Today, I welcome author Jennifer Gilby Roberts to my blog.
Guest Post: Why Didn’t You Write This as a Memoir?
Writers are usually advised to write what they know. When considering what I knew about that most people didn’t, the experience of having a premature baby was one of the first things that came to mind. The result, Early Daze, is closely based on my own experience. In the book, Jess’ baby Samantha is essentially my daughter. I made only minor alterations to her week-by-week progression. But Jess isn’t me. Why?
The first reason is that my life isn’t really that interesting! Books need conflict and my life didn’t have any worth writing about. Writing it as fiction allowed me to enrich the story with subplots. Jess has a fiancé she’s having doubts about, a mother and sister pressuring her to scuttle down the aisle as soon as possible, friends who can’t face what she’s going through and a crush on one of the other NICU parents that she’s not sure what to do about. To balance this, I brought in some other NICU mothers to support her. I really wish I’d had a Gwen with me, I can tell you!
The second reason for not doing a memoir is the question of appeal. I really hope that this book is read by a lot of people, whether they buy, borrow or download it free. Few expectant mothers imagine they will give birth early, but it’s a lot more common than you think. And it doesn’t just happen to “high risk” mothers. One third of premature births are unexplained, which means that everything can seem to be going perfectly… until it isn’t. That’s what happened to me. I’d like everyone who might have children – or just know someone who will – to see that this might happen, but that it isn’t a hopeless situation. I’ve tried to be honest in the book about what happens and about the crazy mixed up feelings that result, so that readers can better understand it.
I think the major benefit of fiction based on real experience to readers is that it’s authentic. It’s not researched, it’s lived. There are things that it’s hard to find out by talking to people who’ve been through something, because often people don’t tell you about the feelings and thoughts that they’re ashamed of. The nicest compliment I’ve had from a reader was that Early Daze validated everything she felt when she went through a similar experience and left her feeling wonderful. And in my book, even when delving into a serious subject, that’s the most important thing to do as a writer.
Jennifer Gilby Roberts has a degree in physics and a postgraduate certificate in computing, so a career writing fiction was inevitable really. She was born and grew up in Surrey/Greater London, but now lives in North Yorkshire with her husband, small daughter, two middle-aged cats and a lot of dust bunnies.