As an enthusiastic attendee at literary festivals, where I doggedly choose the sessions with both new and established authors over the celebrity writers, I’ve noticed a commonality in the questions following an author interview.
One predictable question would be: “Is your novel autobiographical?” I’ve heard a variety of responses, from a simple “no” to “well, yes, obviously,” and plenty in between.
When I started Dare to Remember I was aware of the common premise that an author’s debut novel is autobiographical, in other words, it’s based on his or her own experience, character, personality and understanding. Being quite a private person, I was determined that Lisa, my protagonist, was not going to be me. So she’s younger than me, unambitious, likes old films (I don’t), passive, has no siblings, and there are many other aspects of her character which are not at all like me.
She also experiences a horrible, traumatic event, which changes her life. Fortunately, I have not, though I know people who have. And I watch a lot of ‘Nordic Noir’ dramas.
But there’s inevitably going to be something of me in Lisa. After all, I created her, and I have to use my own knowledge and experience to bring her to life. Certainly the dog walking – and its therapeutic effect on her – comes from my own experience. My dogs keep me grounded and make me laugh at the same time. Walking them gets me out of bed and into the countryside whatever the weather. Some days, being tied to my desk, it’s the only time I leave the house.
Lisa suffers from PTSD and depression. I have absolutely no personal experience of PTSD, a little of depression – but I empathise strongly with those who do. I’m also an introvert, as Lisa is.
So no, Lisa is not me. And yes, she is. People are complex entities, with many different personae. The job of an author is to demonstrate this complexity, creating believable characters, both from themselves and from other, quite different people.