Caryl Phillips Plagiarist?

There’s this geezer called Caryl Phillips. According to the cover of a book of his that I have in front of me right now, he was born in the West Indies and brought up over here. Mr Phillips is a writer who enjoys great standing in the literary world – a Martin Luther King Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship – that kind of thing. The fella is a fellow too, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

There is a picture of him. He’s a good-looking dood, 40-ish, clean-shaven all over his face and head, well, apart from his eyebrows. The photo is a head and shoulders shot. Phillips is posed sideways-on to the camera, but with his head turned towards it. He is currently looking straight at me. Straight into my eyes. I have to say I see no guilt there. No haunted look. Nothing shifty. In fact, he does not look in the least bit like a charlatan or shameless word thief.

In 2007 Mr Phillips had yet another book published (he has many to his name), a book called Foreigners. It is divided into three parts. Part II of the book is called: Made in Wales and is about Randolph Turpin, famous fighter, brother of my dear buddy Jackie Turpin for whom I wrote the book Battling Jack: You Gotta Fight Back. Battling Jack was published in 2005, two years before Mr Phillips book was issued. Remember that and pass it on: two years before.

A while ago I was alerted to a posting on the internet written by a guy who had read the two books mentioned above and asking the question: ‘Who has copied who?’ One by one the telephone calls and the emails came: ‘Hey Terry, man, some bloke’s ripping you off’ . . .’ etc, etc.

My friend Kenny Jervis who has made an ace, as yet unpublished, documentary about Randolph phoned: ‘Terry, I just bought a book called Foreigners by a bloke called Caryl Phillips. Have you had a hand in writing this? No? Kin ell! You’ll be bloody furious! I’ll send it to you when I’ve finished reading it.’ He very kindly did. And, yes, I was and am ‘bloody furious’. Mr Phillips, his researcher and his publisher have denied plagiarism – denied that Caryl Phillips has taken my work and passed it off as his own.

Why not see what you think? Find a library with Foreigners on its shelves. Sit in there with your purchased copy of Battling Jack. Have a look at, say, page 156 and 157 of Foreigners and compare it with page 266 of Battling Jack. Plagiarism? You decide. Let me know.

Mr Phillips’ book has cast a shadow on my integrity as a person and as a writer. Hardly anybody bothers to look at the publishing dates of books and because yer Mr Phillips is such a literary giant, guess who people think is a copyist?

An irony is that I spent three years talking to Jack, travelling down to Warwick every week to record interviews with him, and researching and writing his story mainly because he and his brothers have been exploited for years by people making money out of their names and fame and I wanted to give something back.

I had not, prior to meeting Jackie, any intention of writing an extended work. I am a poet. I write in short bursts and then have a think about it. A single sentence can keep me occupied for weeks. I am very glad I had the opportunity to write a biography, of course, and in the light of the way Part II of Foreigners has been written and Mr Phillips walking so tall and admired through Bookland, and all that, I should have to consider myself a natural at the genre.

Jackie Turpin and I are co-authors. His stories, my writing. The writer and the fighter – the poet and the pugilist. I did the writing, Jack led the life. When I consider that a lot of Jackie’s life consisted of exchanging gut-thumping blows with strangers in the boxing ring, I am happy with the arrangement.

I love Jack. He once told me we are brothers and that feeling is reciprocated. Kindred spirits. Same angst. Same sense of the absurd. All this stuff with Caryl Phillips is being kept away from Jack at the moment as he gets more upset by these things than I do (which is saying something). But his family and close ones are distressed by it, insulted by it. We want justice. I am going to take it all the way.

I had a phone call last night from an old co-conspiritor of mine from uni, Dave Woods. Back in the day we were both Writing students on the same course. These years on, Dave is not only a writer but an actor and radio presenter too. We used to have some bloody laughs. I remember him inventing a character called Muriel Muriel. It killed me for weeks that name. He lives up in Scotland now. Great to hear from you Dave.

Well, I got work to do.

Tra-ra. Go steady. Say hello to Muriel Muriel. Whoa, a last minute thought occurs: My Lynda suffers from insomnia, a legacy from a past illness. Insomnia is debilitating and distressing. It might help her out, perhaps, if Mr Phillips lets us know how he sleeps at night.


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