‘Am I in your book then?’

If you’re rash enough to tell your friends you’re working on a novel, they’ll be dying to know if they’re in it.bookshelf crop

If? What am I saying! Of course you’ve told them. Blabbing about work in progress may stifle the muse, but the people in your life need to know why you stay in every night with your laptop and a bag of Doritos, thumbing through old Lands’ End catalogues in the vain hope of overcoming writer’s block.

So back to that pesky question. ‘Am I in your book?’

Of course they’re not. Yet no matter how many times you reply that it’s fiction, goddammit, they expect a cameo role, minimum.

If you don’t shoehorn them in, they’ll assume you don’t find them interesting enough. So they dangle tempting revelations. ‘You do know I was George Clooney’s girlfriend/chauffeur/manicurist? And did I tell you about the time I wrestled three KGB men under water?’

I usually reply ‘Cool. But it’s not that kind of book.’

Some people plead to be put into prose. Even non-fiction. Does Michele really want to end up in the chapter on personality disorder? Now that’s serious attention-seeking.

Yes, it would be great to use real characters. There are folks I’d love to transplant wholesale into a book, where they’d take root and flourish. Sadly, I can’t put in any of the wonderful patients I’ve seen over the years, even if it would save my imagination a lot of pointless exertion.

Then there are colleagues past and present: devoted, brilliant, arrogant, disillusioned, or dead drunk. No surprise I’ve got a doctor is in my forthcoming novel. Geoff is burnt out and now, going through a mid-life crisis, he wonders if he really does make people better. I like to think he comes across as authentic. All the same, he’s not real, nor is he based on any one person in particular. And he’s definitely not you, even if you have erectile problems and a cute son with asthma.

If you’ve already written your work of fiction, you’re doomed because family and friends always think they’re in it. What part of the word ‘fiction’ is so hard to get?

Real people don’t go in novels (though there are exceptions, like Princess Margaret in Edward St Aubyn’s Some Hope). Here’s why.

1. When you finally get off your sofa you won’t have any friends left.
2. The UK is the libel capital of the world. For more on what can happen, see John Preston’s recent Sunday Telegraph piece The Murky World of Literary Libel.

Fellow writers, I’d love to hear your views.

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4 thoughts on “‘Am I in your book then?’

  1. Oh lord, I had this by a different route. A friend told me he’d devoured my first ghosted book, then revealed it was because he thought I’d based the horrible antagonist on someone we both knew. In fact I hadn’t. The cover for the book had already been designed, so I simply made sure my description matched it – as mismatched cover and innards always annoys me. But it seemed my friend’s entire pleasure in the book was not my spiffing storytelling, but his imagined identification of this person we know.

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