…by your readers you’ll be taught.

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.

A page from the album compiled by my uncle after his visit to Ladakh

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.

The cobbled street leading up to the central piazza in Montefalco

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!

Carved stone tablets, each with the inscription "Om Mani Padme Hum" along the paths of Zangskar. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

A few of the recent plays I've seen

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.

Belsize Park is one of eight London Underground stations which have deep-level air-raid shelters underneath them. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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!




  • Carol McGrath:

    Another excellent post and such lovely photographs. I enjoyed the pocket novel and was thrilled to see a picture of the location. It is true that we bring our experience to our work and sometimes in most surprising ways, eg characterisation. I am sure that even when trying to develop authentic and at least faithful historical characterisation, my modern sensibility creeps in.

  • I really enjoyed this post and think other writers who have been asked to give talks on their books will too. I think Anita’s suggestion about people being interested in what writers did before they write novels is a really good one. It’s funny too, about including familiar locations in novels. Whenever I write, even if it’s about something completely different, a newspaper element always creeps in!

    • Liz:

      I found the comments last week really helpful. They made me think about things I hadn’t thought about before. Hopefully, when the time comes for me to give talks, that’ll stand me in good stead.

  • This is so interesting, Liz. My background pops up regularly – acting, drama, theatre, and having lived in Africa. I also think one uses so much of one’s thoughts, standards and modus vivendi as one has lived and almost without conscious decision infuses all this into characters. I actually don’t think you can help writing about what you know in that sense.

  • Jan Brigden:

    What a fascinating insight into your background, Liz. I too love hearing about what writers did prior to penning their novels. And about their lives in general, to be honest. Your interest in and knowledge of languages, alone, will provide great talking points at any author events, I’m sure. Oh, and teaching yourself German?! That’s what I call impressive! Thanks for sharing your story with us x x

    • Liz:

      Having learnt Anglo-Saxon really helped with German – the perfect tense is constructed in an identical manner. Building up sentences, and deconstructing them, is great fun. OK. An*l.I agree!!

  • i bet everyone will read this post and certainly will like it.http://www.porcelanatoportinari.com

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  • Thanks for this, Liz. Am due to give another library talk shortly. Now doing a bit of tweaking! 🙂 x

  • Felicity (Harris) Henderson:

    Hello Aunt Liz! So glad you sent us the website! Congratulations on your published works! Can hardly wait to read them (please send all with Mom and Dad!!!). Having grown up an ocean apart from you and with only intermittent visits – after reading your blog, I feel like I know you better and can hardly wait to see you again! Perhaps you’d like to write something based on a trip to the heart of Mexico while visiting your niece??? I think it’s a brilliant idea! I will follow your blog faithfully on Wednesdays – it will be a welcome break – while I am becoming proficient, there are definitely days when I feel like my brain is on Spanish language overload. To read such beautifully written English will be a treat for sure! Now quit blogging and go enjoy a glass of wine with Mom and Dad! Felicidades! Nos vemos el proximo miercoles! besitos y abrazos

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  • Hi Liz, really fascinating to hear what inspired you. We are so formed by our backgrounds and previous pursuits. I think however it’s no surprise that quite prolific novelists such as Jodi Picoult, after they have presumably used things they already know about, will research so deeply for new subjects on which to base their stories. I understand she is going the rounds now and giving fascinating talks about the things that have inspired her latest novel.

    • Liz:

      Many thanks for that, Cara.

      I think that going more deeply into a subject is very satisfying for an author. I like to think that readers of my novel (fingers crossed that there will be some!!) will learn something new, or be left with something to think about, as a result of reading my books, and I think it’s good for an author to gain some new knowledge/insight by the end of the novel, too.

  • Hi Liz, What an interesting post-thanks for mentioning my comment from last week! I enjoyed reading more about your life before writing and how your interests have influenced what you write about. The novel that I’ve written is influenced by my interests. Italian life, family relationships, the changing role of women, The Second World War (in Italy), the history behind Italians emigrating to America are all subjects which fascinate me. I’m still working out the plot for my second novel but it will definitely have to be based around subjects I want to know more about. That for me is part of the enjoyment of novel writing.

    • Liz:

      I’m very much looking forward to reading The Grandson, Anita. I’m a sucker for anything Italian, and your novel sounds particularly interesting.

  • Christina Courtenay:

    I think you’re right Liz, our backgrounds do influence us a lot. I’ve certainly used some of my experiences in my books and they probably creep in without us even noticing! So looking forward to reading The Road Back 🙂 (And am very jealous of you studying Anglo-Saxon! I too love languages but only studied modern ones).

    • Liz:

      Many thanks, Christina! I was surprised, when I looked back, at how much my background had crept into my work.

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