Is your character based on a real person? This was the first question from Richard Beard, director of The National Academy of Writing who chaired The Writers’ Conference, organised by freelance editor, Ali Reynolds and held at the Bristol Festival of Literature last week. Patricia Ferguson, author of The Midwife’s Daughter, and I were discussing characterisation.
My protagonist, Emily Harris in Sugar Island, is based on a real person – the actress Fanny Kemble. This was a bit of a mixed blessing as there was so much information out there already about Fanny, numerous biographies and the diary she wrote, which I used as the basis for Sugar Island. I did change her personality a bit, partly for the purposes of the story and partly because I condensed the action down to a year and a half instead of it taking place over half her lifetime, so Emily remains a young woman throughout the course of the novel. It was a relief when about a third of the way into writing the novel, Fanny finally became Emily, and her husband Pierce, truly became Charles, in my mind.