One of the most interesting discoveries over the past weeks has been noticing the way that people who know me very well and have now read the book suppose they know which scenes/characters have been lifted from my own life. One person said he recognised my husband in Taos; a tall, steadying travelling companion. Two others differed in their opinion of which of my childhood friends Poppy was based on, whereas the truth is, I invented her off the top of my head purely to bring a ray of light into that grim episode of Mia’s life and didn’t associate her with anyone I’d known. On another, non-personal level, one friend recognised a snippet of Bollywood song lyrics she’d sent me in a travel-diary email she wrote while backpacking in India with her young daughter, while another will certainly recognise Alida’s computerised baby dolls, as she has used them in her own sex-education job.
I think people have fun playing this guessing game when they know the author – I do it myself – but fiction writing is rarely as clear cut as it might seem. For me, it’s an intricate weaving process and I’m just as likely to steal a character trait from a five-second piece of dialogue I catch while passing someone on the street, as I am to daydream that character trait into existence without ever knowing just why or how it occurred to me.
It’s probably safe to assume that for every new person who reads a novel, a different version of it will spring into existence, because whether we know the author or not, we each apply our own memories, associations and impressions to the fictional world we’re immersed in. It makes me smile to think of Breathing in Colour multiplying in interpretations as it starts to be read by all these individuals, each with their own personal take on it. I like this interaction: my imagination fusing with the reader’s personality and life experience, triggering an imaginative response to become something absolutely unique.
Now I understand what people mean when they say a book is no longer your own once you publish it!