Hello dear reader of 52 First Dates. I hope you remember me. I may be a little greyer on top now, a little thicker round the middle, a little wiser in the head, although not by much, but I’m still here. It's been quite some time since I posted on this blog, and I apologise for the reason I am doing so now.
First off, can I just say I cannot believe it's been nearly eleven years since I started arguably the strangest, most life-changing project of my life, and to date it has had over 1.1 million hits. That still blows my mind. I’m forty one years old now, forty bloody one! I was a mere slip of a thing back then. I still count this as one of the best things I’ve ever done so while you’re here, I wanted to thank you, yes you, for being with me, for bearing with me, on this wild ride, showing me your endless support, and also helping me get to the bottom of serial Catfish "Sebastian Pritchard-Jones".
My reason for this post, however, is to clear something up, since so many of you in recent weeks have yet again been insanely supportive about a matter that reared its ugly head, but one I do need to flesh out because it’s far more nuanced than the limited character count of Twitter will allow. Please note though, as angry as this may make you on my behalf, this is not a call to arms for a virtual pile on. That’s not kind and I know we are all better than that. Thank you. Here goes.
A few weeks ago, some of you have brought to my attention this forthcoming novel with a very familiar looking tagline.
The sight of “52 Weeks. 52 Dates. 52 Chances to find love” on the front cover made my blood run colder than a Wim Hof popsicle. So, I did what anyone wanting to make a noise and be heard would do, I took to Twitter. The waves of support came crashing in.
Now you could argue that my blog being on the internet makes the concept open to copying by anyone, and I agree with you.
When my friend Geoff and I started this dating challenge together in June 2011, the internet was a smaller place, but we actively searched online first to make sure we were not running the risk of ripping someone else off. We were paranoid about being called copycats. We couldn't find anything. Still, if you look now, you would be hard pressed to find anything about going on 52 dates in 52 weeks that predates 2011, although if you have, I’d love to hear about it as you must be diving way deeper than we ever managed. For those of you wondering how Geoff got on, he actually married his Mr #10, so at least there was ONE happy ending.
Since then, there have been many other blogs who have adopted the same dating challenge:
Six months after I started 52 First Dates, Michelle from Chicago did it.
In 2014, an anonymous media executive from Atlanta did, actually paraphrasing the very rules from my blog.
There’s even an autobiographical book, “52 Weeks, 52 Dates” by Anahata Meta, self-published in 2017 which details the author’s quest to find love by going on a date a week. Did I shout out about that? No I didn’t. Because that’s not the point.
I tweeted the author and the publisher and was politely ignored, although incidentally the author was quick to respond to a mutual friend on Instagram.
Picture shared with express permission from the recipient on Instagram
Our first correspondence was right after the awards when @CosmopolitanUK gave us all a shout out. I spoke with Bethany on her old Twitter account www.twitter.com/myarchedeyebrow (below) before she migrated to another Arched Eyebrow Twitter account, www.twitter.com/archedeyebrowBR, and then to her current one, www.twitter.com/bethany_rutter which funnily enough doesn’t follow me.
While you can't see the tweets from this account any longer as it’s now for some reason suspended (other than select screen grabs using the miracles of the internets), you can still see my side of the conversation, many of which relate to my blog.
If you’re dubious of the timings of these tweets, you can see the ones that correlate with specific blog entries, especially when it comes to my dates cancelling.
First tweet (just after Cosmo blog awards Oct 2011) https://twitter.com/C_T_S/status/129896401713897472
Just more regular random Twitter chit chat…
September 2012 https://twitter.com/C_T_S/status/243046818483675137
Of course, the first thing I needed to do was obtain a proof of the novel to check whether plagiarism had actually occurred, a word which instils fear into the heart of anyone who’s ever been to university, and for good reason, because it’s one a hefty accusation! Surely an author would have to be a complete idiot to do it and a publisher completely negligent to allow it?
And they weren’t.
As I suspected there was nothing in there lifted directly from my blog. The only similarity in there is that the protagonist accepts a challenge to go on 52 dates in 52 weeks. So why all the fuss?
Well, for one, the disclaimer on the very first page, commonplace in the world of published fiction, is interesting:
“This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.”
For the dictionary fans among you, yes I see you back there behind that big thick book by someone Collins, this is the definition of "coincidence":
- a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance.
So it was mere chance that the author and I were commended at the same awards; mere chance we followed each other on Twitter and we tweeted each other on multiple times, often about the blog and my dates; mere chance that she later comes up with the idea of her own heroine going on 52 dates in 52 weeks.
Now here's a second thing. I can see from the proof there are only about 12 pages out of 330 or so that feature a small handful of these proposed 52 dates. That's only 3% of the novel. While they’re short, diary-style entries that are perfectly entertaining, they don’t appear all that relevant to the main story arc. Speaking as someone who edits things for a living, you could easily remove those dating challenge elements and not negatively impact the narrative. It feels like fluff, a catchy little hook. So why, if it makes up so little of the book, would that then warrant being on the front cover, for any reason other than to sell it? Because “52 dates. 52 weeks. 52 chances to find love” hasn’t always been the tagline…
Photo from www.twitter.com/bethany_rutter
I'd imagine a lot of people out there would love to read a rom com where the main character falls in love with themselves. Probably some important life lessons we could all take from that. Heck, I’m in my fifth decade and I’m still only just learning them, and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come. While we’re here, if anyone knows how how to iron and fold a fitted sheet, hit me up. But I digress. If someone buys this book because they were sold on the “52 dates in 52 weeks” premise on the cover, they might feel short-changed or call Trading Standards.
In the background, I also wrote to the publisher directly and sought independent legal advice from a specialist in Intellectual Property and Copyright law. On hearing the details of the case, my lawyer said that something definitely smelt fishy, but after I obtained a proof of the novel they later confirmed that unless text had been directly copied from my blog and appeared in the novel, I would struggle to push forward with a case. The publisher also eventually responded saying that having looked into it they were satisfied that no infringement had taken place. So that, apparently, is that.
And yet, why does it feel like it’s not?
Why does it burn so much?
It’s a funny feeling seeing something you created, lived through and in some ways also survived suddenly splatted all over the front cover of a book by someone you know used to read about it in your blog. Something you never did for money, or to break into the world of “influencing” which wasn’t even a thing eleven years ago. It was something you did for love, out of love, with love. Your actual life.
Funny, and awful.
I concede in this case no plagiarism occurred, and respectfully ask that any of my gorgeous supporters who have waded in to fight my corner decline to use that word, because as I said before, it’s big and heavy, and not one I have ever used in relation to this case except in the context of this post.
I also concede that you can’t copyright an idea, otherwise pretty much everyone ever would have grounds to kick off at everyone else for various thought thefts or brain burglaries.
So what even is all this? I’ve been trying to work it out.
The premise of my blog turning up on the front cover of the novel by someone who used to read it may not be illegal in the eyes of the law. It may not be an infringement in the eyes of the publishers. But in the eyes of a regular, normal human, in the cold flat light of this grim January day, it seems immoral.
The heady cocktail of blatancy mixed with dismissiveness and a dash of arrogance is what is so hard to swallow.
I’m saddened that this can happen so easily, so glibly, so thoughtlessly and in plain sight, where something someone worked hard on is just taken by someone else who considered it a good thing that should be offered up as theirs. But it happens every single day. For anyone wanting to share something of themselves with the world, be it art or music or words or ideas, we must all apparently be prepared for someone else to covet it for themselves.
I’m even more saddened, however, that women in creative industries could treat other women this way. It’s not as if we’re not still fighting outwards on every other front, for equality and our safety, there is still insidiousness among us. The passing off the ideas of other women as their own to feather their nests, further their career, and profit. We’re meant to be lifting each other up, supporting each other, not standing on each other’s heads, your heel in my eye socket, trying to get another step in front.
I would welcome Bethany to message to me. I would love to hear her version of events, to acknowledge the hurt this “coincidence” has caused even if she considers herself blameless, or to talk to me like a fellow human. But I suspect just like my tweets, I’ll be met with the same stony silence. My inbox, however, will remain open.
In the coming months, I hope I will have something to offer you, the person who is patiently hearing me out right now, something considerably more special than this post; something personal and positive. If this recent debacle has shown me anything, it’s reinforced how much I love writing and need to do it. It’s in my funny little bones, my weird little brain, my clumsy little fingertips. I need my words to be read, my voice to be heard.
I have also been reminded how dearly I loved the community that grew through me writing 52 First Dates, the amazing people who have laughed with me, cried with me, felt my fury, and had my back right from the very start. People like you. Thank you, dear reader, thank you.
To directly quote the popular sign off of a well-known SATC successor:
“…And just like that…I stood up for myself.”