Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: Less is more

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  • Rob Hosking,

    The bard plundered like a pirate, delivering to deadline without anything in the way of acknowledgements or footnotes.

    Excellent! Bill S was a journo at heart.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report

  • David Hood,

    To follow up on the better known David H.'s methodology. Stats-wise there has got to be some form of error estimation based on the selective sampling- That the sampling method is looking up online it will only match works with online editions. Then you need to filter those direct quotes that were attributed, since they would be false positives.
    So what you'd wind up establishing is a minimum likely level of plagiarism, the upper level is guesswork.
    To quote myself* "Good artists copy. Great artists steal" In this sense
    The Trowenna Sea is pedestrian copying, rather than making the material your own to the extent that the original material is lost.

    *Some may claim this was Picasso

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report

  • FletcherB,

    Excellent! Bill S was a journo at heart.

    Actually... I think thats one of the main complaints about what passes for journalism these days, isnt it?

    Too much emphasis on a ripping good yarn and not so much on accuracy or balance. :)

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 893 posts Report

  • David Hood,

    How about phrase length * number of synonyms for each word * number of possible tenses * (2 * the number of nouns to allow for optional adjectives) * (the number of verbs to allow for options adverbs) for any particular phrase. Now as phrases can be before, within, or after, other phrases by the time you start combining them you are looking at an exponential relationship of some sort.

    Dunedin • Since May 2007 • 1445 posts Report

  • Sacha,

    Which leads back to the idea of deploying the world's best computer - a human brain. I'd be hiring Jolisa's, as it seems to be accompanied by a commitment to integrity and compassion from what we've seen.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19745 posts Report

  • Danielle,

    George Harrison [was] sued for plagiarism and lost and paid and we all moved somewhere new because as artists they did it for us.

    To be fair, it's a lot easier to lift a melody unawares ('My Sweet Lord' from 'He's So Fine', for those who don't know) than it is to take whole sentences, tweak them and insert them into text. That's totally, uh, 'awares' on Ihimaera's part.

    (Also, Jolisa said the anti-plagiarism software didn't really pick up most of the instances she found. So it has obvious limits.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I think "crucifixion" might be going a bit far as a description...

    Um, yeah... How about remembering Sam Johnson's wise advice to authors who get all drama queeny about bad reviews.

    To commence author is to claim praise, and no man can justly aspire to honour, but at the hazard of disgrace.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Emma Hart,

    So then there is consensus that an end point for this system can hypothetically be calculated wth a reasonable degree of accuracy. Not near mind, just finite.

    Well, it seems to me the tiny problem with that is that English isn't moribound. Words come and go constantly, so the odds of me accidentally writing The Wife of Bath or even Bleak House are simply vanishingly small. So the point at which all the books that can be written have been written is NOT going to be reached, because by the time that happens, the language has changed beyond measure. Also, the world it describes has changed.

    I've been thinking about historical detail in novels, this drive to be accurate which supposedly must lead to plagiarism. And Anne Perry came to mind.

    The more she tries to be historically accurate, the worse her novels are. They become 'hey! here's some stuff I read! let me just puke it up for you'. Detail should be in the background, not the foreground, unless there's a really good plot/character reason for it.

    So there's no more need for a paragraph on how Victorians cleaned their carpets (tea leaves, OMG) than there would be for that much detail about how we clean ours now in a contemporary novel. A good historical novel just quietly gets all that right without shoving it in your face.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report

  • Tessa Houghton,

    Oh, definitely (re: TurnItIn). I'd never suggest using it alone - it's just another tool in the arsenal. Just as it's used in universities, I'd hope it'd be used as a tool to mop up things that might have been missed - after all, you can't expect a human to pick up every instance of plagiarism by themselves, although good editors can certainly catch changes in voice (as I presume Jolisa did). It might also serve as a deterrent - obviously, not all editors are as careful readers as we might wish they were. I wonder if it happens more with established writers? Editors getting careless, I mean.

    Wellington • Since Aug 2009 • 18 posts Report

  • Tessa Houghton,

    I missed the bit about already having used plagiarism software - clearly, I am not editor material :) (well, more the case of rushed reading, really). And no, it's certainly not foolproof - but I would argue, it is still useful, when used well and in combination with careful human editing.

    Wellington • Since Aug 2009 • 18 posts Report

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Cruci Fiction anyone?
    my t s are crossed
    and my i s are dotty
    and I'm ready to go...

    incorporate grammar and narrative sense into the event horizon

    a Little Read Writing Hoot
    - Grammar what crossed i s you have?
    - all the better to make a duplicitous duality of you...

    - and Grammar why are they are like black coals?
    - all the better for you to be sucked in...

    - My Grammar what big teeth you have! (she lisped)
    - all the better to wolf you down!

    luckily a parsing wordsmith
    sorted the whole mess out...

    (apologies to anon/trad)

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7953 posts Report

  • richard,


    On the number of holes, Jolisa is not digging them at random but is following her highly trained nose... I think you are right that your procedure would eventually give you a reliable estimate of the amount of plagiarized material -- however, it is likely to undercount in two ways. Firstly, not all potentially plagiarized material is known to google, and second because some of the material is disguised by small changes in wording and tense and thus will not return a clear hit.

    But we are already at 0.5% (since we are effectively sampling without replacement, in that there is no point in digging two holes in the same place) so it can only get worse.

    The real issue is how much do you need to take to be a thief.

    On the number of novels, try this. I would guess that you can choose the first word of a sentence at random from the entire corpus.

    Then (I again guess) there are half as many ways to choose the second word, and half as many again to choose the third word, etc, once the first words are fixed. That means given an M word corpus, an N word sentence can be formed in

    M^N /(2^0 2^1 2^2 ... 2^(N-1) )

    ways. Looking at the denominator, and summing the exponents, you have 2^(N(N-1)/2 ) -- so for large enough N the number of legal sentences you can form will start to go down (and I guess I am ignoring sentences with conjunctions here -- these should just be "atomic" sentences).

    For M=50,000 and N=10, I think that amounts to 2.7 x 10^33 legal 10 word sentences. If you want to compose a 100,000 word novel from 10 word sentences, you could combine these sentences (with or without replacement, it would make little difference) in

    ( 2.6 x 10^33)^10000

    ways. This is roughly 3 x 10^334000 possible novels.

    This is 10^135000 times smaller than David's estimate, but still insanely huge. On the other hand, my estimate would go up if I allowed a mix of sentence sizes. And David and I only computed the number of novels with exactly 100,000 words.

    On the third hand, two novels with one different word between them count twice in both of our measures -- so that would go in the other direction from extending the computation to include novels of arbitrary length.

    Ok, back to real work.

    (Mistakes with powers of ten and typing to be expected. But it seems like a reasonable approach).

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report

  • Jolisa,

    Ian D: truly, you are the Bard of our Avon. Sing, (a)muse!

    Sacha, Craig, David: thank you for chiming in along those lines. If it was crucifixion I was after, I'd have.. actually, that sentence doesn't even compute. I'm just not in the crucifixion business. I strive to write about living authors as if they were reading, and to treat their work even-handedly. Because the conversation is always with readers in the broadest sense, and writers are readers too.

    I was flippant, once or twice, as a young reviewer, and while it's enormous fun, it's not fair. So these days I'm a bit of a sobersides and try to err on the side of gentle and polite. We can't all be Michiko Kakutani, and nor should we.

    (I do fantasize about a Digested-Read type anon blog in which to blow off steam, but style recognition software would blow my cover in five minutes flat).

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report

  • JoJo,

    not all editors are as careful readers as we might wish they were

    Then they are not competent editors. The good ones are meticulous readers, who read a wide range of books (for pleasure, not just for work). The excellent ones have (as well as their skills with language) some knowledge of the topic they are editing, and may have read other books on the same topic or by that author. This improves the chance of their picking up on changes of voice or tone, or echos of another writer. Or it leads them to ask: "Why hasn't the author cited X as a source - s/he's a leading NZ author on this topic. Did the author use that text at all?".

    And if the editor or publisher doesn't raise those questions, then they haven't done their job.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 95 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I was flippant, once or twice, as a young reviewer, and while it's enormous fun, it's not fair. So these days I'm a bit of a sobersides and try to err on the side of gentle and polite.

    I'd prefer "tough, but fair" myself. And as that stately homo of English lit., W.H. Auden, once observed:

    Attacking bad books is not only a waste of time but also bad for the character. If I find a book really bad, the only interest I can derive from writing about it has to come from myself, from such display of intelligence, wit and malice as I can contrive. One cannot review a bad book without showing off.

    Or here's John Updike's six golden rules for book reviewers -- and he should know what he's talking about, as his collected criticism and literary essays fill six morbidly obese volumes :

    1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

    2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

    3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

    4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

    5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

    To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • jeremy gray,

    Well, all those novels would be in Borges' library of babel

    There is a pretty good treatment of the maths in this book

    point chev • Since Apr 2008 • 44 posts Report

  • richard,

    Jeremy -- respect! May go to the library for that one.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report

  • richard,

    And as that stately homo of English lit., W.H. Auden, once observed:

    "Stately homo" -- Quentin Crisp, no??

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    "Stately homo" -- Quentin Crisp, no??

    Indeed -- and he was punning off Noel Coward's 'The Stately Homes of England', who apparently was not at all amused. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Jolisa,

    It's a bit dispiriting, all this. I really want to think the best of everyone involved, but I also want to expect the best.

    Echoing Craig and JoJo: I remain perplexed about the editorial process in this case. Who knocked the manuscript into shape? Who compiled the list of sources, and who checked it against the author's own notes? Was the manuscript read page by page?

    Is all of Penguin's fiction (and non-fiction) given the same degree of editorial treatment? Or does it depend on the book? What can and should authors expect in the way of help tidying up their manuscripts?

    Craig, that's exactly the quote I was thinking of (the Auden). And the Updike list is excellent. One regret about the Trowenna Sea review as it ran in the Listener was that I did not have space for a properly representative quotation. But here's one, from Ismay describing her arrival in Tasmania:

    "What Trowenna represented was freedom, and it was what I considered freedom must look like: impossibly blue, merging into a faraway sky, limitless, going on to the end of forever. After all, is that not what unhappy people do when they wish to escape the harsh reality of their lives -- imagine another place to go to?

    When I saw the glorious southern seascape, glittering by day with sun-stars and glowing by night under the gleaming Southern Cross and that arching canopy of a million stars, I knew that I had found it. In that moment, just before dusk, when the sea filled with dark purple spheres like many crystal glasses spilling their rich wine into the sea, I myself overflowed with a great sense of completion."

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report

  • Jolisa,

    I'd prefer "tough, but fair" myself.

    Like Dinsdale Piranha? (NB plagiarising myself there).

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report

  • David Haywood,

    ... when the sea filled with dark purple spheres...

    That's the problem with Australia, can't go swimming because of all the fucken purple spheres in the water.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Even C.K. Stead in his otherwise extremely negative review of The Matriarch, picked out a quote that he felt was vivid, precisely observed and emotionally affecting. I don't have it to hand, but I think he went on to say, in effect, why isn't the whole damn book this good?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report

  • Carol Stewart,

    Or here's John Updike's six golden rules for book reviewers

    These seem just a little self-serving on Updike's part, in that they are concerned with the critic's responsibilities to the writer. Fair enough, but there's also the critic's responsibility to the reader.
    Jonathan Raban, who is a fine critic as well as a very versatile and impressive writer, wrote a book on the life of a literary reviewer: For Love and Money. Great read as I remember, and I think he did discuss the question of who the book reviewer is primarily responsible to.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 830 posts Report

  • Bart Janssen,

    Whew David

    then you can foucault with the rest of us artsy types

    I think she is inviting you to a swingers party

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4461 posts Report

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