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Sunday, February 19, 2012

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Most writers at one time or other get asked "is your protagonist you?" - in the belief, maybe, that all of us secretly yearn to place ourselves in our work (hey, as a character, you get to have all the fun!). When I completed Consequences of Sin and handed it to my husband to read, his immediate reaction was "I know Ursula is you, but who is Lord Wrotham, because he sure as hell isn't me!" I of course vigororously denied that Ursula was in any sense, me, but, in many ways, she was a direct projection of who I would have liked to have been had I lived in Edwardian times.

It was only when my sister, Bridget, got upset that I had named the housemaid after her (completely unwittingly, I might add), that I realized how much family and friends were trying to see if they recognized anyone in my books. No one seemed to believe that I hadn't based any of my characters on anyone I actually knew in real life (well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

This question has got me thinking about other writers and whether they incorporate themselves or other people they know into their novels. I'm sure all of us has subconsciously done this to some extent - but how many of us have deliberately chosen to model a character on someone we know?

While I often use real historical figures to inform my writing, I have never deliberately based a character of anyone in particular. To me that seems to be crossing the line into non-fiction (and opening up a potential can of worms if any descendants get upset!)

What about you? Have you ever deliberately incorporated someone you know as a character (victim, hero or perpetrator!)?
Did you try and disguise them to ensure the person didn't realize the character was based on them?

If you have used a real person, did that person recognize themselves when they read it? If so, how did they react (...any lawsuits pending...?!)


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