What Price Friendships?


Can you base your stories on the experiences of people you know?

When I was writing my first novel, a few of my friends speculated, jokingly, that they might have provided the inspiration for some of the characters.

            ‘Don’t flatter yourselves!’ I joked back. But I was able to reassure them, categorically and honestly, that my characters were entirely fictitious. It was the same for my second novel. Both books are historical, and there is something about delving into the past that frees you from the influences of the present. But now I am scouting around for an idea for book three, and find myself tempted to stray into areas I’ve forbidden myself to go. You see, some of my friends do have fascinating stories that I know would resonate with readers, and it would be so interesting to tell them. Maybe if I disguised the characters…

The great playwright, Alan Bennett said he sometimes ‘recycled his aunties’, when looking for characters. I suspect most writers ‘borrow’ characteristics or sayings from friends or family, sometimes without even knowing, but that’s different to basing our plots on their life circumstances.

The wonderful novelist, Anne Tyler, when asked if she based any of her stories on real life characters was adamant in her denial. She said that sometimes she learned of people’s experiences that she knew would make good fiction, but turned away from them, telling herself, ‘That one’s taken.’ She could look her friends in the face, knowing she would never betray them.

Tempted as I am, I know I have to construct my own narratives, fashioned from imagined characters, not real ones. I am very serious about my writing, and keen to produce the best book I possibly can – but I value my friendships more!