When Writing Gets Personal

Some time ago, I posted about authors and their friends appearing in their own books and film adaptations, in a thread called You In Your Book

It’s still going on, for quite by chance, I’ve recently read three novels in a row which feature personal appearances. James Lee Burke’s excellent Dave Robicheaux series has long seen the Louisiana detective raising an adopted daughter called Alafair. In the books she’s an El Salvadorean refugee he rescued from a crashed plane. She grows up to become a lawyer and screenwriter. In reality, his own daughter Alafair is a lawyer and crime novelist. I don’t know how tightly he’s based his book character’s mannerisms on his own daughter, but there was an unsettling moment towards the end of the latest story, New Iberia Blues, in which Alafair is kidnapped and threatened with death by a nutter. It really looked like she was dead at one point, which felt ominous—surely, he’s not going to kill his own daughter, thinks I—but no, she survived. Imagine the atmosphere, if he’d bumped her off.

Image result for james lee burke and alafair burke

Sadder, was the way that crime novelist James Oswald handled the real-life death of his parents in a car crash when he was 40, by having his protagonist in his Inspector McLean series lose his parents in a plane crash when he was four. Write what you know, certainly: writing as therapy, maybe.

Image result for James Oswald

Touchingly, Amanda Coplin based the titular character of her debut novel The Orchardist on her own grandfather, who tended orchards in Washington state, where the story is set. It’s all the more realistic for being drawn from her own memories. She acknowledges his influence when giving thanks in the end matter.

Image result for Amanda Coplin

In my Cornish Detective series, I’ve based two recurring characters on friends, with their permission. One is a retired social worker, the other a photographer and maker. I don’t steal details from their lives, striving more to capture their attitude to the world.

Have any of you used friends, family members, acquaintances or work colleagues as the basis for fictional characters?

Did you do so in an admiring way?

Or, for revenge!

Did you tell them?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *