No. Calm down. This is real life. It happens and it doesn't matter, because your story will be different (unless you are actually going to read it and steal from it). To understand fully, read the inimitable Editorial Ass explaining why it's no cause for concern.
I have my own story of extraordinary coincidence which I have written about before. Rather than send you away to that blog post, I'll copy the relevant bit below. (Note: I was writing from the perspective of the issue of plagiarism, but my point about not worrying if you discover in advance that someone is writing something that sounds similar, is equally relevant.)
THE EXTRAORDINARY COINCIDENCE
In October 2002, my first novel, Mondays are Red, was published. I'd been writing it during 2000/2001. Being unpublished, and not knowing any published author at all, let alone a stellar one like Tim Bowler, I had no way of knowing what any other author was writing in the privacy of his/her own garret.
Mondays are Red is a Young Adult novel about a 14 year-old boy called Luke who has synaesthesia.
A month later, in November 2002, Tim Bowler's umpteenth novel, Starseeker, was published. He had also been writing it during 2000/2001. (For those of you who don't know the business, any book published in November would already have been printed by October. Unless it's the biog of Michael Jackson.)
Starseeker is a Young Adult novel about a 14-year-old boy called Luke who has synaesthesia.
Because they were published in consecutive months, we had some joint reviews (hooray for me, debut author being reviewed and interviewed alongside TB!) but no one accused the other of plagiarism, because it obviously wasn't, because a) it couldn't have been, time-wise, and b) despite the identical descriptions above, they are two utterly different stories. Couldn't be more different. (Unless mine had been about a fifteen-year-old girl called Lucy with synaesthesia.)
But it's worth considering the following:
- if Tim's novel had come out while I was still writing mine, I'd have changed the name and probably the age of the protagonist because the last thing I'd want is to appear to plagiarise - and I'd have panicked, horribly; I might even have cried;
- next time you hear that two stories have the same motif / theme / premise, don't leap to the conclusion either that one is plagiarising or that they will actually be the same - unless they are;
- similarly with the horrible word "derivative" - nothing stands entirely on its own. No author is an island. Yes, some are unduly influenced, sometimes conconsciously, and occasionally some actually steal, which is disgraceful. But some influence is legitimate, inevitable and right. Writing and ideas are contagious, but they will mutate in the environment of a different mind.
Tim and I became good friends and discovered we thought in many ways alike. "That's not very funny," I hear you say. No, but when I became friends with him I was writing another book, which had the provisional title of Apocalypse.
Luckily, authory friends tend to tell each other what they're writing.
"What you writing at the moment, Tim?" I asked.And since his Apocalypse was coming out before mine, guess who decided to change her title, even though there's no copyright on titles? It became The Passionflower Massacre. Much better. Who'd want to call a book Apocalypse anyway? Silly man.
"It's called Apocalypse," he replied. "It's about ..."
So, if you decide not to worry about similar ideas, I won't either. OK?
(NB: I'm away today and tomorrow, doing school talks and meeting a publisher. )