This is an excerpt from my first novel. Now, I’m not a native speaker of English and I just quickly translated this bit myself, so please excuse me if something sounds a bit quirky.
“Do you ever arrive too late, or just in time, even when you initially had enough time?” A few seconds passed before Alanis reluctantly moved the cursor to the little ball before the answer “Yes, nearly always”. A dry click and on to the next question. The quicker, the better, because the last one had not improved her mood. “Do you arrive late at meetings, parties or your job? Do you often have to improvise a meal because your refrigerator is empty? Do you often miss your train? Does having a meal require doing some dishes first because all the cutlery is dirty? Do other people point out your lack of punctuality? Do you let gift certificates expire? Did you ever write post cards when travelling and brought them home in your suitcase?” This was getting confrontational. The row of balls beneath the answer “Yes, nearly always” by now looked like a Christmas tree.
At “Do you often miss your train?” she had considered “nearly never” for a second there, because she carpooled to work every day with a colleague. But who was she kidding? Since she had graduated, about five years ago now, she had come up with the plan to take a train exactly twice. At both occasions she had seen it ride out of the station right in front of her. The last time had been a very narrow escape. She had put up a sprint in order to hop in with the conductor at the front of the train. And if she, in the six months proceeding that crucial moment, had pulled that Start-to-run tape out of the Big Pile of Forgotten Things on her coffee table, then she might have caught up with him. Probably easily. But alas, panting like a bellow, she had leaned forward onto her knees, and while the rumble of the train died away, she had sworn on all that was sacred, that this had been the very last time she had ever been late, and that she would get out that Start-to-run tape tonight. No more excuses. But she had never come round to it. So in fact, she did not need an online test to tell her she was a pureblood procrastinator.
She put her attention to the next question. “Are you taking this test while you should be working?”
So, now everybody ‘s asking me whether my book is autobiographical. Of course it is. But don’t forget: I did manage to write a whole novel, although probably while I was supposed to do something else.
And another thing: just because I’m writing about certain issues, does not mean I’m planning on bragging about them. Especially not when my employer, publisher and, worst of all, my mother might be reading along.
Actually a giant part of my writing is the result of simple observation, of both myself and others. It’s much easier to be convincing when you’re describing a feeling you actually know. Starting from a autobiographical feeling can have a wide perspective though. You might describe a feeling you wished you felt, or one you fear you might develop in time. But dissecting a feeling you are not at all familiar with, is, in my view, very hard.
So for the molding of about every character I started from something I could understand. So a lot of me and my little quirks are in that book, all bare and open for everybody to read. But I also blew things out of proportion, played others down and – you know, ’cause it’s fiction – made stuff up.
And that’s why, when journalists or friends or, again worst of all, my mother, start to ask a lot of questions about exactly how much is autobiographical, I do get a bit nervous. Not because of the things they might find out about me, but because of the things they might think they found out.
One character in my book finds out her boyfriend is into BDSM, another one does not get any work done at the office, one writes terrible poetry and moves from one one night stand to the other, there’s a very embarrassing scene with a vibrator… You get my point.
And those are the things people are probably really interested in when they ask me if my work is autobiographical. They probably don’t really care that much about my character development theories.
But oh well, I guess it could be worse. Or wait, it will be worse. My next novel is about a revenge obsessed sociopath. I’m looking forward to hearing ex-boyfriends asking me then how much of my work is autobiographical.