Textual poacher turned creative gamekeeper?

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Those of you who have been following this blog for a little while, or who have encountered me either in real life or online, will no doubt know that I am an enthusiastic exponent of fandom and its many creative forms. These, for me, have included fanfiction, fanart and fanvidding, and I’ve written academically on all three types as well as creating my own fanworks.

Now I’m predominantly concentrating on writing original fiction, it is inevitable that I sometimes reflect on the Little Somerby Series in fannish terms. I have, of course, pondered how I’d feel if people really took my novel(s) to heart and decided to write their own fanfic, or do their own art and vids. My instant response is ‘bring it on!’, although I’d worry that people might write things that I was intending, at some point in the future to write! The pairing issue doesn’t worry me at all – I’ve read some pretty out there fanfic over the years, so nothing could shock me. I think even the notion of a ‘car keys in the bowl, wife swapping fic’ wouldn’t freak me out in Little Somerby. Now there’s a plot bunny…

However, what I’m really thinking about lately is image manipulation, and representations of my characters across the media platforms. Of course, whenever anyone reads a book, their perceptions of the characters remain peculiar to them; I’m sure that the version in my head of Heathcliff, Cathy, Mr Darcy, Mr Rochester, Rupert and Taggie Campbell Black, Warwick and Katherine, et al, whilst broadly in line with what the authors intended, will differ slightly to another reader’s, and probably the writer’s mental picture. That is, after all, the beauty of reading; we’re not forced to accept one person’s vision of a character, setting or incident. As I often tell my students, even if the author didn’t consciously intend a meaning in a sentence, paragraph or book, we, as readers, interpret that as we choose. It’s a two way process.

That brings me to the main point of this post (at last!!). It’s no secret that, as quite a visual thinker, I like to imagine who would play my characters in big and small screen adaptations of Far From the Tree. And while no actor that I’ve encountered completely matches the images in my head, there are those who have come close. This morning, as a huge distraction from editing the hard copy of the novel, I fiddled around with Photoshop and came up with a new banner for my Facebook page. It took a while because I needed to ‘manip’ a kiss between two of the actors I’ve visualised for Anna and Matthew, but I was pretty pleased with the result. I’ll send a sneak preview of Chapter 1 to anyone who can correctly identify where the two images are from :).

But the question is this; while ‘textual poaching’ as Henry Jenkins would put it, is becoming mainstream in terms of fanworks, and the rules of copyright are being bent and played with in all kinds of different ways, how far does this extend to original works? While I know I won’t get away with putting the kiss manip on the cover of my novel, I don’t see the issue with using ‘found’ images to represent original characters as and when necessary. All of the other blogs I’ve read say that this should be a huge no-no, that copyright is sacred and that assumed consent on images/sounds is death to a serious writer, but I’m not so sure. In this world of creative re-envisioning, re-writing and recycling, is it really so awful to borrow and manipulate images to present an idea of what my own characters look like? Especially if you acknowledge your sources. No one is assuming any kind of endorsement by the creators of the original images, and in a lot of cases, the image manipulation is so great that those sources can be presented in an entirely new context.

One day, when I can get Emily Blunt and Richard Armitage to kiss for real in an orchard, this will all be academic, but for now, I have to rely on my Photoshopping skills ;).

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