Writing as revenge…should we go there?


Immortalising people’s habits without trace.

Jilly Cooper once got revenge on the critic who wrote a negative review of one of her books by naming a goat in her novel after her. How satisfying! Luckily I can’t think of anyone I’d do that to… although there was that irritating post office official, and an overly controlling boss I once had… oh yes, and that annoying woman from my children’s school with the perfect children… . It’s really tempting to get revenge on the whole lot of them - plus another host of people who are coming rapidly to mind. Should we do it? Is it ethical? I don’t blame Jilly Cooper for one minute, but knowing me, if I vilified someone in a story for revenge I’d probably get sued for libel.

But I think it is legitimate to immortalise people’s habits – as long as they can’t be traced back to them. My friends are always teasing me that they’ll appear in my novel one day – and I’ve heard people rarely recognise themselves in print – but the truth is all my characters are fictional – honest! However, if our characters are to be credible, they need to be rooted in reality, and sometimes it’s the eccentric little habits that ring so true as they are immediately recognisable. As writers we are sensitive souls – oversensitive to hurts perhaps which makes the desire for revenge so tempting – but sensitive in observation too. So we note people’s little peculiarities (luckily I don’t have to look far from home for those!) and store them up to use when they help to flesh out characters. And maybe that’s the best revenge!