I know that there are authors who write about things they have no experience of and I praise them and salute their talent. Included in these, of course, are sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers and there have been some outstandingly successful ones, such as J K Rowling, J R R Tolkein, H G Wells. (Is using initials only a prerequisite to writing in this genre?)
I, however, have always found it much easier to write about what I know. (Cop out! I hear you shout?) And my background is Travel and Tourism. For twelve years I was a tour manager for a singles’ holiday operator. I accompanied groups of singles holidaymakers to worldwide tourism destinations. The smallest group I ever took was five plus myself to Luxor. They were five of the nicest people you could have ever wished to meet and we had a really super time. The biggest group was forty-five to Icmeler, Turkey and that was far too many. Four days in and I still wasn’t sure if I’d seen everyone or knew who everyone was. Strangely enough, though, this trip was remarkably problem-free. The group fell into about five smaller groups – this tends to happen in most groups whatever their size – although one night we did all go into Marmaris en masse to Bar Street and that was a hoot!
As you can, perhaps, imagine, being a tour manager was fertile ground for book ideas and so after writing my first book, What’s Eating Me, I decided to write a trilogy about singles’ holidays and produced Singles’ Holiday, set in Antigua. This was followed by Singles and Spice, which takes place in India’s Golden Triangle, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra and then Single All The Way, which unfolds in the snowy English countryside at Christmas.
All of the characters are fictitious as are the hotels and resorts in all three books, but the places the groups visit really exist. So, in Singles’ Holiday, for example, the Mango Tree Resort doesn’t exist, but Hemingway’s Bar in St John’s does, so does Jolly Harbour and Shirley Heights. And the same happens throughout the other two. Sweet Lady, which tells the story of artist Eleanor West and her daughter Victoria who spend a winter in Antigua, follows the same pattern; real places but fictitious characters. Holiday Reads and Holiday Reads 2 are short story collections set in places that I visited while I was working in tourism.
To me it makes sense to write about what I know. Nothing annoys me more when I’m reading a book than when the writer has been sloppy, not done their research and there are glaring mistakes. This tends not to happen if you’re comfortable and familiar with the setting and details. I am a huge fan of Kathy Reichs, who was a forensic anthropologist and I just love the real touches in her books. The same happens with John Grisham and the law.
I’ve recently read a book that took all my strength to finish, simply because of the mistakes in it. If writers are going to put in odd words of a foreign language they should always get a native or fluent speaker of that language to check what they are writing. That way you avoid making your reader laugh for all the wrong reasons. And in all the years I’ve travelled and lived abroad I have never come across ONE foreigner who uttered the phrase ‘It is, how you say?’ People just don’t speak like that! Another mistake that gets me screaming is when a foreign character is speaking English and knows words such as sanctimonious or infrequent or distraction (I’ve just chosen three words at random here) but then needs to ask ‘It is, how you say? Difícil, no?’ I’m sorry, but to me, that is ludicrous.
By writing about what you know you keep it real. That isn’t to say you can’t do your research and write a book on something you knew nothing about, but if you do that, make sure your research is thorough and at least get someone from that industry/sport/country/community/business/world to read it through and give it the all-clear. That way you don’t leave yourself open to criticism from people like me!
This first appeared on 25th July on www.lindasbookbag.wordpress.com