How Witi was found out

By Yvonne Tahana

Witi Ihimaera. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Witi Ihimaera. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Plagiarism was revealed in Witi Ihimaera's newest novel when a book reviewer googled phrases from The Trowenna Sea.

Jolisa Gracewood reviewed the book, which went on sale at the beginning of the week, for the New Zealand Listener.

It tells the story of Hohepa Te Umuroa, who was convicted of insurrection and transported as a convict to Tasmania with four other Maori in the 1840s.

In her blog, Jolisa Gracewood said that while reading the novel, she had a feeling something was not right with parts of the text.

"Google was my first port of call - it turns out that Google Books is bad news for authors, in at least one more way than previously suspected ..."

However, there was "no joy" in stumbling across 16 examples which the magazine put to Ihimaera.

Gracewood said that as a writing teacher, "I'd occasionally come across a phrase or a paragraph that was somehow out of kilter with the surrounding text.

It's a curiously physical phenomenon: the hairs on the back of your neck go up, and your heart sinks.

"Sometimes it's a false alarm," she said. "But I never expected to encounter that feeling as a book reviewer, let alone with a new work by a respected writer."

Ihimaera, a professor at Auckland University, declined to be interviewed, but he apologised for "inadvertently" using other authors' work.

The material amounted to less than 0.4 per cent of the total content, he said.

"I have been working with my publisher, Penguin New Zealand, to contact the authors whose work I did not acknowledge and express my sincere regret and apologies to them.

"I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility for this oversight."

Listener examples of Trowenna passages put to Ihimaera include paragraphs from author and journalist Peter Godwin, American academic Karen Sinclair and works edited by Charles Dickens.

The author takes eight pages to thank colleagues, iwi, family and friends and lists "consulted books" over three pages.

Penguin New Zealand publishing director Geoff Walker said he had almost finished contacting authors whose work appeared unattributed.

"The tragedy is that this is a very, very fine piece of New Zealand fiction," he said.

"It deserves to be read and it's a terrible shame that this has happened."

- NZ Herald

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