I’m delighted to welcome author Mary Jayne Baker back to the blog with a great guest post, ‘When Art Imitates Life’. I’ve enjoyed Mary Jayne’s company in ‘real life’ a few times recently, so I’m always keen to read what she has to say on writerly matters!
Mary Jayne has not one but two books out this month and they both look fab, but before I allow you to drool over the gorgeous covers, let me hand you over to Mary Jayne …
When art imitates life
“Is the book autobiographical?”
“Oh, was that character based on me?”
“How does your partner feel about you writing sex scenes in your books?”
…are all questions I’ve been asked, and I suspect all authors get asked versions of them at some point (and the answers are no, no and pretty bloody impressed, if you’re interested).
When people ask if particular aspects of my life, relationships or people I know go into my books, I never really know how to answer, except with a noncommittal “It doesn’t really work like that”. Because, well, it doesn’t really work like that. I’ve never based a single character wholesale on a single real person I know, although tricks of speech, habits, life experiences and hobbies, both my own and other people’s, often inform my characters, many different “real people” mingling together into one fictional one. My heroines aren’t me, although there’s a lot of me in them, and we usually share a sense of humour, an outlook on life, and quite often a Yorkshire accent.
When I write, I try to take myself, the me of me, out of that process. The reader doesn’t care about me: they care about the characters and the story, so I try to make my authorial voice as unobtrusive as possible. Any passage of writing that reminds the reader there is an author, creative writing tutors and Stephen King would tell us, should be rewritten. But the characters and story exist in the author’s head nonetheless, so it’s our own experiences and worldview that inform what we’re writing no matter how much we try to imprison ego.
I use the real world as inspiration all the time, because I think it makes my writing more authentic, and because as a writer I’m both research-lazy and time-impatient. When I need my character to experience a certain emotion, I cast about for a time in my life when I experienced that emotion with a degree of intensity so I can channel it. When my character needs a hobby, I very often give them one of mine. When my character needs backstory, I plunder significant and interesting incidents (or incidents that will seem interesting when rewritten for fiction) from my own life, the lives of people I know or people I’ve read about. Sometimes, an incident, location or person from life will inspire the whole premise of a book. With the addition of a generous dollop of fantasy, I’m then able to tell a story completely removed from the real-world thing that first inspired it, so that by following the well-worn advice to “write what you know”, the “what I know” becomes something new and original.
I have two books out this month with different publishers, A Bicycle Made for Two (Mirror Books) and Runaway Bride (HarperImpulse), both of which have many real-world influences.
In Runaway Bride, my heroine, Kitty, flees her wedding reception after secretly spotting her new husband being unfaithful. Destitute and with only a shaky grip on both her mental and physical health, she’s befriended by Jack, an Irish children’s author who picks her up hitch-hiking and offers her a bed in his vintage VW campervan until she gets back on her feet. The pair end up on a road trip that takes them from Lakeland to Scotland to Yorkshire to Dorset, encompassing delivering and raising a litter of puppies, Scrabble, mountain-climbing, skinny dipping and, um, musical theatre. While on the road, the two are forced to confront the problems they’ve been running away from – Jack’s grief over his wife’s death and Kitty’s fear of her abusive mother and husband – while, of course, falling in love…
The fantasy that inspired this story was… Dr Who. Sort of. Or not Dr Who exactly, but the idea behind Dr Who. The dream that a charismatic and fascinating stranger might one day appear to take you away from all this, off to adventure in the great unknown. As wish fulfillment goes, that one’s pretty archetypal.
That was the fantasy. The reality was the period of around nine months in my childhood when I lived with my mum in a tiny caravan on the Haworth moors and our dog Jessie had puppies. It’s one of my earliest memories.
I can’t remember why we were temporarily homeless at the time. What I do remember is there were six puppies: one was stillborn, and one we elected to keep. I was allowed to name her (Pollyanna Firth, who lived to the ripe old age of 17). Siblings included Sooty, later renamed Ben by his new family, and Sweep, who became Bruce. The memory of this incident was the jumping-off point for the book that would become Runaway Bride.
A Bicycle Made for Two, on the other hand, started with a setting. I had a very strong idea of the sort of Yorkshire community I wanted to create: a people who were stoical but supportive, gruff but wry, a landscape that was beautiful but harsh, and, although fictional, very much a part of my home here in West Yorkshire. I created a village called Egglethwaite, furnished it with rolling moors, a reservoir with a submerged hamlet beneath, a mighty but neglected viaduct, a medieval theme restaurant called Here Be Flagons and a cast of colourful characters. Then I put them against the backdrop of the 2014 Tour de France and left them to see what they’d do…
Again, there’s a lot of real life mixed into this story. The heroine, Lana, is striving to get her village’s viaduct reopened as a footpath, just as my community did (and Hewenden Viaduct is now a proud part of the Great North Railway Trail). Lana plays trombone in a brass band, while I used to play the euphonium. The hero, Stewart, is a knitter and so am I. The plot is fiction, but a patchwork of reality binds it together.
Another question all authors get asked is “where do you get your ideas?”, which I’ve tried to have a go at answering here in my weird waffly way. They come, more often than not, from life – our own and other people’s.
So, never let anything go to waste. If something someone says makes you smile or brings a tear to your eye, jot it down. Read magazines, as diverse as you can (spend a day in your local doctor’s waiting room…). Watch daytime TV. Read widely, and outside your comfort zone. Eavesdrop. Empathise. Remember and reminisce. Let thoughts wander and go off on tangents. The germ of an idea can come from anywhere, and real life + fantasy is always a more authentic formula than plain old fantasy. Take up hobbies, join clubs. Go for long journeys on buses and trains, hide in the corners of pubs. Explore. Have experiences, all the time. The more you can live and observe and live some more, the more material you’ll have.
Go on then, off you go.
Thank you, Mary Jayne. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on this! I too have never put a real character wholesale into one of my books, but many of my characters are made up of bits and pieces of people I have known, along with a large helping of imagination, until they take on a life of their own. And I have been known to ‘borrow’ events that people have mentioned to me in passing if they fit the bill and I don’t have an appropriate memory in my own repertoire 🙂
And now to feast our eyes on the covers and blurbs for Mary Jayne’s two new releases …
The first in a new romantic comedy series, Love in the Dales, set in a beautiful Yorkshire village.
Chock-full of colourful characters, bawdy wit and a bit of love and passion for good measure.
In a lost corner of the Yorkshire Dales, Lana Donati runs a medieval theme tourist trap restaurant with her brother. As a distraction to help them get over losing the father they loved dearly, and as a tribute to his passion for the beautiful area they live in, Lana hatches a plan to boost business for everyone by having the Grand Départ route pass through their village.
But this entails getting the small community to work together to convince the decision-makers that their beloved village is Tour material. Not an easy task when the people involved include Lana’s shy, unlucky-in-love brother Tom, the man-eating WI chair Yolanda, bickering spouses Gerry and Sue, arrogant celebrity Harper Brady, and Lana’s (attractive) arch-nemesis, former pro-cyclist turned bike shop owner, Stewart McLean, whose offbeat ideas might just cost them everything.
Available as an e-book now (and in paperback on 5th April) at:
Here comes the bride… but how long can she hide?
When Kitty Clayton flees her wedding with no money, no bank card and no phone, her life seems worryingly futureless. All she knows is, she’d rather sleep on the streets than go back home to cheating Ethan.
After picking her up hitch-hiking, widowed children’s author Jack Duffy takes Kitty under his wing, looking out for her until she gets back on her feet. And it’s not long before the two grow close…
But with Jack struggling to recover from the guilt he feels over his wife’s death and Kitty refusing to face up to the problems she’s running away from at home, will the two ever manage to share a happily ever after?
Pre-order for your Kindle ready for publication on 16th Feb (or paperback for 3rd May) at:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Jayne Baker grew up in rural West Yorkshire, right in the heart of Brontë country… and she’s still there. After graduating from Durham University with a degree in English Literature in 2003, she dallied with living in cities including London, but eventually came back with her own romantic hero in tow to her beloved Dales.
She lives with him in a little house with four little cats and a little rabbit, writing stories about girls with flaws and the men who love them. You can usually find her there with either a pen, some knitting needles or a glass of wine in hand. She goes to work every day as a graphic designer for a magazine publisher, but secretly dreams of being a lighthouse keeper.
More information can be found about MJ on her website at http://www.maryjaynebaker.co.uk. You can also follow her on Twitter, @MaryJayneBaker, or like her Facebook page by going to Facebook.com/MaryJayneWrites