Exploiting my nearest and dearest…

I can’t tell you how difficult it is to write about people you know! I don’t mean the cannon fodder (in writing terms!) you meet in passing, or even people you see every day and would say you knew … reasonably well. They’re dead easy to draw without a shred of conscience and sometimes they prefer the picture you present of them to the one they actually are! I murdered a neighbour, pretty gruesomely by cutting him in half lengthways with a bench saw, in one of the Nathan Hawk books and the guy loved it. He even loved the fact that after his death his wife went off with a man they’d both known for years.
What isn’t so easy is writing about people you know really, really well, maybe too well. Like family. I’m doing it right now but as I try to get them down on paper they seem to change, partly to fit the story, but also in essence. Consequently I’ve ended up with a disconcerting group of characters that, at some points in the story (still entitled The Fire Pit, though that’s going to change) I simply don’t recognise. They’ve emerged in the parallel world I’m trying to create as complete strangers. It’s a spooky experience and although I’m not claiming to be bonkers, I’m beginning to wonder…

An even bigger problem comes when you use yourself, as the narrator, controlling force or just plain central character and let your imagination fly. In the last month I’ve been asking myself “Where did that come from?” or “Would I really do anything so stupid, mean, or irrational.” The answer is invariably “Yes!” because I’m trying to write a fairly ‘true’ story in which I turn over a few stones that those close to me might prefer me to leave untouched. Regardless of their wishes, as I’ve gradually moved away from the person I thought I was and become the person I now am, at least according to the story, I’ve had to ask: ‘Which version of me is the true one?’ That’s the point at which most writers accept that the truth is one thing, but for the sake of a good story they often have to lie about it.


Douglas Watkinson is an English novelist, playwright and screenwriter.

Leave a Comment