Am I in it?
It’s one of the most common questions I get asked- although one of my closest friends doesn’t bother to ask…he tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s the lead character in each of the books. Life is full of disappointment.
The people who ask this question assume, incorrectly, that they are in the story…or that they know someone who is. I suspect some are worried that they are- especially the ones who know they’ve pissed me off. What did the coffee mug say? Something about not pissing off a writer- you could end up in a book. Dead. The thing is, they’re not either- yet.
It is, however, a reasonable question. It’s also a question that my husband has never asked. Part of him, I think, doesn’t want to know. For the record there will never ever ever ever be any part of my husband in anything I write. Ever. Probably. Maybe. Some of his qualities are, however, in each of my heroes. Naturally, they’re the qualities I fell in love with all those years ago. Good answer?
It’s safer to say there’s more than a little of me in each of my heroines. There’s a little of me in Emily, my heroine in Baby, It’s You. Like me, she’s a Pisces, has a thing about daggy pop music, will never ever ever run again, and is prone to blisters. There’s also a little of how I’d like to be in Emily- I’d especially like her hair and her waist.
There’s only a little of me in Abby from Big Girls Don’t Cry. Abby is the most complex, damaged and inherently strong of my leading ladies (to date). Abby was not (especially at the start) a particularly likeable character, but by the end of the story, I hope readers could connect with her.
Of them all (so far), Max from Wish You Were Here is most like me. Not physically, of course, but for much of the story, she’s the most passive of my girls and also the least damaged. Because she isn’t damaged, her flaws are possibly going to be more frustrating.
Like me, Max has a habit of drifting along and falling into decisions rather than making choices. I suspect this is because she hasn’t really been challenged before. Not really. Max needs some pretty drastic things to happen to her and around her before she makes the changes she needs to make, sees what she needs to see, and goes in the direction she needs to go. She has an almost immature and self-contained view of her own world and doesn’t see what’s even slightly below the surface or how her action (or inaction) can impact others. In a way, she’s oblivious to all of that.
The similarities between Max and myself didn’t occur to me until I was finishing the copy edit for Wish You Were Here the other day. Although most of this book was drafted between November and February, the layers were added since. Coincidentally (?) I’ve had some pretty chaotic stuff happening to me personally in the last 6 months- much of it in the same theme (although not the same events, of course) as what I’d written in for Max all those months before.
Although I tend to go with the flow, it’s only been in response to the (increasingly heavy-handed) hints that the Universe has dished out that has prompted me to start making the decisions that need to be made- rather than drifting on pretending that it will all go away and life can go on as I know it…or knew it.
I don’t know whether subconsciously Max responded in the way that I would or whether I wrote her that way because of what was happening in background of my life. I’m not even sure that the distinction matters. While Max shares these traits with me, she is also a very different person, with very different motivations and trigger points- and is a much better cook.
The thing is, writing what we know doesn’t mean that we write who we know.
As a writer, it stands to reason then, that our characters will say things we’ve heard others say, or do things we’ve observed others do. Then we exaggerate it. In the case of my “villains” or antagonists, I exaggerate an awful lot. All of my friends have been warned that anything they say could be taken down and used later by a character who will probably bear no resemblance to them.
Likewise, it would also be easy to say that the starting point when writing about relationship is what you know. Or what you think you know. Or what you imagine you know. Or what you want to know and experience. The rest comes from your imagination- and the characters themselves. As it should.
Before Baby, It’s You was published I lay awake worrying about what people would think of me when it came out. Would they read too much into it? Layer me into Emily, layer what they thought they knew of me into the rest? And that’s exactly what some people did. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you felt that way,’ someone said. ‘I don’t,’ I replied, ‘but Emily does.’
It was only a few months down the track when I realised that I hadn’t exactly sold that many copies that it occurred to me just how arrogant I was being. It’s not something I even thought about when Big Girls came out. It’s not something that’s worrying me this time around either- even though, as I’ve admitted above, it could be reasonable this time to draw some similarities between Max and myself.
As for the other characters in Wish You Were Here? I’m sorry to disappoint, but they’re completely made up…even my “villain”… especially my “villain”…
Wish You Were Here will be available from the end of October, 2016