talk about whatever inspires them.
Writers can be terrible magpies – collecting colourful annecdotes, mannerisms or settings from all aspects of life and weaving them like wool and tinfoil into something new and colourful. However this habit is hard to explain to your non-writing friends or family members who wonder if your main character is basically yourself (albiet a butt-kicking, much more glamorous version) – or even worse – based on them.
The truth is of course, my life and the people in it often inspire my characters – but they certainly aren’t me, and nor are they thinly-veiled portraits of people I know.
This week I’ve been revisiting an old story that just would not leave me alone, a story that just so happens was inspired out of real life – but is not real life.
Let me tell you the real story first: (I shared part of this in yesterday’s post: Alternate Endings).
When we first moved to Wellington, we lived in this old house clinging to the side of a very steep hill. The way up was via what could only be described as a goat track. It was not in great shape, the inside hadn’t been redecorated since Adam was a boy and it had carpet that looked like a tatty red/orange tortoiseshell cat had given its hide to cover the floor. (Can I only say hubby found it while I was still in Auckland and sold me on it by saying it had ocean views…).
The first week we moved into that house I became pregnant with our son, and quickly became bedridden with hyperemisis (think non-stop vomiting and nausea). So my introduction to Wellington, where I didn’t know a soul apart from hubby, was spent alone for long stretches of time in that house.
Now while I was ill our landlord would turn up unannounced during the day to fix things. He was nice enough (heaven knew that house needed some fixing), but he did have an issue with an architect who owned much of the surrounding property. So while I lay on the couch feeling like I was dying (more often than not being sick while he chattered on), he told me all about his long history with the architect. In the interests of tact (and because I’m a lawyer – to make sure I’m not crossing into defamatory territory) let’s just say there wasn’t much love lost between them.
At one point I recall him telling me about the architect dumping gravel on the section above his, and it falling down into the bush above the house.
All this fed into my writerly imagination and the what if’s began. What if two strong personalities (lets call them the Landlord and the Architect… original I know) started clashing over a property. One was determined to get his hands on it – and the other equally determined to hold onto it – to the point of dragging it into the grave with him if it meant thwarting the other. Who might get caught in the crossfire?
The unfortunate character I came up with was somewhat inspired by a feeling I’ve felt when we’ve moved city (or country). If you’ve lived somewhere for a while you tend to bump into people you know on the street, you recognise places or service people. But when you’re new to town, every face is a stranger, and I’ve often felt people tend to look right through you.
This feeling was amplified during this move, because I didn’t get the chance to make new friends before I started being violently ill. Also, because the house was up the goat track I couldn’t navigate the path when hubby wasn’t home – so the house in all it’s marmalade cat glory became the one place I felt grounded – safe. So although Claire definitely isn’t me – she is that type of invisible girl, who finds her security in the one place she can call her own.
The other main character is Damien, the architect’s son. Now funnily enough the real life architect’s son did live next door to us – although in the six months we lived there I never met him. So apart from the fact he was his father’s son, he wasn’t a huge influence in the creation of Damien. He wasn’t an artist, nor was he disfigured like the character in the story and the quiet little love story between Claire and Damien was totally fictitious (and unexpected).
So despite there being lots of real life influences (for those of you who read yesterday’s WIPpet – you can just make out the cabbage tree to the right of the picture – it’s the tree with the bare trunk and a round pom-pom-like head of spikey leaves) – it is actually real-life spun into a fanciful imagining. Albiet one that transports me back to a time in my life that marked many new beginnings.
It seems trite to ask if real-life inspires you, because the Thursday’s Children blog hop is full of real-life inspirations – but I’d love to know if real-life and writing have ever come too close for comfort?
If you want to join in the Thursday’s Children blog hop fun, I’ve found them to be a warm and welcoming bunch. You just need to blog about what inspires you to write and add your link to this linky. Thanks so much to Rhiann Wynn-Nolet and Kristina Perez for hosting!