Ever wanted to apologise for something but don’t know where to start? Mr MacDonald, are you reading? Sooz ‘Kempner’ Kempner totally nicked that horse story.
I really hate plagiarism. That might seem like a bit of a pointless statement because I’m pretty sure nobody openly goes “mm-mm, delicious plagiarism” but this atonement is about plagiarism and I want to make it clear that Sooz Kempner, aged 31-and-a-quarter, hates plagiarism so hard.
I had a tweet plagiarised, verbatim, by a popular Twitter account last year and I’ve felt the burn of injustice at the 127 retweets their tweet – MY tweet – received ever since.
If I see a comedian doing material I’ve 100 per cent heard before, taken directly from a 2006 podcast for example (this has happened), I feel a great wave of angry injustice every time I think of it. Even if it was in 2014. Plagiarism is the worst. It’s lazy and feeble and you’re lying to everyone including yourself.
“One chapter struck me as the perfect plot for a short story – so I stole it. I didn’t even change the names of the characters or the colour of the horse.”
So I need to atone for the fact that I, your plagiarism-hating hero, am a plagiarist. First we need to go back to 1996. I am 11 and my English teacher thinks I am a dick. His name is Mr MacDonald and he doesn’t like my attitude or the books I bring to his weekly literacy class (they are mostly Goosebumps books).
My mum comes up with a hilarious plan one week that will shut him up and gives me her copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I take it to school and Mr MacDonald thinks it is really weird and laughs a lot. He can tell something is afoot but I just maintain that the book is brilliant (I’ve still never read it). We then get an assignment. We must write a short story of our own. And this is where I became the thing I hate the most – a plagiarist.
I liked writing you see; I thought my writing was good and I didn’t want Mr MacDonald ruining how much I loved writing by telling me my writing was shit. I was reading a 1980s book called Eventer’s Dream by Caroline Akrill about a woman’s quest to become an Olympic eventer (like Zara Phillips is now) only she didn’t have any money so it was a great underdog story.
One chapter struck me as the perfect plot for a short story – so I stole it. I took the plot of the chapter where Elaine rides a mad horse called The Comet in a race for money and turned it into a short story. I didn’t even change the names of the characters or the colour of the horse. I handed it in as my own work. Mr MacDonald gave it an average mark. I had retained my love of writing but been a total thieving shit.
Years later Mr MacDonald had left my secondary school and was a teacher at the sixth form I ended up at. He taught media studies and I was unhappy to have him as a teacher again. We had an edgy start (he still wasn’t keen on my quippy attitude and shouty-laugh) but when he introduced the class to Martin Scorsese and I, seemingly overnight, became a film freak we became big buds.
He called me ‘Kempner’, which wasn’t my first name, it was my surname! I called him Ian (which was his first name… we called all our sixth form teachers by their first names but he’d still gone from Mr MacDonald to Ian). He introduced me to The Godfather and Taxi Driver and we discussed how Casino is more bombastic than Goodfellas but Goodfellas is the better movie.
I wrote a dreadful film script as a vehicle for Robert De Niro and me to win an Oscar each and sent it to Martin Scorsese’s agent but only after Ian MacDonald had given it a big thumbs-up (it will surprise you to know that Scorsese never got back to me or made that movie).
I told him about how me reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was my mum’s wacky idea. But I never confessed that I plagiarised the short story about the mad horse and the race. So this is my atonement and continuing lifelong promise that I will never, never plagiarise again for as long as I live. I’m sorry Ian MacDonald.
PS: Please be nicer to annoying children or they will bring books about Nazis to your class.
Find out what other past crimes our writers would like to atone for here.
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Funny Women Variety Award Winner 2012. ASDA Kate Bush.