Friday, October 26, 2012

Nicking Other People’s Stories

Look at that, it's somehow Friday! I've no idea how this week passed so quickly, but today I'm happy to have author Phillipa Ashley on the blog, talking about her latest novel and fan fiction. So without further ado, here's Phillipa!

The World of Fanfic

In November 2004, few people had heard of ‘fanfic.’ Hell, I hadn’t heard of fanfic and I certainly wouldn’t have dreamed of ever writing any. In fact, if you’d told me that within six months I was going to a -write fanfic and b- then write a novel, and that it would be a –published; b - win an RNA award and c - get made into a movie, I’d have thought you were stark raving bonkers.

As the name suggests, fanfic is when a writer takes inspiration from a favourite novel, TV series or film and creates their own stories around the incidents and characters in the original. Back in 2004,I think it’s’ fair to say that fanfic was largely a niche area of fiction writing, considered by some to be at the bottom rung of the literary ladder. Back then fanfic authors struggled to break free of their genre and achieve credibility and to a degree, I can understand why.

In its purest form, fanfic is essentially the plunder of other writers’ work – if not of their actual phrases and words, then of concepts and characters. For that reason, much if it is confined to fan forums, and can’t be published for commercial gain. The writers of the originals – if they are alive – would rightly be outraged to have their work ‘stolen’ in this way.

However, the online world has moved on very rapidly and a growing number of fanfic writers have found new ways to reach a mainstream audience, with their own works

The most famous, of course, is EL James, whose Fifty Shades of Grey novels had their roots in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Not having read the Twilight books and only seen the movies, I can’t really judge how strong the relationships between the two series are. But it seems to me that an obsessive relationship between a young ingénue and a sophisticated dominant male is the core of the story - and that’s a theme that’s common to countless romance novels.

My very first story was inspired by a BBC costume drama called North & South, that was aired in late November 2004 and starred Richard Armitage as another ‘Alpha male John Thornton. I also read the book but I have to say the TV series captured my imagination more.

Having never written any fiction before I felt compelled to write a modern version of the story. Back then, I was unaware that authors did this and I think that until then, there wasn’t any North & South fanfic of any kind, certainly not modern versions.

I posted my story on a Yahoo loop and got some encouraging feedback. Most of all, I realised that I had found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: write romantic fiction. Other writers started posting their own N&S fanfics, both historical and modern and our chapters were devoured by readers desperate for their fix once the series has ended .

But I soon came up against a problem: which I now know was an opportunity.

For me, the desire to create my own characters was too just too powerful to ignore. I hadn’t got very far through my North & South story (imaginatively entitles N&S 2005) when I realised that ‘my’ John Thornton was not the one in the novel or TV series. He and the other characters had taken on lives of their own.

I took my fanfic off the net, feeling constrained by the need to fulfil reader expectations that I could never meet: I also was desperate to try my hand at an original romance. That story was Decent Exposure – which luckily for me, went on to get a book and movie deal.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a little bit of ‘Thornton’ or Mr Richard Armitage in all the heroes I've created. I’ll always thank my lucky stars I saw that programme and met so many inspiring women, both readers and writers, through the fanfic world.

Since then , many of the original N&S fanfic authors have gone on to create and publish their own novels, including Rosy Thornton, Juliet Archer , Hazel Osmond and Elizabeth Hanbury.

So what actually counts as a fanfic these days? The canon is wide and arouses much debate. I know dozens of authors who write Austen spin offs, everything from Mr Darcy Vampire by Amanda Grange to Pride; Prejudice and Zombies. Most recently, we’ve seen new the erotic new retellings of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Does Jean Rhys’s literary classic Wide Sargasso Sea count as a fanfic because it features the young Bertha Mason? Is Anthony Horowitz’s new Sherlock Holmes story, House of Silk a fanfic?

There will always be a vast canon of ‘pure’ fanfic on the web. where writers try to stay as true to their source as possible. But there will also be those break out authors who use that first impetus as inspiration for new material – so I say may fanfic never die, in all its forms.

The debate will rage on but one thing is clear in my mind. Without fanfic, I would never have started writing and kept on writing and my own happy ending is that my sixth novel, Miranda’s Mount was published on October 4th by Piatkus Entice.

I'm curious to know, do any of you write fanfic?

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you Monday!


  1. A very well written and thought provoking post. Thank you. I guess I am writing 'fanfic' at the moment, in that the new Victorian novel is based upon Wilkie Collins/Charles Dickens. But I prefer the term 'hommage' writing -a. coz it's French and b. coz it makes me sound posher!!

  2. I used to write Harry Potter fanfiction! Well, one really long one that did exceptionally well online, and made me brave enough to start attempting to write original fiction. I wouldn't say fanfiction made me want to be a writer, because I've always written, but it did push me to see I can write things people enjoy reading. :D

  3. Glad your fanfic passion turned into your very own novel Phillipa! And soon who knows you'll have your own band of fanfic-tioners! Yay!!

    I still do and always will love the star trek fanfic-tioners that proliferate all things Star Trek. I think the really amazing ones (and there are a whole batch of them!) elevate this most wonderful idea to a different realm altogether!

    Take care

  4. Hiya

    Carol - yes, homage - what a great word, I wonder where homage starts and fanfic ends. Maybe homage is when the author starts out with the intention of creating an orginal new work?

    Kyra - I think Potter fanfic started THE orginal fanfic impetus on the web. I didn't write fiction at all until N&S so I do have to credit the series but there are otherN&S fanficcers who already wrote creatively.

    Old Kitty - funny youshould say that but there is a Decent Exposure fanfic somewhere on the web...

  5. PS Ah Trek fic - predated Potter perhaps?

  6. Fan fiction can be absolutely amazing. I've read the most compelling stories - some novel-length - all of which could never be traditionally published. In a way it's a sort of swamp - you have to wade through a lot of rubbish to find the shining gems. But the creativity is astounding. Have I written any? Yes, back in the day - and the communities etc that spring around fandoms can be tons of fun. :-)

  7. I've never written it but I have read it. I used to gobble up Stargate novels.

  8. Jayen: "Fan fiction can be absolutely amazing. I've read the most compelling stories - some novel-length - all of which could never be traditionally published."

    Good point -and although Talli hasn't commented yet I reckon she might say that if the author is so compelling a writer, why have't they written their own original story? Or can some writers only get inspired by one subject? I wondered that at one time.

    What do you think, Talli?

    Susan - are they TV spin offs published ?

    1. Hi Phillipa!

      First of all, welcome to the blog and thanks for penning such a great post. I think fanfic is a great way to discover yourself as a writer - I know lots of authors who got their start that way. Perhaps it's safer when you're starting out to go with an already establish storyline?

  9. Book and movie? That's quite an accomplishment.
    Fan fiction is something I've never written. I guess it never occurred to me.

  10. I've never written fanfic but I can see how it could inspire someone to eventually write their own characters and novels.

  11. A brilliant post Phillipa!
    As a writer I hate the term 'fanfic' because it implies 'fluff'. The attitude from some people is that it's an easy thing to take on someone else's characters; all a writer has to do is come up with a plot. I've been writing books inspired by Jane Austen's writing since 2006. When I started publishers in the UK were initially resistant but certainly changed their minds when they saw how popular these books were and how well they sold. Publishers are now commissioning authors like Joanna Trollope to write sequels and it's my hope that this will bring more respectability to those of us at the 'coal face'.
    I would say it's a hugely complex undertaking to write a novel where some of the characters are not your own. If it's done properly you have to know those characters better than the ones you create yourself. You have to be faithful to the language, tone and voice of the original author whilst still being true to yourself.
    In my latest book I stepped away from sequels and chose to have Jane Austen herself as one of my characters in a time travel novel. Writing a book with many more of my own characters felt like a huge freedom.
    I say 'long live fanfic' too, Phillipa, but I wish there was a better word to categorise it - 'hommage' is good but doesn't quite do it for me either.

  12. Sorry - that was Jayne!

    Alex - thanks, writing regular fiction was something that never occured to me !

    Ellie - It was a very unexpected introduction to writing.

  13. Jane Odiwe - Thank you for giving the point of view of an Austen author. I have to say I don't really think of Austen authors' works as fanfic anymore, it's as if the genre is exactly that - a whole new genre on its own and you're right, Austen related fiction is now taken very seriously by publishers. When PD James herself writes one, I think that Austen 'fanfic/homage' has finally arrived. :)

  14. PS I didn't know Joanne Trollope was writing a sequel.. well, well, well.. we'll have Fifty Shades of Aga next.

  15. I've read some amazing fanfiction on Deviant Art. A lot of it is better than some of the books I've read.

  16. Hi Phillipa and Talli
    I knew nothing of fanfic until this year, but I get the impression many writers cut their teeth on it.
    It occurred to me I too have created my own fanfic with a poem I wrote in my early twenties, inspired by the patient in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
    Great blog :-) x

  17. What a fascinating post, Phillipa! I've never written fanfic but I think most romantic novelists are inspired by certain heroes in favourite books.

  18. An interesting topic. I've never written fanfic but I've certainly been inspired by some of my favourite authors.

  19. I wrote a lot of fanfic in the late nineties. A lot. BUT that's when i realized i wanted to be a writer!

  20. I tried writing Fanfic once when I was younger, but it never took off for me. Have a great Friday!

  21. Fun post. A friend who was a lover of XENA and the X-FILES back when they were both on prime time became ill. Her room mate asked if I could write something combining both for her to read in the hospital. Hence Xena and Gabrielle and the wily thief, Autolycus, got abducted by Grey Aliens! Xena, of course, took over the flying saucer and landed it, explaining the origin of Mt. Vesuvius! LOL.

  22. I can see that a *lot* of you have been having fun with fanfic - anything that triggers off creatvity has to be a good thing.

  23. I haven't read 50 Shades or the Twilight books, though I did watch the first Twilight movie. That's why I don't really understand the connection between them either. But I think that fan fiction would be fun to write, even though I don't write it. It's a way for fans to write out their fantasies, so to speak. But it fan fiction starts to become less about the "fan" and more about the actual "author" when the author starts coming up with her own ideas (like Phillippa did) about who the characters are and what else is important to them.

  24. what an illuminating post on fan fic! I dont write fanfic myself, but I wouldn't mind reading one:)

  25. I haven't written any and just discovered it a few years ago. Thanks for sharing your cool journey to success.

  26. Neurotic ... I love your comment on the fic becoming less about the fan and more about the author and talli could be right. For a total beginner or a writer in denial, the established story is a safe haven of inspiration to start with.

  27. A terrific post, Phillipa.

    I have heard of the North and South miniseries from BBC, though I haven't seen it myself.

    As to fanfic, not quite as much writing it as I used to these days. My own writing takes precedence, and what I wrote in the past for a website was parody based.

  28. Wonderful post and congrats on the success of your book! I have never written fanfic, but my daughter loves to write it. She is in middle school and a huge Harry Potter nut. I think the genre is perfect for her to practice writing skills and hone her emerging craft, without having to create complex characters and complicated arcs. I have been meaning to give it a shot, myself. Perhaps you've inspired me to dabble in a little fanfic over the weekend. Thanks!

  29. Intriguing post! I've never written fanfic, but looking back, the first stories I ever 'wrote' were Star Trek stories I created when I couldn't sleep as a kid. None of these ever made it to paper, but I would work out scripts night after night - even blocking out the actors on my imaginary stage. :)

  30. I've never written fan fiction, but it's awesome that so many people are motivated to write that might not have been otherwise. :)

  31. Interesting question! Fanfic seems to be gaining acceptance - the HarperCollins affiliated site for teens, Figment, even has a fanfic category. I wrote a whole slew of stories for a particular TV series, but it was strictly for a small group of fans. They enjoyed the stories, and also offered quite a bit of feedback. There are so many books and series which end and leave fans wanting more, and I think well-written fanfic fills that need. As an author, however, I also can see how it might be upsetting to have one's characters drastically changed/re-drawn, or to have someone else profit from all of the hard work done creating a particular setting, cast, and story line.

  32. Ah! North and South is just wonderful. Thornton is a particular fantasy of mine.

    I write a series on my blog that's based on an epic ancient poem from India. I never thought of it as fanfic but I guess it is!


  33. Hi Talli - what a great guest poster - Phillipa you've opened lots of thought-doors for all of us .. so pleased for you - shows what can be done and achieved .. I've learnt a new word too - fan fic ... cheers and have great weekends - Hilary

  34. I don't write fanfic, but I know writers who do. Nice to meet you.

    Hi, Talli!

  35. Outstanding post, Phillipa!

    We don't write fanfic ourselves, strictly speaking, though we know the odd person who does.

    Emphasis on odd.

  36. I also learned a new word today! Congrats on your success Phillipa, and I'd love to hear more about your movie! Talli, thanks for hosting Phillipa! Julie

  37. Firstly, congratulations on all the amazing achievements, very inspiring!
    Secondly, I've never heard of this term before but then I don't write fiction! I've certainly heard of fanfic books and now it all makes sense.
    Thanks for an interesting post!

  38. What an inspiring post! No, I don't write fan fic. But it is certainly a way to stimulate the creative juices and have fun! I am also new to this term.

  39. I don't write it but I used to read a lot of it back in my high school days.

  40. Hi - thanks for all the comments and discussion and to Talli for hosting me. I'm glad fanfic has gathered a few more 'fans' after this post!

  41. So happy that your own fanfic turned to a novel. I would love to read.

    All the best.

    Hi Talli!

  42. Fan fiction is especially awesome if the author you love is dead. Like Jane Austen. Lucky for Austen-lovers, her half-finished novels were completed. A particularly steamy sequel to Pride & Prejudice is my personal favourite.

    Maybe you could tackle some other of Elizabeth Gaskell's novels?


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