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  • peh61hall

Is it me?

Updated: Jan 8

I feel that this is a question that every fiction author gets asked; is the story autobiographical? So, let’s tackle it now. The short answer is no, but a more accurate if less compact answer would be some of it. There are extracts from my own life in the mix, but the main character is based on a long-term friend of mine, who does know that he’s the inspiration and is still a friend.

Originally, I planned to write about a different couple of friends; one who is relentlessly optimistic about life and another who sees the glass as half, if not three-quarters empty. I felt the contrast in their approaches to life would make for an interesting proposition and maybe one day that story will appear.

Being concerned about my lack of any writing training I took a creative writing course which focused on thrillers and in particular the “what-if” question. Six weeks of constantly challenging the norm created a mini-obsessive in me, who would question every conversation, so when a friend told me he was moving into a “dream-house” on the edge of Reigate my creative brain went into overdrive, and I spent the evening and most of the night drafting an idea that eventually morphed into the book we have today. By morning I had a plot but no main protagonist.

Enter my friend Robert, whose nickname has been “Dug” for more years than I can remember, and a character started to form. When it came to episodes where Doug needed to take action, I would consider what Dug might do, one such example precedes the family barbeque in chapter 4, when Doug is sitting in his armchair steeling himself for the arrival of their neighbours. It would be harsh to call him anti-social, but he is not famous for revelling in the big occasions.

I was searching for an event to give the Robinsons, and Doug in particular, a positive boost; there had been so much negativity in the early pages, and I knew there was more to come. I selected the horse-racing option primarily because Dug likes the horses although I’ve never known him win big. Additionally, I’d enjoyed a day at Lingfield Park in more or less the same circumstances as Doug does, although again without the Ferrari or the big win.

One incident that is very close to the truth is the story of Doug giving Cathy a CD as a Christmas present; that one did actually happen. Much of the Atlanta storyline reflects my own experiences in the US; previously I worked for the European arm of an American corporation, headquartered in Roswell, north of Atlanta, so the travel and accommodation details are firsthand.

Another incident that is straight from the horse’s mouth is the conversation between Doug and Cathy in chapter 6 when she is teasing him about his preference for pine furniture, although in this instance that’s a chapter from my own life.

Overall, I found it useful to have a couple of reliable sources to fall back on at times when the words were not flowing freely. Dropping back into the personal memory banks was often the catalyst the get the creatives juices gushing again.

Today’s musical accompaniment is Billy Joel’s legendary album from 1983 An Innocent Man. It was Joel’s homage to the 1960’s era of R & B and drew on the sounds and memories of his youth. Hence, while I’m discussing autobiographical themes it seemed the appropriate choice. Tough to find a favourite here, perhaps the title track which is allegedly Joel’s attempt to create a “Stand by Me” song, but they all work. Ironically his biggest UK hit, ‘Uptown girl’, is my least favourite, but I can’t blame him for bragging about a supermodel girlfriend.

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