No, I don’t like him.

It’s always tempting, if you know someone truly awful, or wonderful, or memorable to put them, all complete, into a book. Writers deny it, but they do. I’m not going to stop you (or admit to it….no-one I know is in any of my books!). What I will mention is, if your reader knows the person your character is based on, does it affect their reading of it?

I read a biography of the Mitford Girls. Nancy Mitford had a lover, Gaston, who, in my opinion (and in the opinion of a few of my friends) was an awful, self-important, selfish man who treated Nancy badly. I disliked him heartily.

Nancy, however, loved him desperately until she died. She used him, fairly obviously, as the basis of her hero, Fabrice, in The Pursuit of Love. (Almost all her characters were based, very recognisably, on people she knew). Knowing Fabrice was Gaston, I hated him, and wanted rid of him, and desperately wanted the heroine to dump him.

However, a friend of mine who hadn’t read the Mitford Girls, and knew nothing about Gaston, rather liked Fabrice. Her opinion was based solely on the character in the book, mine was highly influenced by knowing about the real man. (We both heartily disliked Boy, one of the characters in Love in a Cold Climate, even though we don’t know who he’s based on).

That’s the problem of basing a character on someone real, in a very recognisable way. If you base someone obviously on a politician, or celebrity, or historical figure, the readers’ own feelings about that person will colour their view of that character – and as everyone has very different feelings about everyone else, that might not give you the reaction you want.

Mind you, if you base it on someone you know, your readers may not have a strong opinion about it until they read about this person in your inevitable best-selling biography.

It’s a tricky question. Some people are just begging to be put in a book. It turns out Agatha Christie, despite what I thought, really did put people she knew in her books too – and then murdered them, which is very tempting. But, will your readers feel the same way about them as you do? Nancy Mitford obviously wanted us to adore Fabrice, as she did Gaston, but as I feel very differently about Gaston, I do not adore Fabrice.


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