"I would very much like you to read my book so that you can judge it for yourself," she wrote, and then she kindly offered to send me a free copy of Rock Me Gently.
I thanked her but declined. I'm not interested in memoirs about tragic childhoods, no matter how well-written they might be. (I read Jane Eyre at a very impressionable age and cried hard when Helen died. Never again.) Besides, I have seen side-by-side comparisons of paragraphs from Judith Kelly's book that show just how extensively she "borrowed" from other books, including Hilary Mantel's Fludd and King Billy is a Gentleman, Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Antonia White's Frost in May. Ms. Kelly's asking me to disregard all of that and read her book anyway is like an art thief begging to be admired for her good taste: All right, maybe I stole some of them, but just look at the marvelous collection I've assembled! In light of Ms. Kelly sins against her fellow writers, I believe the question of whether she told a moving story in beautiful prose is simply no longer relevant.
Another reason I didn't claim a free copy of Rock Me Gently is that I read for my own enjoyment; not to satisfy anyone else's sense of literary propriety. I don't believe I owe Ms. Kelly several hours of my time in the name of "fairness."
But was I too hard on her? After a quick re-read of my original post, I believe I might have been. (She did not suggest this.) My tone was a little flippant, but that's what you get when you come to this blog. This is not unbiased reporting, folks; this is my personal take on "writing, life, and the writing life." Still, while I must condemn her actions, I danced on the edge of ridicule and I hope she will accept my apology for that. Because I never dreamed of having any personal interaction with Ms. Kelly, in my mind she was perhaps more of a news item than a living, breathing human being. And that is always wrong.
Here is the text of the e-mail I sent in response to Ms. Kelly's:
That's a very kind offer, but I'm afraid I'm not interested in reading the book. Perhaps I do owe you an apology, however; while I can't condone any form of plagiarism, I regret the flippancy of some of my remarks. I am preparing a blog entry about this and will post it on Monday.
I wish you all the best with your future writing projects.
I have not asked permission to post Ms. Kelly's response to that, but it raised my eyebrows a little. First she said (quite graciously) that my comments had not offended her. Then she said she understood why anyone reading the Times article would have thought she plagiarized. She went on to insist that the accusations of plagiarism were "totally unfounded" and added that according to her publisher's lawyer, her book does not infringe on any other copyright.
Well. That's something for the attorneys to fight out. Let me just say that the defense would not want the likes of me on that jury.
Ms. Kelly also explained in some detail why she wrote Rock Me Gently, and she asked me again to read the book.
And again I say: No. Thank you.