Writing What You Know

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the things that I don’t have in my novels.

Readers will not have failed to notice that the cultural milieu I have created in both of my novels is predominantly/overwhelmingly white. That I rely on the traditions of medieval Europe and Iron Age “Celtic” stuff to create my worlds. That what little sexuality involved is hetero-normative, and that most of the characters are young and healthy.

I am aware that from a political and social standpoint, I break absolutely no new fantasy territory.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the first book was written on a dare and since I had never written any fiction before, I was simply looking for the simplest route to a coherent story, and let’s just remind everyone of who I am.

I’m white. My heritage includes Brittany and Wales. And I came of age, fantasy-wise, when Tolkien was just about the only real template there was. And then I became an archaeologist working on textile production in pre-Conversion Anglo-Saxon England.

But there is a further point that I would like to add here: given all this – what right would I have to appropriate a culture I have no direct experience of or rights to? How would I even begin to credibly write about being differently-abled? How could I frame a sexuality I do not experience?

Believe me: I know that many people who might read my novels would not see themselves in my characters. But perhaps I am better off with that than to misrepresent another person’s real, lived experience.

Although I should note: this could change. I have friends struggling with chronic conditions and with new expressions of the enormous landscape of human experience, and I am learning through them. I may yet diversify the landscape. But I will only do this under two conditions.

One is that I learn enough to be reasonably sure I will not in any important way, minimize, commandeer or cloud the very real experiences of other people whose lives are so different than my own.

And Two: my story demands it. I refuse to shoehorn in some pre-packaged cliche about otherness for no good literary reason. That would be more patronizing and crass than ignoring those issues, and I will not be “That Author”.


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