In the wake of NaNoWriMo I felt a little bit of a slump. Now I have a finished novel and like lots of other people, I have a lot of editing to do. The frenetic flow of words produced several unplanned plot twists and extreme situations and even gave the piece an unexpected metaphysical subplot! I think it may be several months before the whole of novel number three is fit for purpose.
Lots of people ask me how much of ‘me’ is in my writing, and also how much of ‘them’ is in my writing. My life so far has been quite unusual, with some time spent living in Cyprus and some time living in Manchester. The people I have met along the way have all had their input into how I see the world. However, my writing is heavily based on commonalities that emerged from a psychological study that I did over six years. The research question was ‘How do people construct their identity’ and the context was the personal, interpersonal and societal impact on their lived experience within a critical realist philosophy. My interview questions were all based around health but were very open ended in that the person being interviewed could talk for as long as they liked to answer the question. I, and a whole lot of literature on the subject, expected them to be health focused and talk about illness and suffering. They didn’t. After an initial period of uncertainty about power dynamics, which I quickly diffused, all the people in the study talked about their lives in the context of relationships, how people cared for them and how they cared for others and how this affected their well being. Any illness was explained in symptom lists as opposed to stories with a beginning, middle and end.
The main outcome of the study was a model that other people can use to study psychosocial aspect of identity. Along the way I noticed many commonalities in the stories, dialectical pathways which formed a landscape of experience. The storytellers had contextualised their lives amongst these signposts and I found it fascinating that these deep insights into living were exposed as sparkling seams of internal conflict.
An example of this is the love/sex dialectic, and this is what I have explored in my novel Dirty Sparkle. Set in the sex industry, there is an examination of how the characters navigate the seedy under life they inhabit as well as conducting love relationships. I made a conscious decision to tackle these dialectics because I believe that they are at the core of human feeling and that we can all resonate in some way or another (including hating and abhorring!) with these conditions. In fact, some beta readers of all three novels have commented that they find the main character or subsiduary characters slightly disturbing – could it be a case of too close to home?
So, in answer to the initial questions, there is very little of ‘me’ or ‘them’, but a little of all of us, I hope!