Allow Me to Introduce…

Hi, My Name Is…

Introductions are always a little tricky. How do I introduce myself to people who don’t know me but who might continue to read about my work as a writer? Moreover, how do I do it without sounding too confident/not confident enough/ overly arrogant/ too boring? My standard writer biography would tell you something like this: I’m a writer. I live in Liverpool in the North West of England. I’m in my final year of the MA in Novel Writing program at Manchester Metropolitan University, which means that my “day job” is working on my novel for submission in September. Sometimes, I might tell you that I like Eastern Landscapes, but not the cold, or that I love children’s ghost stories or that I live with a dog who has a not-so-charming habit of eating my books.

Intrigued? Possibly not, but more often than not, it does the job when it’s accompanying my creative work. What it doesn’t do is give you any idea of who I really am. Which is how I like it, sometimes. I want my work to stand on its own without also alerting you to the fact that I’m twenty-eight, spent two years almost bed-ridden because of a serious back injury, work in a corporate environment to fund my writing and consistently view myself as an underachiever.

I LIKE LONG WALKS ON THE BEACH

Oops. Does that change anything? What if I said that I have a compulsive habit of collecting notebooks? That I have enough pets to constitute a small petting zoo? That I speak French and Spanish fluently? That I like to draw pictures on hand-made cards for my girlfriend that look they came from a five-year-old? They’re all snippets of me, of my life. They all show you something about who I am and what sort of secret characteristics I’m hiding. They might even make you like me.

AND I HEAR VOICES

The real reason for this series of seemingly random and bizarre facts about myself is that I have been thinking a lot lately about how to introduce my characters. I’m working on a YA novel set in the aftermath of the Franco dictatorship. Amidst all the politics, the sense of place that I’m trying to convey, what I want to stand out most are my characters. So I’ve been working out ways to make them really distinctive. They’re teenagers, sure, but what makes them different from every other teenager and at the same time a little bit the same? What makes them unique but at the same time identifiable? I’ve come to realize that the same things that make me unique, the songs I remember from childhood, the fact that every day I wear a piece of jewelry that connects me to my late grandmother, the way I use only pink ink to leave notes to my family, makes them unique too. But I know my own history from memory. I am inventing theirs.

OH, AND I CREATE PEOPLE…WHO ARE A LOT LIKE ME

Sometimes I hold back from telling people in the writing community too much about myself. I know that, somewhere, these little bits of my own history seep into my writing. I have to create a history from somewhere, and where better to start than the things I know? But maybe, if parts of me creep in to my characters, that’s ok. It’s not cheating. After all, like most writers, I believe that my characters are people. Perhaps not real in any living sense, but certainly real to me. And if we share things, if they have the same memories of childhood I do, that does not mean that we are the same person. It means that we have things in common. It means that, maybe, if they were real, we’d be friends. And maybe other people, readers in particular, would feel the same.

In the same way that those things I shared made me seem more than a collection of words on a page, more than a remote writer trying to connect with all the readers on this site, ingesting personal history in to my characters makes them feel more real. It makes them people, with fears and feelings and shortcomings. And, really, what writer would want anything else for their characters, even if it does mean sharing a little more of themselves?

 

Helen Dring is a fiction writer from Liverpool, England. She is studying for an MA in Creative Writing and is currently writing her first novel. She likes fairy tales, ghost stories and modern history.

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