note will come out of the woodwork shrieking ‘she stole my idea’ and hire a lawyer.

644586_10151128774778167_2119918862_nIt even happens to us non-famous authors. When Song of the Sea God was published, the local paper where I am from – The North-West Evening Mail, did a story on me and my book. Page three, since you ask, with a teaser on the front page, picture of me looking ruffled on a windy Walney Island beach, holding up my book. Incongruously also a picture of Thomas the Tank Engine, the only other literary thing ever to be associated with Walney.

Anyway – the story also went on the newspaper’s website where it attracted a grand total of one comment. Here is what that comment said:

“This book, The Song of the Sea God sounds an interesting read. But it must be said it bears similarities to a book I myself wrote, some years ago. At the time I was using the pen-name Ivor Moore, and the book was called A Dawn of the Moomins. This was set in the Barrow Docks.”

I mean, I’m not making this stuff up – this is real – this is what my life is actually like. Apparently Ivor Moore believes I have ripped-off his book ‘Dawn of the Moomins’. For the record I have never heard of Ivor or Dawn of the Moomins – heaven knows if it was 51LHPSsMhlL__SX385_even published. I have heard of the Moomins though – they appeared in a series of children’s books by Swedish author Tove Jansson – they looked like little hippos walking on their hind legs. I think Ivor might have just ripped the name off and used it in his (possibly imaginary) book.

So there we have it – me and Simon, Ivor and I, all making pots from the same clay and, as a result, sometimes making pots which, from certain angles, look similar to each other.

If this stuff happens to me you can imagine it happens to famous writers all the time. So for the record I want to make it very clear – Simon Pegg did not rip-off my idea!

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

21 thoughts on “Why Simon Pegg did not rip-off my idea.”

  1. LOL I know what you mean – I’m constantly thinking Hollywood and the BBC are hacking into my computer somehow and knocking off my stuff and then when I see a movie or a book with basically the same story as mine I slap my forehead and say to myself – why does it take me so long to write a bloody story? That could have been me! LOL

      1. Yes I was just talking to another writer about this but from another angle – I was saying that maybe there is something to this ‘global consciousness’ lark – that we are all tuned into the same media – there seems to be themes for the time and people naturally write about what is going round in this unseen realm as it were – psychologically, unconsciously picking up the same vibes, clues, info whatever you want to call it! 🙂

      2. There’s a lot of truth in that I think. We all act in response to the stame stimulation in the end – our concerns are society’s concerns. Also I think, as writers, we almost try to tap into that and write about what we know is on people’s minds.

  2. What a coincidence! And I think that’s just it, Chris. Sometimes, just sometimes, things and stories are in the air, but get this. I’m busy researching information for a sequel to The Skipper’s Child, my book about a boy whose dad has a commercial Dutch barge and they help a young Russian stowaway. It’s set in 1962. Now I want to write another story about the boy’s sister. While looking for likely background material on Amazon, I came across a trilogy of books by Geoffrey Lewis about a canal boat family during the war years. The first is about the family’s son and a runaway boy ‘off the wall’ that they take in; the second is called ‘A Girl at the Tiller’, and seems to be focused on the sister…He wrote his first book the same year as I wrote The Skipper’s Child. I’m sure neither of us has ever heard of the other, so yes. Pure and simple coincidence. Sorry to ramble on so, but I’m sure this kind of thing happens all the time! Just to be sure, though, I am not going to read these books – not yet anyway 🙂

    1. Yes – in that case you were both writing books set in similar worlds – wheras in this case I guess what happened is that we both started looking for a plot based round the premise of running – and came up with the same one.

  3. This was very interesting, and I’m still suspicious about Simon Pegg and your idea. It is often the case that these well these well thought through successful blokes are much better at marketing and self-promotion than us. Whose to say in the end. Very well written piece if I may say so

    1. Thanks Peter – very kind of you. Regarding the plot idea, I do genuinely believe it could very easily have just occurred to two people separately. Look how quickly someone latched onto my novel and told me they’d thought of that first. I suppose also it’s the detail of the story as it is written which is important. Shakespeare for example, was always rewriting old stories – Hamlet is his rewrite of an older play – though I’m not suggesting that’s what happened in this case!

  4. YU WON THE BRIDPORT!!!!!!! I go in for it regularly. Whoah!!! The ‘you ripped off my idea” is so prevalent in fiction. JKR was variously accused of taking her ideas from Ursula Le Guin (School for Wizards) and several other childrens’ writers.I have no hesitation in pinching stuff from (dead) writers, and freely admit to purloining, pastiching and borrowing stuff in the forward to ”Diamonds& Dust;” on the basis that if I fess up from the start, I am no longer culpable!! We shall see if this dubious technique works!!

    1. Yeah I did win it – was years ago though. I think it’s a difficult area this business of whose idea is it? everyone gets inspired by certain things and it can be things in life as well as other books and stories of other kinds on film etc. As I’ve said, I belive in this case it’s just a coincidence.

  5. Great post. My writing teacher, Leonard Bishop, used to always say that there are very few plot lines out there, but the way YOU tell it will be different from any one else’s. So, Keep Writing!

  6. You clearly have a vision of what would make a good movie 🙂 so I am convinced that a book of yours will make it to the big screen!

    P.S. Since the Moomins are very close to my heart, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning that Tove Jansson was from Finland although she did write all her books in Swedish. This might not be important in the great scheme of things, but for us fellow Finland-Swedes Tove is very precious.

    P.S.2 Just bought Song of the Sea God and looking forward to reading it!

    1. Whoops sorry Rita – thanks for putting me right re Tove Jansson’s nationality! I loved those books as a child – they had a real magic about them.
      I don’t think my book will be made into a movie – but, knowing my luck there will be one out in a few years with a very similar plot which someone else has thought of!
      Thanks very much for getting hold of a copy of Sea God and I do hope it meets with your approval – please do stay in touch and let me know what you think of it I would be fascinated to hear. 🙂

  7. Bit harsh on Simon Pegg. He has a writing credit on the movie, as he was allowed a script polish to correct the dialogue, but did not come up with the story – Michael Ian Black did. It’s all shown on IMDB.

    1. I really hope it isn’t harsh. The point was to demonstrate how the same idea can crop up twice separately. I made it very clear that I don’t think the idea for the film came from my story – in fact I said that would be the ravings of a madman.

  8. I recommend a wonderful book I was given, The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth, he explains everything so well. Shakespeare never worried about taking someone else’s idea and polishing it into pure gold. Some fabulous examples of this are quoted including the lovely description of the moment Antony saw Cleopatra on the barge and fell in love with her. Thomas North had written something similar many years before, but it took Shakespeare’s genious to make the scene come alive. We can’t all be Shakespeare but we can write our story in our own style – even if that story has been told before, and will probably be told again and again. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

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