Sunday, 8 March 2009
Up Close and Personal
Writers have been getting a bit of flack, recently, for dragging their personal lives into the public eye. I’m thinking in particular of Julie Myerson, whose latest novel “The Lost Child” chronicles how her teenage son’s addiction to cannabis finally led her and her husband to change the locks in order to keep him out of the house, in a desperate bid to save their sanity and the unity of the rest of the family.
Just because it makes her feel better to write down her feelings that’s no reason to expose her son to such public scrutiny, screamed the opinion columns.
Julia Donaldson has written “Running the Cracks”, nominally a thriller about a runaway girl and a goth paper boy. Despite her best intentions Donaldson was unable to resist the lure of peppering the novel with characters based on all those people she ran across during the many times her son Hamish – psychotic and violent for much of his young life - was hospitalised.
Because the readership for this novel is young adults, Donaldson admits to painting a slightly rosier picture of mental health problems than reality. But it’s something she needed to write about, she says, after the death of a son, who stepped in front of a train at the age of 25.
One of my favourite writers, Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote “Falling”, a fictionalised account of her relationship with a man who tried and very nearly succeeded in conning her out of her money and home when she’d reached an age when the idea of someone falling in love with her seemed highly unlikely.
I’m guessing all these writers struggled with the idea of putting their most intimate thoughts out there and lost sleep worrying if they were simply exploiting their own pain for reasons of commerce. But to paraphrase Julie Myerson – writing comes from a place writers don’t always have control over
Recently, within my own family, something came to light that – briefly – tipped our world on its axes if only for a short time. I came to terms with it through the usual avenues, talking to friends and family, listening to the experience of others in similar situations.
But I am a writer. And slowly, slowly it began to dawn on me that sooner or later I was going to have to nail the moment. It seemed vital to set down, in fiction, the essence of the experience as I had experienced it.
Of course I thought about the other people I’d be involving and how they might feel were they to pick up a magazine and read about it set down in black and white. And I know that I’ll be accused of exploiting the event for money.
If this story gets published then I’ll use a pseudonym. If I get paid for writing it then it’ll be money well earned. In the ruthless pursuit of a good story, as far as I’m concerned, I’m afraid there are no holds barred. But I hope I’ll be forgiven if my story touches the hearts of even just a handful of readers. I ask no more than that.