In my blog last Wednesday, I asked readers what sort of things they like to hear when they go to a talk given by an author.
Two things stand out very clearly – both readers and writers are interested in the source of a writer’s inspiration, and in the process whereby the story and writer come together.
That would be an easy thing for me to talk about. My inspiration for The Road Back came from the album that my uncle compiled when he visited Ladkah in the mid 1940s, during the time that he was stationed with the army in North India. In my first blog for Choc Lit’s Author’s Corner, I told how two years ago the album came to be in my possession for a couple of weeks, and I read the album from cover to cover. This gave me the inspiration for my novel. If you’d like to read about this, click here.
But they are also interested in the author as a person, and in the author’s background, and in what makes them tick. Anita added: ‘I also find it interesting to know what a writer did before writing – and whether their career has influenced the way they write or what they write about.’
That made me sit up and think. I used to teach in a secondary school. Had this part of my background, or any other part of it, influenced my writing, I wondered.
I’m sure it has in ways that I haven’t yet realised – this is something I shall be thinking about in the future – but there are some immediately obvious ways in which my background has influenced my work.
It’s comforting/safe to root a novel in a world that you know about, so there’s an attraction in setting at least part of the book in a familiar location. I’ve set a mainstream novel – yet to be published – in a secondary school. In The Road Back, Patricia, the central character, was born and brought up near Belsize Park. So was I. My People’s Friend Pocket Novel, A Dangerous Heart, is set on the outskirts of Montefalco, in Umbria. I regularly go to Umbria. A light rom com that I’ve written, Evie on the Job, is also set in Umbria.
My novels reflect my interests. I taught French, studied Anglo-Saxon at university as part of my English degree, taught myself German and I’m now learning Italian. In other words, I’m interested in language, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning Ladakhi words and phrases for The Road Back, and using Italian words and phrases in both A Dangerous Heart and Evie on the Job. The meaning of any foreign words is made very clear in the body of the text, I hasten to add. You won’t need a language dictionary at your side!
In a way, my background and interests are also reflected in the themes I seem to be drawn to. For example, manipulation through words. I love words – I love the Daily Telegraph cryptic crosswords and Scrabble, and I love the theatre, where words are seen in dramatic action.
I have to thank my mother for this interest. She used to be an actress, and she started reading Shakespeare with me when I was eight. She and I, enthusiastic participants, took the key parts; my father and sister, participating under duress, were allowed to read third gardener, fourth steward.
When I looked back at the novels and novellas I’d written, I was quite surprised to discover that verbal manipulation occurred to some degree in them all. It is most definitely there in my novel set in a school – it pervades the story. It’s also there in both Evie on the Job and in A Dangerous Heart, and to a lesser extent in The Road Back.
So, yes; my background has influenced my novels because, as with other authors, I’ve tended to start from the world that I know.
But that doesn’t mean that I’ve stayed there. I haven’t stopped at the known – I’ve moved from it into the unknown. For example, I took Patricia from Belsize Park to Ladakh in The Road Back. Moving into the unknown, however, is a different topic, and it must wait for another day.
Bye for now!