I’ve just finished the redraft of what I hope will be my next book. It's an attempt at comedy, but I wanted to capture the idea that an era is coming to end, a golden age is over, and an uncertain future must be faced with courage. I’m not sure how well I have succeeded, but the book is written, and I have to hope that it comes across.
It was only when redrafting that I realised how incidents in my life were creeping into the story. It was written through a very harsh winter, so characters in my book do battle with the elements. More recently, I’ve been watching the birds return, the house martins and swallows. These have woven their way into the story.
But there are other things that are less obvious and a little unnerving. I wanted a name for a big, family house. I won’t use the actual name I chose, but instead will use an equally ludicrous one as an example, let’s say ‘Heron’s Thumb’. I googled this made up house name just to see what came up. I discovered that not only is there a house of this name, (and there is just one) but it’s in Bridport, Dorset, where generations of my father’s family lived. My great grandfather may well have known ‘Heron’s Thumb’.
Which reminds me of something that happened to me after I’d just bought my first flat, in Leighton Road, west Ealing, London. My mother, who then lived in south Wales, wrote to me, and included in the envelope a photocopy of a letter written to her mother, by her grandmother, around 1930. The address on my great grandmother’s letter was the same Leighton Road.
But when I went out on to the street to find the house, it no longer existed. I discovered later it had been bombed in the war. Had it still stood, it would have been directly opposite the flat I had just bought. Not only this, but my mother went on to tell me that her grandparents had owned many houses in the area, but more or less gave them away in the 1960s, when they were unable to sell them.
Therefore, my first flat was one my great grandparents may well have owned, and the name of the house I've chosen for my next book could have been one a great grandparent might have known.
I tend to dismiss anything that has a whiff of the supernatural, and would rather seek out some sort of rational explanation. I suggest this: the human brain is a vast warehouse of clutter, stuff we’ve collected over decades, and even inherited. When we write, some of that clutter comes tumbling out into words, unconsciously.
It made me wonder, have any other writers retrospectively researched the name of a character, or a fictional place or event, and discovered some buried family history, or disturbed a long buried personal event?