I wrote a new poem called The Last Summer for the Writing Magazine Holiday Poetry competition.
The poem is narrated by a woman reflecting on the last summer of her childhood. The summer ends on a dark note when her father has her dog put down for biting someone. The poem tackles childhood, growing up and loss of innocence.
The poem is autobiographical. When I was a kid my parents took me to a fishing village in Fife called Anstruther every summer. We stayed in an old army barrack that had been converted to a basic holiday cottage. It was cheap but it was all we could afford. I loved those summers so much. Even now, we regularly return to the village at least once a year. It shocks me how different it is. When I was a kid I thought the village was magical and would never change.
A lot of my writing, especially my poetry is inspired by my own experiences. I don’t write non-fiction so the trick is turning your own experiences into fiction and making it interesting for someone else.
My first, unpublished novel, The Other Side Of Me has a large section which deals with two teenage girls who fall in love. This is based on my relationship with a girl who was my best friend when I was 13. In real life we never did much more than kiss until circumstances forced us apart. In the book the girls are lovers and a lot more happens. The book would be boring if the girls just kissed and nothing else happened. The trick is to elaborate the truth to make it a great story.
There is a well known phrase among writers that you should write what you know. This is often misinterpreted as writing only about your own experiences and own knowledge. That’s bullshit for a start. If writers only wrote about their own lives and own general knowledge the world would be full of boring books. George R R Martin’s amazing series A Song of Ice and Fire wouldn’t exist and neither would the hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones. Nobody would have heard of Harry Potter. Imagine being part of such a dull, fucked up world?
I always interpret write what you know as writing what you can learn such as researching Victorian London if you want to write a historical novel set in the era. I also think of it as writing within the limits of your own imagination.
A smart writer should us their own experiences as source material. We’ve all come across interesting people or people who have hurt us in some way. There’s nothing sweeter than getting your revenge through writing. Our experiences are unique and can spark off really good ideas.