People often ask me if I base characters from my novels and short stories on people that I know.
The answer is that it’s not that simple. Every person I create is a complex mixture of many people, myself included. One character embodies the frustrations that I thought my son might be feeling about life, but his actions and looks are dissimilar. Perhaps I sought to understand my son on a deeper level, and created situations whereby he might overcome his difficulties. Minor characters often have just a certain look, or gesture transposed from a real person – but that could be a stranger I’ve seen in a queue, or a colleague, rather than anyone particularly close. I often use the appearance of actors, or musicians, people that inspire me, because it helps create a strong picture in my head. Occasionally however, the characters do leap fully formed, and unknown to me, onto the pages.
Often the dilemma in the plot is one I might be struggling with personally, yet the reaction by the fictional individual is very different from my own, a freeing experience. If a character is loosely based on myself, that may be my current self, but usually it’s a younger me, or even a possible future me. I know I tend to put more of myself into my male characters, not for any specific reason, I just like writing male characters, perhaps there’s a greater sense of challenge in that, being a woman; although we all have the same fears and desires as humans. I don’t think a writer can help but put, not only themselves, but their families, in some form or other into their writing. I have in the past joyously created personalities that have so much to give from lost loved ones, like my Grandad.
I feed off experiences and memories – you can’t write solely from a desk. It’s universally accepted that our best writing comes from experience, and sometimes that involves taking an exploratory plunge into the deeper psyche, dredging up discomfort or fear, or observing others more closely. I used to keep a journal, but I found that it was predominantly negative, and that I rarely read entries back at a later date. Now I use fiction to look at myself and those around me from a much wider perspective. I’ve often changed my mind about a personal scenario after looking at it through someone else’s eyes, even if that someone else is partly of my own creation. So if I’m found with eyes closed at my desk, maybe with gritted teeth, or laughing out loud, perhaps angry or calm, tears on my face – then it’s because I’m breathing as much life as I can into the people on the pages.