Friday, 10 January 2014

Author reality vs imagination

There is a veritable chasm between the author’s reality and the author’s imagination.

To write a story, one may draw on one’s experiences, but again, there is a chasm between ‘drawing on’ and recording. If I wanted to write a book based on my actual experience, I would, and I wouldn’t be afraid to call it my autobiography. If I ever get that interesting, I may even do it.

For now, I write stories that grow in my mind, fed by the things in real life that inspire, confuse or intrigue me. Sometimes it might be a theme, like death, grace, humour or prejudice. That theme might be something that sits close to my heart all the time, or something that has become current and prevalent for whatever reason.

At other times, the ‘experience’ itself can be a tiny moment, or random observation that develops into a full blown idea that ultimately has nothing to do with its conception.

For example, I wrote a short story called Grace (you can read it on my website The first inspiration came from photos that a friend was putting on Facebook that were particularly beautiful and exotic. The second factor was an impending death in our circle of friends which was having a huge impact on my experience of daily living. The two came together to create the story – but it was neither about the photographer, nor the lady who was dying.

In the current novel …but I love you there is a scene involving a bunch of roses – one to which most women can relate. And yes, once upon a time I did receive a huge bunch of roses. However, together with the themes that were hovering in my mind as I wrote the novel, themes around prejudice and power dynamics in relationships, a character grew out of the roses: Hal. Hal is absolutely nothing like the man who presented the roses in real life. Nothing!

So, it has been interesting to hear some feedback where it is obvious to me that the reader has over related or over interpreted and seems to think that I am writing more truth than fiction, and changing their opinion of me accordingly due to all the things they are now ‘learning about me’.

I wonder if Val McDermid or A.A. Holmes had the same problem? If you write crime, are you merely disguising your own unlawful temptations? If you write dark psychological thrillers, is it because you are mentally disturbed? If you write science fiction, are you really just living on another planet?

Or are you drawing on the stuff of human nature and playing with it in your imagination because you are a writer?

I am looking forward to being questioned in the next few weeks by BBC Radio, and by the book groups I shall be attending, and hopefully by the audience at my talk at the end of the month. I want to be challenged about my choices of subject and my characters. I want to think about my influences and how they shape my work. But I hope to goodness no-one thinks it’s all true…

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