One year. One extremely long year. That’s how long it took Elizabeth McBride to write her debut novel, Patsy/Patricia.
Set in present day London, England, Patsy/Patricia told the tale of a young woman born into a working class family who rose through the ranks of the art world to become Head Curator at Tate Modern. No one wants to hobnob with someone named Patsy, so immediately upon receiving her degree in Art History, she started introducing herself by her formal name, and then acted just as regal and pretentious as such a name would allow. An affair with a powerful – but very married politician ensued, followed by the scandal that enveloped her once their tryst was discovered, her dismissal from the museum, and an embarrassing retreat to the humble village in which she was raised. The villagers welcomed her back with open arms though. First in line was the local carpenter who had once been her schoolmate. In no time the two fell in love and lived humbly, but happily ever after. The book was an immediate best-seller and was optioned into a movie.
Everyone loves a success story, so requests for interviews were plenty.
“Do you actually like it when people call you Elizabeth, or are you really more of a Liz or Beth?” one interviewer asked, thinking that perhaps Elizabeth based the book’s heroine on herself.
“I’ve only ever gone by Elizabeth. Let’s stick with that,” she answered.
The only thing people love more than a success story, of course, is to see someone at the top knocked off their pedestal. The fastest way to knock a writer down a few pegs is to accuse them of being a fraud. Within months, another person claiming to have written a book similar to Patsy/Patricia sued Elizabeth for copyright infringement. The claimant’s lawyer wasted no time in grilling Elizabeth the first day in court.
“Ms. McBride,” the claimant’s lawyer began, “on page ninety-eight you wrote, ‘Patricia and Edward kissed’, did you not?”
“Yes, that is true,” Elizabeth answered.
“Now take a look at page two hundred of my client’s book. Read what the final sentence in paragraph two says.”
“Mark and Molly kissed.”
“Very similar, wouldn’t you say?” the lawyer said. “All you’ve done is change the name of the characters. Now Ms. McBride, tell me, how many times did you use the word ‘The’ in your book?”
“I…I have no idea,” she said, surprised to have been asked such a question.
“Seven hundred and ninety-eight times. I counted,” the lawyer said with authority. “Do you know how many times my client used that word in her book? Six hundred and eighty-one times. Page after page is example after example of how you lifted my client’s work and declared it your own. She used the word “an” multiple times, you used the word “an” multiple times. Her heroine had humble beginnings, your character had humble beginnings. Her leading lady fell in love with the wrong man, your leading lady fell in love with the wrong man. After a bit of soul searching, her main character found love with an ordinary chap. After returning to her roots, your main character fell in love with an ordinary chap. You stole my client’s book. Admit it.”
“What I’ve done is followed the formula of basically every chick lit book out there. A flawed, but basically decent gal stumbles through life, making one mistake after another as she struggles to find the right guy, when in the end he’s been right there the whole time. She just had to open her eyes.”
“Nice try, but no one’s buying your story,” the lawyer said.
“Forgive me, but I believe seven million people have bought my story,” an indignant Elizabeth said.
Make that seven million and one. The judge didn’t believe the claimant any more than he enjoyed reading Patsy/Patricia. He immediately threw out the case and then, after chastising the claimant and her lawyer for wasting everyone’s time, ordered her to pay Elizabeth’s court costs.
It was another three years before Elizabeth published her next novel, The Accused. It was about a woman who stood accused of a murder she didn’t commit. It went on to sell eight million copies.