Friday Feature 11th July – Should you ‘Write what you know?’

Well it was a busy week this week, I’m trying to get to the end of book 4 (I know, I can’t believe it either!). I have given it the working title of ‘My Sister’s Child’ and fingers crossed it will be released in 2015. I’m very nervous about sending it off – the worry seems to get worse with each book. Actually that’s an idea for another week.

I also attended the launch for Maria Duffy’s latest book ‘One Wish’. It was a lovely evening with heartfelt speeches and it’s always great to catch up with other authors. You tend to spend a lot of time working on your own when you’re writing so going to a book launch can feel like the equivalent of the ‘office night out’. Here is a photo of the lady herself signing copies of her books.



Another author friend of mine also launched her book last week, Carmel Harrington’s ‘The Life You Left’ was launched in Enniscorthy Castle of all the perfect venues you could have for a launch. Sadly I couldn’t make it but it sounds like it was a great night.


So today I am talking about whether or not you should Write What You Know?

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘you should write what you know’. It always makes an appearance on the top 10 writing tips but it’s one piece of advice that I don’t really agree with. I think it straightaway puts up limits as to what you can write about.

Obviously nothing beats firsthand experience, if you yourself have experienced a situation that you are writing about, your feelings at having gone through it will ring true with the reader. Or if you once lived in the location where your book is set, your writing will definitely have an authenticity that you just can’t beat. But what happens if you are writing a second, third or fourth book? You may be able to base your first book on experience but unless you have had a colourful and exciting life the chances are that you will run out of material pretty quickly.

This is where research comes in. Research, if it is done properly, can help you colour in the bits that you don’t know. Of course nowadays we’re very lucky to have the Internet. You can find so much information online – historical archives, newspapers, medical reports, as well as people’s firsthand experiences. Of course there will always be some things that you can’t find online. When it came to researching my latest book The Last Goodbye, which explores the dilemma faced by a character called Eva who discovers that she has cancer while she is pregnant, the main difficulty I had was that Eva’s story is set in 1992. So to ensure that the storyline reflected treatments available in the early 90’s, I read medical journals and reviews published in that era. When I had a basic level of research carried out, I devised a medical questionnaire and contacted an obstetrician who very kindly answered my questions.

For my third book Into the Night Sky there is character called Rachel who is a social worker. As all family law cases involving children are heard ‘in camera’ in Ireland it is actually quite difficult to find information on this area, luckily I have a friend who is a social worker and she helped me out a lot.

In my experience if you can’t find what you are looking for online, there are plenty of experts out there who are delighted to help you out if you need a firsthand account or advice on something (especially if you promise them a mention in the acknowledgements). What we all know about are our feelings – you may not know how it feels to come home to find your husband in bed with someone else (I hope!) but I bet you have probably experienced an intense anger at some point in your life. Just like an actor getting into character for a film, these are types of feelings that you need to draw on to put yourself in the shoes of your characters.

I think the ‘write what you know’ rule belongs to a different time, when research was slow and tedious. Nowadays writers have so many more avenues open to them and after-all, isn’t the point of writing fiction is that you have to be able to make it up?

If you missed last week, I was talking about where writers get their ideas:

Friday 4th July – Where Do Writers Get Their Idea?

Hope you have a great weekend!

Caroline x

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