Almost without exception every novel I’ve ever written has caused some reader to get in touch with me and ask me how I know so much about their life. I try to assure them they’re not being stalked by a crazy old scribbler. The fact is, there are only so many stories in the world. It’s the little local details that makes us feel that a story is our own.
When The Dress Circle was published and I did the rounds of daytime TV shows I got nobbled in the Green Room by one transvestite and his wife who insisted, in the friendliest way possible, that I had told their story and theirs alone. They forced upon me a kind of gratitude I’d done nothing to deserve.
Similarly, after The Future Homemakers of America was published I met an USAF wife whose story was identical to the one I’d invented for the widow of First Lieutenant Okey Jackson. This experience spooked me slightly, but it was also encouraging because she said I had the military details exactly right. So, phew.
Last week I heard from a reader who just finished At Sea. Why had I chosen Morecambe Bay as one of the book’s locations, she wondered? And why were two of my characters breeders of Dandie Dinmont terriers? These features were strangely close to her own story. Well, I think I chose Morecambe Bay because no-one else did. You know? Enough with the novels set in Paris or New York. Let’s hear it for Carnforth for a change. And if people don’t know where Morecambe Bay is, let them go forth and consult an atlas.
Similarly for the Dandie Dinmont. It’s not a fashionable breed, though I know it has its devotees. As I recall it, when I was sketching out the characters of Mumsie and her Special Friend, Bobbie, pursuit of perfection in the pedigree of the Dandie seemed a suitable obsession for a pair of crusty old ladies. Was I right, was I wrong? Darned if I know. This whole writing business is a mystery to me.