The subject of my interest is a novel that has long been in the public domain. It has been very famously adapted, but the novel itself remains relatively obscure.
I begin to research the period about which it was written, and from this a new project has emerged - a sort of companion novel. I shared my idea with a friend, who remarked (rather sniffily) You mean like fanfiction?
Admittedly, her reaction pissed me off slightly, but it did get me thinking.
What about, say, Wide Sargasso Sea or Death Comes to Pemberley.
When does fanfiction become legitimate for want of a better word?
Well, the difference is in Wide Sargasso Sea and Death comes to Pemberley. One is a classic book in it's own right, the other is fanfiction.
So for me, it's about the standard of the writing, the input of new ideas. Would your book stand alone - by which I mean, if the reader hadn't read the original, would they still be able to access yours sensibly? For example, Melissa Nathan has adapted very well-known plots and updated them successfully, whereas some of the Jane Austen ' sequels 'are just shudderingly bad.
It's a very interesting question, hope this thread develops!
I remember another thread where someone rather brilliantly suggested that the Aeneid was Virgil's fanfic for Homer! There was an interesting discussion of whether it's better thought of when it's done by men rather than women (e.g. Faulkes' new Bond novels, done with the sanction of the Fleming estate). But lots of examples spring to mind. Thackaray being so pissed off with the ending of Ivanhoe (where he marries the wet and weedy Rowena rather than the fantastic, fabulous Rebecca) that he wrote a sequel (it's not very good). Would Malory's retelling of the Authurian legends count as fanfic? Could you file "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead" under the heading of "transformative works"?
(Confession time: I write fanfic as light relief - and read it. Like other genres, it has its good and excruciatingly bad examples. I can think of one writer who I think is actually better than the author she's borrowing from - won't name names as such things tend not to go down well with the original author).