I have recently been on a trip to China organised by a friend of mine. We uncovered a pretty amazing story when we were out there, and I’d been thinking of writing it up for a magazine, but he says he wants to do it. He argues that as he booked the trip, it’s his story. The problem is that I’ve had work published, and I can write, while he, though he’s a lovely person, has never written anything in his life and I know, from experience, will never get around to it. Do I risk losing a friendship by going ahead?
I’ve no idea whether you risk the friendship or not if you go ahead. It could be that after some incident on your trip together – something you haven’t a clue about such as a minor dispute over a bill, say – your friend’s been longing to find a fight to pick with you. If it wasn’t a fuss abbot the story, he’d have found something else to get prickly about.
Or it could be that this is exactly what it seems – a dispute about a story. And it could be that if you went ahead, you’d only suffer a slight rift and in a few months you’d be back on track again. He wouldn’t forget it, though.
Or it could be he might never speak to you again. Would that actually matter? Sometimes we can get so upset the idea of losing a friendship that often we stop to consider whether the friendship is worth preserving at all, except just as a minor boost to our egos.
What you want to do is behave in a way that will minimise the risk of your friend being hurt and of you being accused of being a slimy snake in the grass.
First you need to find out whether the story is publishable or not. If you’re a writer, then ring up a few contacts and suggest the story to them. To be quite honest, with my experience of how difficult it is to get any story published these days, even scoops, I think you may both be living under a delusion that any publication is going to be remotely interested in it at all. And it would be a shame to fall out over something that’s never going to be a reality, whoever writes it.
Once you’ve found it’s certainly publishable you could write the story under an assumed name. But your friend’s almost certainly going to realise it’s you once he’s read it. And he will.
You could suggest a race. You could each write the story separately – each one will be very different – and submit it to various magazines, and the one who gets accepted first wins.
Or, best of all perhaps, is to say that you’ve found an outlet and suggest that you now write the story jointly. You can knock it out and it’s not a big deal – if friendship is the price – to bung his name on it, despite the fact he hasn’t contributed much. Or maybe, you never know, when you get down to writing it, he actually might have some valuable contributions to make, even if the act of writing isn’t one of them.
Don’t be silenced
The real issue here is one of ownership. If uncovering this story was a factor in planning the trip, then you should back off and allow your friend a reasonable amount of time to try for publication. But if the tale unfolded by chance during your visit, you’re at liberty to send your version to a magazine. Ask 10 people to recount any story and each will have a different angle on it; likewise with you and your friend. That’s what creativity is about – the freedom to express ourselves. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t both publish – nor why you should be bullied into silence.
Jessie Bartholemew. by email
Do it together
You could suggest to your friend that as this was a shared experience you could write it up jointly, like Crick and Watson on DNA. If he agrees and does nothing, you could write it and offer it as a first, rough draft for you to work on jointly. This way, gradually, you could get it into a publishable state without losing his friendship. He may even have the insight to say in the end: “you wrote it, you publish it.” If not, there will be two names on it instead of one.
Stephen Breuer, by email
Next week’s dilemma
I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make a decision.
What would you advise Jill to do?