My sudden interest in writing took everybody, including myself, by surprise. The news that I was fiddling with a story sent shock waves through my circle of friends and family.
I hadn’t quite anticipated the reaction. Had I known, I wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place. But now it’s out there, and it’s impossible to take back the words or pretend they misunderstood me.
Initially, when I decided to tell my friends and family that I’m trying to write a novel, it was because I thought a bit of pressure would be good.
Kind of the same way the peer pressure in a weight loss group gives you no alternative, but to buckle up and resist temptations. The mere thought that you’d be the only one at the collective weighing that have gained weight the past week is so traumatic it’s simply not an option.
I had this crazy idea it would be the same way with writing. I’d tell them, and get some help to stay focused and keep writing. It’s not like they’re not supportive. They are, in their…own way. They’re all eager to read, but I doubt it’s because they truly have faith in me as a writer.
Yup, as you’ve probably already gathered, my confession didn’t work quite as planned.
I’m just relieved I never told them my pen name and it’s impossible for them to track me at the moment.
This is roughly what it happened…
In a weak moment I mentioned to one friend that I was writing, and that I really, really enjoyed it.
A few nights later, all the hens (that’s my girlfriends and myself) are gathered to drown our sorrows and solve world problems with alcohol.
The red wine is opened and the glasses are filled. All the normal topics are discussed in great detail; nappy rashes, the increased kindergarten fee, the notoriously unfaithful bastard of a husband that, for some unfathomable reason, one of my girlfriends still wants to keep. Our favorite clothing store has a sale on, and have you seen the last episode of Sons of Anarchy? Holy crap! Charlie Hunnam is so freaking hot, we all discreetly dab away a bit of drool just thinking about him, even though he’s probably too young for us. Lets not even go there, it will bring us on to Botox and anti-wrinkle lotions and other depressing topics. That’s the kind of conversations that float around the table while the glasses are topped up.
Out of nowhere, silencing everything else: “So, you’re writing a book?”
“Maybe.” I cringe, not sure I’m ready to go there. Why did I mention it in the first place?
“Life and love, I guess.”
“Really? So, when can we read it?”
“I’ve got no idea. Probably never.”
“That was serious. Look, I’ve told myself I’ll try to have a draft ready for my fortieth birthday.”
“What? You gotta be kidding! That’s like two years from now.”
“So what genre is it?”
“I have no idea.”
They laugh as if I’ve said something really funny.
“No seriously, I’ve got no idea.”
“She’s writing the next Fifty Shades,” somebody says. “She’s just too shy to admit it.”
“You are?!” An excited unison exclaim from the whole table.
“Definitely not. How the hell am I supposed to write stuff like that? I almost died of embarrassment when I watched Basic Instinct.”
“You’re not?” In disappointed unison from the whole table.
“Maybe she’s writing about us.”
Shucks. “No, no, no, I’m not. They’re all fictional characters. It’s fiction, not real life stuff.”
“But I bet they’ll be inspired by us.”
“I don’t think so. They’re made up. They don’t exist in real life.”
“Well, you had to draw inspiration from somewhere…” It’s quite clear that my friends think the nutty crowd around the table is the obvious place to search for inspiration.
The table gasps at the prospect. Then they start looking at each other, wondering who’ll be good girls and who’ll play the role as Cruella De Vil.
“Oh, this is so cool,” says one of the single ones. I imagine she could see herself in a Carrie Bradshaw type of role.
“Don’t you fucking dare. I’m not having my messed up life smeared onto book pages,” says a mother of three, currently in the middle of a divorce. She threatens me with her wine glass. I’m not sure if she’s considering pouring the content over my head or break it and use it as a weapon. In the end the precious drops win and nothing much comes out of it.
But that’s still where it took off…
To make a long story that included a lot of wine (some will claim way too much), very short, my friends seem to have a strong need and will to link both physical appearances and personal traits of my characters to real people. Like in a very strong urge.
It’s terrifying. The pressure. And the danger. Fuck, I feel like there are toes to step on everywhere I look now.
It’s also quite a blow for my imagination, or lack of, if my friends’ reaction is anything to go by. The idea that I would be capable of inventing characters out of the blue is not something they’re willing to buy into just like that.
And it makes me question their opinion of me. What have I done to make them think I’d write a story like a tabloid gossip magazine and use our dirty, little secrets to spice it up? Why, oh, why?
I felt like drowning myself in the wine when I realized almost any feature or personal trait I’d attribute to one of my characters can also be linked to a person we know, if you really, really want to. But are my friends connecting the dots correctly, or are they just making a big, messy tangle of it all?
Who are these characters? Where do they come from? Why did they decide to set camp in my head? Are they products of my imagination only, or are they actually a fusion or blend based on real people? What I see as vague resemblances at best, can be seen as real inspiration by others. And it matters, to some extent.
This is getting too messy to deal with at the bottom of the wine bottle, I decide.
“So…back to Charlie Hunnam…”
Some distractions never fail.