inspiration sff reading writing fiction Our Child of the Stars influences

Copying and Influences

By Stephen (Peter) Cox
Apr 10, 2020 · 496 words · 2 minutes

Child of stars biblio

Art by Leo Nickolls.  

From the author: I discuss influences and how people may see your book as derivative of something you haven't read.

A writer friend online has just had someone say her book is heavily based on one she hasn’t read. The critic steers clear of claiming outright plagiarism… but it’s not a nice thing to have people say.

There’s an annoying idea circulating that all stories are variants on a single myth. It’s one of those ideas which I don’t think is true, and if it was, would only be true in such a broad way as to be useless.

But stories do resemble each other.  A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter are both ‘orphan boy goes to wizard school’.   They are remarkably different though. The first a world spun from new cloth that feels ancient and real, versus second, a hidden world within our own. The very nature of what victory means in each story is different.

The resemblances between my book Our Child of the Stars and ET have been occasionally mentioned. ET is comfortably in most lists of the great films of the 20th Century. It was an influence, I’d be a fool to deny the similarities, but influence was not conscious in the early drafts. For example, Meteor Day and a lone orphan makes me think of Superman, specifically the opening of Smallville.  But Superman, the adopted child with strange powers, is Hercules, and Moses, and countless other characters from myth and legend.

The central difference is that ET is a wonderful film about childhood, told from the child’s viewpoint.  Our Child of the Stars is about being a parent, what that means and costs and gives, what you can be called to do. It’s told primarily from the mother’s viewpoint. More broadly it talks about love across generations, true friends, loyalty…  While ET changes Elliot, Cory changes the world.  For me the differences are more interesting than the similarities.

Influences include Ray Bradbury, Ursula Le Guin, the music of the Sixties, Dr Who, and countless tales of things found in fields or falling from the sky laid down as compost. Oddly the book I was concious of channelling at various points - in terms of family and the threat - was Stephen King's lesser work, Firestarter.  But that's a similarity noone but me sees.

There are bits in Our Child of the Stars I consciously picked, changed, and stitched into my quilt.  But different creators are often drawing on the same roots.

Our Child of the Stars was essentially written before Stranger Things, Midnight Special or The Shape of Water came out. Three very different films that have been mentioned in reviews.


Carol Longman in my book existed named Carol before the film Carol came out or I heard about the original novel.  They are both blonde lesbians from well off backgrounds.  (But very different people in quite different situations.) 

Having written a book and had feedback on it, I am now less likely to assume a similarity is a straightforward borrowing.

Stephen (Peter) Cox

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