Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

No cats were harmed in the process of writing.
Sometimes you have to laugh.

A friend bought my book and sat down to read it. Her boyfriend was sitting next to her. The conversation, as I understand it, went something like this:
He: “What are you reading?”
She: “Jennifer’s book.”
He (looking at the cover): “But…I thought you said she went to church.”

They do say that you should write about what you know and the corollary of this is the old question: is it about you? Now, to be clear. My book is not a dirty book; it’s not even a naughty book. In technical terms it falls somewhere between 'sweet' and 'sensuous'. And what you see on my lovely cover (I can say that because I didn’t design it) is actually pretty harmless. A couple, he with his arm around her. Okay, she’s wearing a skimpy top but then again it’s Majorca in the summer so anything more would be odd. And what you see on the cover is pretty much what you get in the book.

The question of whether a book is autobiographical is a fascinating one. In my case the answer, which is obvious to anyone who knows me, is a clear no. Abby’s story is not mine.

But the thing which intrigued me about the conversation above is not the autobiographical-or-other debate (though I suspect I’ll return to that regularly in the future because there’s much to be said about it). It’s the implication that you can’t write about certain things if you’re a certain (other) type of person.

Well, I’ve written about murders and I’m not a murderer. I’ve written about suicides and I’m still here. Essentially what a writer does is take human nature and explore it; and human nature is on a sliding scale. For example, most of the time I internalise my frustrations and though sometimes I take them out on my nearest and dearest, I’ve never yet kicked the cat. But I can extrapolate those feelings to kicking the kitty and worse if my plot requires it.

I would say that you don’t have to experience something in all its horrors to be able to write about it - though I’m sure some people would disagree. But it may be true that you write about it better if you have.

If you read my book you might think you recognise me in Abby but you won’t. Actually I am in there, but I don’t think you’ll spot me. And maybe there are people out there who recognise themselves in my writing but aren’t there either. But, reader, that’s for another post…


  1. Jennifer, you've set us a puzzle. I now want to read TYFTM again to find out where you are hiding. Intriguing.

    It's hard to know how much of ourselves we reveal in our books.

    As for writing about what you know, I agree with you. A combination of research and imagination can produce great plots.

  2. Great post, Jennifer, and frustrating how some people think an author is writing about their own experiences! I much prefer the imagination when possible, although our own emotional experiences can colour many a story of course.