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Dear Fifi: I discovered my mate is using our real life stories for her fiction

DailyEdge.ie’s resident advice columnist Dear Fifi is back with her weekly take on your problems.

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Writing down your problems helps – even if you’re shouting into the ether to a stranger. Why else do you think the popularity of scribbling on the toilet doors of pubs has endured for so long?

Think of me as your virtual partition wall in a Whelan’s bathroom. Er, or don’t. Just know that you can tell me anything. Drop me a line – confidential, anonymous and judgement-free. Always.

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Dear Fifi,

My friend is an aspiring writer who is stripmining everything her friends tell her for her writing classes. Almost every “good” story has been recycled. I found out from a mutual acquaintance also attending the same classes. How do I tell her that this isn’t okay?

This is a tricky one. To a certain extent, artists of all kinds – writers, poets, singers, painters, comedians, whatever you’re having yourself – take inspiration from the world around them as a basis for their art. Like it or not, this can often be the peril of having one of these people close to you. #museproblems

On the other hand, lightly fictionalising you friends’ personal lives and pumping them for anecdotes for your stories is hardly laudable art, especially if you happen to be the one with that office Christmas party yarn being turned into a pithy short story. From a certain perspective, it could certainly be considered invasive and exploitative – as well not exactly the most artistically rigorous practice in the world.

The issue here is that you came across this through hearsay and you’re at risk of dobbing in this mutual acquaintance if you take any action just yet. You’re also working off imperfect information as a result – have you considered that this friend may be writing a memoir, hence the real stories? Or that she never intended the stories to go any further than the writing group, perhaps, and will never try to publish them elsewhere? You just don’t know, as you shouldn’t technically be privy to the knowledge you have.

You have a few options, as I see it. Say nothing, and trust in the fact that if your friend does ever try to publish these stories, she’ll likely face hurt and anger from her close friends and it won’t go far. I mean, you don’t really have to do anything at this point if you don’t want to – there is likely no urgency here.

Or else ask to read her creative (or not) output. It’s a friendly thing to do, considering you know she has an active interest in writing and she’s a good friend of yours. Then you can give her your criticism and your thoughts on her writing and inspiration in good faith, on an even footing. Open up a conversation and let her know how you feel about her sourcing plot lines from real life.

You may also have to reconcile yourself with the fact that, when it comes down to it, she can do this if she likes. She may simply not agree with you. We can’t stop others making art about our lives if they also happen to intersect their own. You don’t have to remain friends with someone who uses you in their stories, but regrettably you probably can’t do much about it either.

Cross that bridge when you come to it – but for now, try to keep an open mind until you have the full story. Ahem. Pun intended.

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Want to talk?

Confess a story, ask for help or just shout into the void for a bit and see if that helps. All welcome. Anonymity totally guaranteed always. 

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