Thursday, 9 April 2015

Everything I write is completely autobiographical - especially the made up bits

One of the first things that everybody learns when it comes to stories and books is the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Everybody knows what that is, right? Everybody knows that fiction is stories that are made up while non-fiction is stuff that is real.
If only it were that simple.

Sure, it looks obvious. Clearly there's a big difference between the things that are the products of fanciful imaginations versus the objective reporting of real world events or occurrences. But from the perspective of a writer, that distinction is far less clear than it first appears.

My writing is a pretty good example of this. I like to think that everything I write is completely autobiographical. Okay, maybe not everything, but certainly a good range of it.

"How can that be?" you may say. "Is he really claiming to have fallen off the world, or pushed the world out of shape, or drowned in a sea of words, like Neville Lansdowne did in Doodling, Scribbling, and Scrawling?"

All right, so I can't claim that those events literally happened to me (which I have to admit is probably something of a relief). But the feelings that are captured in those stories pretty accurately sums up how I have felt at various times. I have felt that the world was moving so quickly that I had totally fallen off the pace. I have felt that the world was the wrong shape for me, and I really wished I could mold it and twist it into a shape that suited me better. And I've definitely felt overwhelmed by the volume of words that have surrounded me.

So maybe these stories aren't true in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense they definitely capture the experiences I've gone through as I live my life.

And let's face it, isn't an autobiography meant to allow readers to know more about the life of the writer? Sure, I could provide some dry breakdown, full of correct dates and detailed descriptions of real events, but how much would that reveal of the real me. But through these stories that I make up, no matter how fanciful, readers get a much truer sense of who I am, what I think, and what I've experienced.

So the next time you read something that purports to be fiction, take a closer look. What you are reading may not be real in the literal sense, but it will often be the truest thing you will ever see.


  1. “All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.”― P.D. James. She’s not the only one (or the first) to say that but I found her first. Of course everything we write is autobiographical; it comes out of us; it is of us. Once it’s left us then it becomes its own thing. I dislike comparing writing to children but in some respects out books are our kids and our kids are not us but all you’d have to do is spend five minutes in my daughter’s company to see who she takes after and I’m not just talking about her looks. I think the difference with writing, unless we’ve set out to write a memoir of some sort, is that it less of a photograph and more of a painting; you look at it and get an impression of the author. The phrases I use in my books—and in my blogs and comments especially—are the phrases I use in real life. That’s how I talk. You get a flavour of me. And, occasionally, you will get an actual fact or two. But unless you know me well you won’t be able to distinguish fact from fiction. The bottom line is that if I wasn’t the person I am, if I hadn’t lived the life I have, made the mistakes I have I wouldn’t’ve become the writer I am. My books are me.

    1. Hi Jim. I like the idea of my stories being paintings from my life. Have a good week.