‘Trust breached’: publisher distances herself from author John Hughes amid plagiarism claims

The publisher of John Hughes’ 2021 book The Dogs has said her trust has been breached by the author, after the novel was found to contain sections that were nearly identical to extracts from the Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and a Nobel laureate’s nonfiction work.

In a statement posted to the website of Upswell Publishing on Friday, Terri-ann White said while her “impulse is always to stand by my author”, she was affronted by a line he wrote in a piece justifying his work, published by the Guardian yesterday: “I wanted the appropriated passages to be seen and recognised as in a collage.”

In that piece, Hughes said: “I’ve always used the work of other writers in my own. It’s a rare writer who doesn’t.” He denied he was a plagiarist, saying the word was “a great simplification” of the process of “an allusive writer” who has “always spoken through the voices of others … I’ve made no secret of this. It’s there for all to see.”

Hughes acknowledged that as the book changed shape, he didn’t keep notes on which parts were based on what work, “so many of the sources became so integrated I came to think of them as my own”.

“I am no thief … I wanted the appropriated passages [in The Dogs] to be seen and recognised as in a collage,” he wrote. “But somewhere in the writing, my idea, like the focus, shifted.”

An investigation by Guardian Australia found 58 similarities and identical instances of texts between parts of The Dogs and the 2017 English translation of Belarusian Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s nonfiction work The Unwomanly Face of War. Alexievich was not credited in his book.

Hughes apologised to Alexievich and her translators last week for using their words without acknowledgment “without realising I was doing so”.

The book was subsequently withdrawn from the longlist of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin, before writer Shannon Burns and academic Emmett Stinson tweeted out more passages from The Dogs that appeared to have been borrowed without credit from classic texts including The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and All Quiet on the Western Front.

When the first revelations were published by the Guardian on 9 June, White said she “stands steadfast alongside the author”, recognising “how creativity can get mixed up in the making of a long work … I am only sorry that I didn’t recognise these borrowed descriptions.”

In a post to Upswell’s website on 17 June, the publisher appeared to have changed her position.

“The events of the past fortnight in the media and amplified on social media have been personally distressing as well as concerning for my very new publishing venture,” she wrote, noting she has worked with John Hughes on four books before The Dogs.

“Although I have read most of the books now revealed as being quoted without attribution in The Dogs, I sincerely did not recognise them folded into a new text,” she said. “That’s a trust thing, I think. I was affronted when John Hughes wrote, in his rejoinder in the Guardian yesterday: ‘I wanted the appropriated passages to be seen and recognised as in a collage.’”

White added that she has “published many writers who use collage and bricolage and other approaches to weaving in other voices and materials,” but usually they credit the original text. “I should have pushed John Hughes harder on his lack of the standard mode of book acknowledgments where any credits to other writers (with permissions or otherwise), and the thanks to those nearest and dearest, are held,” she said.

“To have provided a note in this book with attribution would have been the only way to treat it. I now recognise this as a breach of my trust.

“Upswell relies upon credibility and trust. That has been damaged this fortnight, and I seek to reaffirm my position. I am currently thinking seriously about my options. This will take time to untangle mess.”

On Friday, Hughes said he was “deeply sorry” for putting White in a difficult situation.

“In my piece on influences I never intended to imply that I had knowingly passed off other writers words as my own,” Hughes said. “I sought only to try to clarify as far as I am able how something like this might happen to a fiction writer.

“Terri-ann White has been a staunch supporter for many years and is a person of great integrity.

“I am very distressed at the thought that her reputation might be tarnished in any way as a result of my actions. Small publishers are vitally important to our industry.”

Comments are closed.