About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

DO YOU BASE YOUR CHARACTERS ON REAL PEOPLE?

There are some questions writers get asked all the time.  
  • 'Should I have heard of you?' 
  • 'Where do you get your ideas from?'  
  • 'Have you always wanted to be a writer?' 
I tend to answer as follows: 
  • (frostily) Yes.  
  • I steal them.  
  • No, there was a brief phase when I wanted to be a ballerina.*
* But mainly 'Yes' as this picture betrays:



Having dealt with those hardy perennials of the question-and-answer session, we will now approach the tricky one: Do you base your characters on real people?  The answer to this one is 'No.' To which people generally reply, 'HA HA HA HA HA! Yeah, right.'

Readers seriously underestimate how mad novelists are.  I spend half my life in places that don't exist, in the company of people who aren't real.  I don't need to base my characters on real people.  My head teems with imaginary friends. To be honest, I have almost zero interest in writing about real people.  If I had I'd be a journalist, or a biographer. That would be terrible, as I'd then have a responsibility to get the facts right.  There's a sense in which you have to get the facts right in fiction, of course.  It has to ring true, even though it's made up.  It needs to feel real in its own terms.

In the case of my early novels, the impression of reality is compounded by the fact that I set them in readily identifiable places.  This lured people into reading them as a roman à clef and thinking that if they just knew a bit more about the circles I moved in, they'd be able to crack the code and work out who the characters were.  

With my two recent novels, Acts and Omissions and Unseen Things Above the setting is fictional, as well as the characters.  You'd think this would simplify things.  But no, people just want to know which diocese Lindchester is based on.  I feel I should do a Whistler here, and say it is based on 'a lifetime of experience.'  A lifetime of lurking in churches and cathedrals, of observing people and nature, of brooding and daydreaming.

My method in these books is to identify situations, processes and predicaments in the current church, and to abstract them from their real life settings.  I then experiment to see how they play out in my fiction laboratory (called The Diocese of Lindchester) through the medium of my fictional characters.  There is a lot of waiting and listening involved.  I am trying the whole time to take the temperature of the C of E, to read it correctly, and to resist the urge to impose on Lindchester my own views of how things should be.

We live, as they say, in interesting times in the Anglican communion.  I set out at the beginning of 2013 to blog a larky cathedral sit-com, but seem to have ended up chronicling the church in a period of upheaval and change.  Now and then it feels as though I'm sailing close to the wind on some very dark seas indeed.  Wish me Bon Voyage, as I mend my nets and swab the decks, ready to hoist sail and launch out again in January when I will start blogging Realms of Glory

A taster can be found here: http://realmsofglorylindchester.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/a-new-adventure.html 



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