Observation and imagination

In our excellent newspaper, the i  there is a weekly column which features an author whose books are being reviewed where they are asked a series of questions. It usually starts with ‘where are you now and what can you see?’ I f I was being asked that right now I’d say in my tiny cramped and crowded writing room, and behind the computer screen are bookcases, filled with books (mostly cookery) and folders and files and just stuff. On top are more folders and files plus an array of abandoned things, an upside down dead mouse (of the computer variety not the small mammal) Observation and imagination, a model Sopwith Camel, a stuffed wombat (not real, obviously) an old Christmas card, and more stuff. To my right is the doorway onto the landing and my fish tank, to the left is the window looking out over our garden, the Victory Hall, the neighbours’ house, and the main road through the village.

There were other questions about where the writer does their writing, what they are wearing, what they like to eat, etc, trivia really, but one of the questions was something I’ve been thinking about for a little while. The question in the column was ‘which if any of your characters is based on yourself’ ,or something along those lines. I have to say none of my characters is based on me, although in retrospect, most of the lead characters have aspects of me in them. I guess the one I would choose as most identifiable with me (only in terms of what sort of person she is, not at all based on real events, or anything that has happened, or might happen to me!) Is Aislin in ‘Loving Judah’. Having said that, the character most like me in actual fact – and this was observed by my cousins, not something I realised at the time, is Thomas Radwinter. OK, he’s a man, in his thirties, he had a terrible childhood and a complicated family history, he’s a solicitor, he now has his own large and happy family, he has the sort of adventures which I have never had and really are beyond being real – and yet, in essence his character and nature are similar to mine. This wasn’t deliberate, it was quite unconscious on my part. None of my characters are based on real people, not a one, although I may have borrowed some faces!

My writing is based not so much on experience – I have lived a very ordinary life, a very enjoyable life and on the whole a happy life. I haven’t done anything exciting or unusual, I haven’t had weird or dangerous or exciting experiences (only in as far as i do get very excited about things like going on holiday, travelling and going to live music events). My writing is very much based on what I observe, what I notice about people – strangers on trains, in cafés and restaurants, on the street, on the beach, through windows – and what I imagine. I imagine lives and relationships, I imagine adventures and strange events, I imagine places I’ve never been or I have just made up. I base my imaginings on my observations, and try and root them in an observed reality. People and events have to be believable, even within a fiction. The watchword is… um… watch, and then let your mind go mad with inventiveness!

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