I suppose everyone uses real life in their writing. If you had never done anything, never experienced anything, it would be hard to find anything to write about. However, in the novels I have published so far, this has been largely unconscious. People have asked me if my characters are based on various family members or common acquaintances, but I have always explained that they are not intended to be representations of anybody. They may have characteristics of people I know, but they are individuals in their own right. It is the same with settings. The campus in ‘Deceiving Ellie’ is based loosely on Warwick University as that is where I took my degree, but I doubt anyone would recognise it. I added features when I needed them and made up the bits I couldn’t remember.
This time it is different. My new novel will be published in October, and it is based on something that happened to me when I was 18 and working in London. It was a small event and had no lasting impact on my life, but it could have, and that is what I have explored. What would have happened if I hadn’t been quite sensible and put the phone down when I was contacted by a man who had seen me on the train each morning and gone to a lot of trouble to find out where I worked?
It doesn’t end there, either. My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who died of Alzheimer’s in 2001. She had driven ambulances for the Red Cross in countries all over the world during the Second World War and she was strong and independent. She was a feminist without even realising it. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease and it was so sad to see her robbed of her memory and her independence in the years leading up to her death. So she is in my book too. I have used the experience to inform what happens to Judy, one of the main characters, and she also appears as another strong woman afflicted by the disease. I am confident that she would not mind me using her in this way.
So is this new novel autobiographical? That sounds like a silly question, given that there are big chunks of my past woven into it, but the answer is still ‘no.’ I am not Judy. She is the same age as me and she she shares a lot of my past, but she is a different person. She has children roughly the same age as my children, but I have not lifted them and dropped them into these events. I have used aspects of my life as a template, I suppose, but each of the characters is as new as those in my other novels. The risk is that my family will now spend hours trying to work out if they are in the book and thus what I think of them, but that is a risk I will have to take!