The following is a copy of the guest blog piece I wrote for the lovely UK author Jenny Kane. You can read about her books and hook in to lots of interesting interviews by visiting her site at http://jennykane.co.uk
Writing What I Know (or How Life Influences My Fiction Writing)
Thank you Jenny for inviting me to write a guest blog piece for your website today.
In the company of other writers and readers, we often discuss what inspires our storytelling. During November, I was with a group of four writers at a retreat in Shropshire and it was clear that each of us had in-depth knowledge and experiences that informed our writing. One focused his story on his life as an Asian child within a predominately-white British community and another was using the experiences of a relative within the mental health sector. The third writer was interested in the modern history narrative, drawing from her own memories and I enjoy writing about human strength, in particular what happen when a female character faces a threatening situation.
Silencio, my debut novel, is a suspense story set in Spain, narrated with Spanish characters, and based on real life events that took place during the mid to late 1900’s.
Writing tutors and experts instruct writers that it is best to write about something they know but most of us have not committed a crime, witnessed a murder or had a new-born baby stolen whilst in the Maternity Unit. I started writing this first full-length novel in 2011 after watching a BBC documentary on television about the Stolen Babies of Spain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJJ7Pp_Zvvs). The investigative documentary introduced me to the background behind the baby trafficking of an estimated 300,000 babies in Spain during the Franco and immediate post-Franco periods.
I am an English woman, too old to worry about childbirth, and have not experienced the loss of an infant. How did I ensure that I wrote with authority and authenticity without the value of these experiences?
I am a Mum. My daughter may be in her 30’s but I remember holding her as a newly delivered baby – the colour of her skin, the warmth and smell of her body. The memory
of the sleepless nights and leaping out of bed to run to her assistance having recognised her cry in a room full of other babies, will not be forgotten. My maternal intuition kicked in from the moment of conception, well before the morning sickness and the tickling of tiny feet inside of my womb. Even now that she is an adult, I sense when my daughter is in danger and needs my support.
My previous employment was as a midwife and nurse. Every hospital has common features and my experiences of working in various hospitals allowed me to add detail to the hospital scenes in Silencio. It doesn’t matter that a Spanish hospital is different from one in the UK because this is a work of fiction and as long as the reader believes that the place could be real, he or she will not be distracted from the story. Having had experience of Spanish health care and hospitals, I can testify that there are more similarities than differences.
Spain is my second home and I have lived there for a number of years, speak conversational Spanish, have travelled throughout the country, and have experienced life in a Spanish community.
However, I am English and was not brought up as a Spanish girl within a Catholic family. Not a problem, because as the saying goes I know a man who can or in this case, a young Spanish woman who was delighted to read and correct my work and give me an insight to the lives of her mother, her sisters, her fellow villagers, etc.
Mercedes, the main character in Silencio, is a journalist. I am not a journalist but I studied the subject at university many years ago, I read newspaper articles and I am lucky to know a young magazine journalist who gave me the benefit of her experience.
Many readers have commented on the development of the love relationship and the passion between Mercedes and Orlando. Apparently, it is quite steamy and some of my daughter’s friends are shocked that Rachael’s mum ‘wrote this’. 25 years ago, I met my husband and I thought back to those early days and the excitement that a look or a brush of the fingers could stimulate. I remembered the heightened senses and the fear of commitment and tried to bring these to my writing.
During a three-year period, I researched background information for Silencio and most of it has not ended up in my novel. One of my pet hates as a reader is to read a research-led story instead of one that focuses on the characters and plot.
In addition to internet searches, books and library research, I tried to visit each of the places in my novel. I travelled on the public transport and ate in local cafes so that I absorbed the culture. This was important when writing about a country as large and diverse as Spain because the northern life is different to that of Madrid, and the society of the eastern coastal towns does not resemble that of the central plane. The clothing changes to suit the local climate and the locals socialise in different ways. Hearty foods of the north are too heavy for the warmer climates of the south. I changed a number of details after each research visit; for example, the men in a northern village play cards instead of dominos.
My novel-in-progress A Life on the Line takes place in 1961 between York and Scarborough.
Last summer I spent several weeks in the area as I surveyed the layout for detail and interviewed local people who remembered the period. In the York library, microfiche records of local press helped me to discover the products, trends and issues of that year and the library of the excellent National Railway Museum holds information and photos that add detail to the backstory.
There is a saying that goes something like this ‘be careful of what you tell a writer as you or it may end up in her next book’. None of my characters is based on a single person I know but each is a compilation of the characteristics of many people I have met. Mercedes, in Silencio, does not represent either of these two beautiful friends but she has the strength of one and the humour of the other. Without the people in my life, there would be no characters in my stories.
It is time to finish this piece but if anyone wants to have a discussion about what influences their own writing, I would be delighted to read your comments. You can find out more information about my writing and research (including links to articles about baby trafficking and the Spanish stolen babies) at my website www.laberrynovels.org
Follow me on twitter @LABerryNovels or @writelindy
Like me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/silenciobylaberry
Silencio is available to purchase as a paperback through the following link or to order from any good book retailer – ISBN 9781785890994
The EBOOK version of Silencio by LA Berry is available on all major ebook retail sites including Amazon, Ibook, Google play, Kobo, Nook – EISBN 9781785894732