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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Sunday, 27 June 2010
Having lived a very varied life, I often delve into my past, for my novels, and use incidents, sometimes embellished, sometimes understated usually disguised, but my life all the same. There are writers who say they never use experiences from their own lives in their writing. This is often said as if to imply that autobiographical use is in some way inferior since it is often accompanied with the caveat “I rely entirely on my imagination . . .” To which I answer, don’t we all? Using ones own experiences occurs all the time; you have decided that your heroine falls in love, or gets ditched, has a baby, is ill, or is betrayed. You need to describe how she feels, sometimes you imagine it but how often are you tapping into your own memories of what it was like? What’s that but autobiographical?
We writers are, of necessity, observers, filers away of information re the human condition – observation, analysis. That’s not imagination but is an aid to it, isn’t it? There is however another side which can be bothering. And that is how far should one go? What right do we have to use those experiences where other people are involved? Years ago a friend gave me his novel to read. It contained a graphic description of a woman having a miscarriage. It was well written, distressing and raw and was relevant to the plot. But I was shocked; why? because I subsequently learnt that he was describing what had happened to his wife. Immediately this was no longer fiction but cruel reality and yet, I argued with myself, I had been moved by it and not censorious of it when I didn’t know it was her. So should he have written it? On the one hand yes, for his experience gave veracity to the work. But on the other, no, for she was distressed that he had. So who was right and who was wrong? Much later I was faced with the same dilemma. When I wrote my first book published, Distinctions of Class, the first third of which is very autobiographical, my mother was still alive. I was close to having the book accepted and was told by the commissioning editor that I was holding back, that if I wanted to succeed then he wanted to read “blood and guts” on the page. My mother and I had a difficult relationship so I rewrote it and told it as it was. The book was accepted. I felt guilty, some things should remain secret. However, she never knew, for by the time of publication, her sight had gone and my sister read it to her, censoring it as she went along. But, you know that feeling of guilt and betrayal has never left me. So, how far should we go? Publish Post Save Now

3 comments:

  1. Oh, Annie, that's such a difficult question.

    I think sometimes, as writers, we have to mine our own feelings in such a way as to make sense of the world for other people. It isn't that we have different, or better, or worse experiences (though sometimes that is certainly the case), but we have been given the gift of articulating them - therefore we should.

    Having said which, I stalled really badly on one of mine because I was writing too close to home (character also based on my mother, weirdly). I could pick it up now and do it properly, but I couldn't then, so it was abandoned.

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  2. My life is so unexciting that I could never write a book on it!
    However, I do sometimes hear stories of people I know that would be good for a book, but I feel as if I was stealing their privacy, so I don't think I'll dare use it.

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  3. I have refrained from writing my memoirs at the moment. Too many people will get hurt, but it needs to come out from inside. One day I will write it, and think about who I want to read it.

    Tough one to answer Anita.

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