Wednesday 16 March 2016

Unwitting revelations about an author

My true story God's Triangle attracted many uplifting and supportive reviews and reader comments. But not everyone was pleased. One woman denounced it as rubbish without having read it. Another, a member of my extended family, hated it because she thought it revealed too much private information about my great aunt Florence "Florrie" Cox. She made it clear that God's Triangle told her more about my character than I had intended.

She was quite entitled to her view and despite her upset, we remain good friends.

Her comments were interesting. I would have said that the book revealed to the reader little more than the impression that I was like a dog with a bone when it came to researching something that caught my interest. But obviously, my family member saw much more than that and didn't like what she saw.

I knew from the moment I began writing my novel The Mortal Maze I would might reveal all sorts of things about my character. I accepted that.

Inevitably, I was asked if I had based the main character, Jackson Dunbar, on myself. I replied with honesty "not in any way". Then a friend and former BBC colleague who had worked for me on a big international story said the bureau chief Mack Galbraith was me. Eh? How could  that be? Mack was Scottish (I'm not), he was a chain smoker (I haven't smoked since I left high school), he drank copious amounts of whisky (I prefer beer), and he was incredibly untidy (well, I'm just a little untidy).

"Yes, I know you're not a smoker and I never suspected you kept bottles of whisky under your coat (or even in your office)," responded my friend, "but these are mere superficialities compared to the similarities between the way you and Mack each acted as a certain kind of non-nonsense hack-cum-office manager in the field, somehow being both protective shield and connecting bridge between highly strung, overwrought correspondents and the corporation stuffed shirts back home."

On reflection, my friend is right. Although I believed I had created a character who was nothing to do with me -- I thought I was basing it on a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, untidy, and entertaining former colleague -- the reality was that I had unwittingly modelled the essentials of his personality on how I ran a team -- or tried to anyway -- when covering a big story.

I can be most grateful that my friend didn't think that the character Dick 'Psycho' Passick was me. Now that would have been very, very upsetting!
A selection of comments/reviews of The Mortal Maze can be seen HERE.