How to write your real friends (and others) into your books without pissing people off…

You-give-me-the-kind-of-feeling-people-write-novels-aboutBefore my first book was published by HarperCollins I had a good few heart palpitations at the prospect of my ex reading it. This was largely because a lot of it was about him. Of course, I never divulged his name, or anything else that might help identify him, (God forbid!) but once the thrill of landing a publishing deal with a big six had sunk in, I was left with what you might call the chills, knowing that he was probably (OK, DEFINITELY) going to read it. What the hell had I done?

Dark days, they were. Dark days.

I remember expressing my concerns to my lovely agent at the time – a brilliant lady in Sydney who totally launched my publishing career. One day, whilst having tea at her house I said: “What if he hates me for writing about him?”

Her response? “Well it’s his fault,” she said. “He dated a writer.”

Those words have always stuck with me. She’s right. It’s his fault! Isn’t it? Hmmm. I wasn’t quite sure to be honest, and I’m still not, but it made me feel a little better at the time.

The truth is, when you’re a writer, you never switch off. You are always working. Even when you’re looking out of a window; even when you’re arguing with your boyfriend; when you’re drinking wine with your friends; when you’re in the store buying toilet paper; when someone in a line barges in and smells bad and says something silly, you are working overtime, storing that information, categorising it into “things I will use later.” You do this even when you don’t realize you’re doing it. It’s part of who you are.

When it came to writing the first book in my StarStruck Series, (NOW FREE ON AMAZON AUG-14-17) I found myself drawing on the characteristics and mannerisms of a couple of people I knew; little quirks I’d either forgotten I’d noticed, or consciously scribbled/tapped into my iPhone notes during said wine-drinking sessions/trips to buy toilet paper. It’s these nuggets of reality, drawn from real experiences, that us writers need to create real characters and you’ll probably never read a fictional man or woman who hasn’t been based on someone real – even if it’s just one element, like a look, a line of dialogue or a bizarre experience they had that you didn’t.

If you’re writing about people you know, here’s what to do.

Tell them.
Never wanting to feel the fear and horror my younger and more naive self felt before my first book was published, I now make an effort to tell people when I’m writing about them. I met a guy in Colorado last year who became a huge inspiration for Before He Was Famous. I’d often scribble notes WHILE HE WAS TALKING and I’d tell him “I hope you’re OK with that going in my book?” Most of the time he smiled, said he was fine with it. I think he was flattered. Well, I hope so anyway.

Offer to let them read it before it’s published.
Of course they might not want to. The guy in Colorado who inspired some of Before He Was Famous wasn’t particularly into romance novels about twenty-something celebrities, so he didn’t, but hey. He could have!

If in doubt, leave it out.
Sometimes, when you’re scribbling madly away, you’ll get that niggling feeling that unless you change something about what you’re writing now, you’re going to ruin a relationship in the real world, or at least, really piss someone off. Ask yourself, is it worth it? There’s inspiration everywhere – maybe it’s time to find it elsewhere?

Change all names and personal details.
Of course, if you really have to write every single little thing about someone who’s very, very real, make sure to emit every incriminating detail that could link the character in your book back to who they’re really based on. No real name, no actual addresses, not even a hint at their real identity. For example, if your ex is called Bill Patterson, calling him Will Batterson is NOT going to cut it. (Seriously?)

So… how did my ex react to what became my first book, Burqailicious – the Dubai Diaries? Well, luckily he is a fabulous man and we are and will always be great friends, so after a little period of being annoyed with me, quite understandably, he is now fine with it (so he says) and I learned a big lesson. Even though it’s his fault really. He dated a writer. (Sssssh)

The first book in the StarStruck Series is currently FREE on Amazon. Book 2, Before He Was Gone is out August 25, 2014.