When I was 12 I read The Boy on the Lake by Judith Clarke (UQP, 1989) and fell in love with these horror filled tales of the supernatural.

I’m doing the May #AusYAChallenge on instagram and today the theme is “a book that changed you.” I had no idea what to post. Every book changes me, until I start the next and it happens all over again. My first thought was some of the books I’ve already posted because they are favs.

Then I looked at my book shelves and The Boy on the Lake jumped out, reminding me of my childhood fears. Even into my teen years I was scared of the dark, monsters, vampires, pretty much everything, yet I devoured horror (books only, i couldn’t handle horror movies). Stephen King was fav teen reading matter, but before him I read The Boy on the Lake on repeat. Of course this reading matter might explain my fears, whatever.

The titular story gave me nightmares, but didn’t stop me reading again and again. “Disraeli” was my favourite and it’s still etched in my memory. Probably something to do with Disraeli being a dog¹ and yes, things don’t end well.

As well as reading everything as a kid, writing was my passion. Since imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I ‘borrowed’ pretty much the whole of “Disraeli” for my own use in a school creative writing piece.

It was probably in Year 8 because in Year 6-7 my primary school had a specialist Creative Writing teacher and I’m pretty sure I wrote the story for a different teacher.

My story had a post-apocalyptic world where the atmosphere was poisoned and food crops had to be grown in glasshouses. There was no dog, but there was an incident caused by the protagonist, who blames someone else and feels guilt, just as that sweet little boy did. Sorry, spoiler, which doesn’t count because if you haven’t read “Disraeli” yet, I wish you luck finding a copy.² Trove says 35 Australian libraries hold a copy. My 28 year old paperback is somewhat fragile. I read it a lot but a library copy might have had more use in 28 years.

Life imitates art. I knew exactly what I was doing when I plagiarized Judith Clarke, so I can’t plead ignorance. I remember hoping no one would find out, so I knew my ‘borrowing’ was wrong. I got an A for my story and never was found out.

Remember crime doesn’t pay, the guilt will eat away at your soul, just ask Disraeli the dog’s neighbour.

  1. My life long love of books with dogs started early.
  2. The Boy on the Lake is still in copyright (held by the author Judith Clarke) but is out of print. These surreal stories are pretty much inaccessible today. Copyright has its problems. The changes to PIR proposed by the Productivity Commission are unlikely to solve these problems, but will cause problems for the Australian publishing industry. Melina Marchetta has some wise words to say about this. (Similar changes were proposed in 2009 and after outcry, never implemented.)