Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Writing from personal memories

I've been asked several times recently, during the lead-up to publication of my 1960s themed novel YESTERDAY (being published next week), whether I wrote the book using my own memories of the period. Of course, I'd like to pretend I'm not old enough to have any such memories, but I'm not vain enough or deluded enough to bother trying! 

The answer is yes - of course, a lot of the fun of writing about the era was the fact that I was a teenager myself back then. And yes, the heroine of my novel - Cathy - is a girl of about the same age I was then, growing up in the same area of Essex, even going to a school which was similar to mine in some ways. So it's natural for people to ask me (as a newspaper interviewer has in fact just asked me today) whether I based Cathy on myself.

In fact, I didn't. Not consciously. But as all writers of fiction will be aware, there's quite a fine line between writing a story based on our own memories and experiences, and writing something that's almost autobiographical. That's why we have to be so careful when writing fiction which has been inspired by real life stories concerning friends or acquaintances - they might recognise themselves, however much we try to disguise them, and they might not be happy about it!

Cathy's story is not my story. So although the background details of her life - the fact that she was a Mod, and a Beatles' fan - were the same as mine, this isn't particularly surprising as nearly all young girls in 1963-4 were Beatles' fans, and most teenagers were either Mods or Rockers, or at least sympathetic to one side or the other.

But the serious things that happen to Cathy and the other characters in YESTERDAY didn't happen to me - they are my invention. Cathy's family is nothing like my family and her friends are nothing like my friends. By placing her in my home town, and at my own age, it was easy for me to imagine myself walking in her shoes, experiencing the things she went through - and I hope this, as well as all my memories of 1960s events, music and fashion, has given the story an added dose of realism.

You can catch up with all the latest news and gossip about YESTERDAY on the Facebook page for the book.

I wonder how many other authors have written novels based on their own personal memories?


  1. Sheila, I based Love Is In The Air (my last D C Thomson pocket novel) on personal memories of being an air hostess in the 60s. I think your comments are very pertinent and I think this 'distancing' applies to any other era in which we set our book. I've read a lot and researched on line for my latest project (set in 1925 and definitely before my time!) but my aim is to set the scene. As regards research, less is more? Good luck with your book x

  2. Thanks Jill. You make a good point about less being more, with research. I think the historical facts should just be the background of a novel - the story and the characters are the important things, unless you're actually writing a history text book of course! x