After I gave my mother one of my manuscripts to read, I couldn’t wait for her reaction. A few days later she phoned me.
‘Did you like it?’ I asked anxiously.
‘I loved it,’ she replied.
What a relief.
Then she added, ‘But there’s something that’s been worrying me about your story.’
Oh dear. Was there a huge plot hole I hadn’t spotted? Or had I used too many swear words?
‘It’s about Amanda,’ Mum continued.
Amanda was my female protagonist, the lynchpin of the narrative. If there were problems with her, then it would mean a major rewrite. I started to feel sick.
‘It’s the shirt that she wears to meet Justin,’ said my mum.
I wasn’t sure where this was heading. Had I made a continuity blunder by changing the colour of the shirt during the course of the scene? No problem. That was a mistake which could easily be fixed.
‘What about the shirt?’ I asked.
‘Well, she’s going to a reunion with a man she hasn’t seen in more than thirty years. And it’s a long car trip. Won’t that linen shirt be badly creased by the time she gets there?’
I started to laugh, though not in a raucous way because I didn’t want to offend my mother. Then, as gently as I could, I said, ‘Mum, Amanda is a character in a book. She’s not real. And neither is the shirt. I made them both up.’
Afterwards, I realised my mother’s comment was one of the greatest compliments a writer could ever receive. Mum had entered so completely into the world I’d created that she reacted to Amanda as if she were a real person. And I really shouldn’t have laughed because, as a writer, I often become immersed in the story to the extent that it feels more real than my real life.
Have you ever been to a movie and identified so much with a character that when you walked out of the cinema, you felt you actually were the person from the film – just for a few moments? When I’m writing a character, he or she can linger in my pysche after the laptop has been shut down for the day. Sometimes characters will keep me awake at night as they jostle for attention inside my head. And occasionally they will insinuate themselves into my dreams, having found an unlocked door into my subconscious. But don’t worry. On a rational level, I do know my characters are inventions. After all, I told my mother that very thing.
Yet, in the right side of my brain, the place where creative ideas originate and grow, it’s a different story altogether!