Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Our own backstory

Unlike most kids in Britain I grew up surrounded by weapons. My dad was a champion rifle shot in his youth and when he went into the Army he was a machine gunner in the Paras. I've never forgotten his descriptions of jumping out of an airplane carrying equipment that weighed more than he did. (Plummet, anyone?). When we were older he regularly got into trouble in museums because he could never resist stripping down a Vicker's and putting it back together again.
Not only was he into guns, but he was/is fascinated by the English Longbow and was always eyeing Yew trees, looking for long straight boughs. Yew trees were so prized for making bows that during the late 16th century they became almost extinct in northern Europe. I love the fact the Brits got the famous 'V' sign from taunting the French with their bowstring- pulling fingers during the Battle of Agincourt. (See how many useless facts I know about military history?) When I was about ten he took me snaring on a local farmer's land and insisted I knew how to gut and skin a rabbit. (An unrelated fact: he also insisted I knew how to check the water and oil in a car engine and could change the tire on a car. And he built us igloos in the field behind our house.)
Why am I telling this?
At the time, growing up, I felt like a bit of an oddball. I mean there was a time he left the house in full camo-gear with a string carrot bag over his head and I'm pretty sure he did that just to embarrass his three image-conscious teenage daughters.
It worked.
But writers use their life experience (combined with research and their imagination) to create stories bigger than they are. As a kid I craved convention, craved the idea of fitting in with so called 'normal' people. But it didn't take long as a grown-up to realize that being unconventional is more fun and liberating.

And nowadays, my unconventional childhood gives me a wide array of characters and situations to draw from when writing fiction.

So thanks, Dad.

I do believe there's a little of the writer in every character we spawn, from the most selfish, narcissistic ass to the sweetest, smartest heroine. But they aren't us. All those sex scenes and love scenes I've written are not me playing out my fantasies. All the gory murder scenes are not an outlet for my twisted natural inclinations--well, okay, sometimes...

I'm not about to go chasing drug dealers, or hire an assassin to get my revenge, I'm not looking for a sperm donor and I'm not about to start bludgeoning people to death. You know why? Because I'm too conventional--at least on the outside :)

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