My daughter is into fan fiction. I'm a bit hazy on the details, but she tells me there are all these kids out there who get really upset when their (book) series come to an end, so they write their own continuations and put them online. Which is fine by me. She tells me the girls call themselves fangirls, and she loved the novel of the same name by Rainbow Rowell. It's all a bit meta, huh?
Anyway, according to the Guardian, Simon & Schuster have bought rights to a fan fiction series about the boy band One Direction. My daughter pours scorn on anyone who likes One Direction, so I assume she hasn't read any of the 293 chapters of After. The publishers will be changing the names of the boy band members to avoid being sued. Because of course celebrities maybe don't like unofficial merchandising items that merely cash in on their fame but don't wash any extra pennies into their own pockets.
As we know from the case of the French novel in which a character looks like Scarlett Johansson but isn't her. Ms Johansson, the Guardian told us a few weeks ago, is suing. The writer Grégoire Delacourt apparently saw it as more of an homage and is very upset. It's all a little unsettling for German fiction writers, who have so far got away with this kind of behaviour. Simon Urban's Plan D works with all manner of real people as characters but was gone over with a fine-tooth comb by the Random House legal department before the English translation came out. And Tilman Rammstedt employs an imaginary Bruce Willis to save the day in his most recent novel, Die Abenteuer meines ehemaligen Bankberaters.
I'm not sure where the line can be drawn between fan fiction and fiction by fans – presumably being put on sale for money makes published books a different matter to online fan epics. But I do like the idea of interacting with characters both real and fictional by writing them into your own stories, not unlike those new James Bond books or the reworked Jane Austen novels by current writers. And changing the names of Bruce Willis or Scarlett Johannson would stop those two stories from working, because the point is that they stand for a particular quality – brute force and beauty – just as whatever the boys in One Direction are called stand for clean-cut pop stardom. Or like JMR Lenz stood, for Georg Bücher, for the tortured writer. I probably don't need to spell it out, right? It's fiction – get over it.
On a related note, the exciting Prosanova festival I didn't attend in Hildesheim last weekend put three German writers on stage together after asking them to comment on each others' texts. They called it #brandtlendlereich and it was supposed to add sound, scent and sight to the social reading process. Apparently, it worked. But I suspect that fan fiction (a very social form of reading and writing) already has enough readers without having to tap in to the young German literary scene.