Calm down, dear, it's only a novel!

Today I’m delighted to welcome writing friend Carol Cooper to the blog. She’s an author, family doctor, and medical journalist. After a string of health books, she turned to writing fiction. Her novel Hampstead Fever featured in a prestigious front-of-store promo in WH Smith travel bookstores. Carol lives in Hampstead and Cambridge and is working on further books.

Writers are always threatening to put people who’ve upset them in their next novel, but rarely do. Sometimes a coincidence is just that. But convincing people it’s not intentional? Over to Carol!

I’d always wanted to be an author, but my debut novel turned out to have unforeseen consequences.  As soon as One Night at the Jacaranda was out, people asked if they were in my book.

Some assumed they were and went straight for, “Which one am I?” One reader believes she’s the stunning but self-doubting lawyer, and half a dozen friends insist they’re Karen, the single mother of four.

As for the doctor I’ve called Geoff in my novels, my husband Jeremy remains convinced it’s him. This despite the fact that Jeremy isn’t a medic and has no discernible similarities with my fictional GP, though someone did once mistake his name for Geoffrey at a party.

The bottom line is that none of the many characters I’ve written is anyone I know. Novels are fiction, goddammit. Yet no matter how often I repeat this, or point out the dinky disclaimers at the front of my books, some people still expect to find themselves in there, at least in a cameo role.

But why would an author put real people in novels, when it might be deemed to infringe someone’s privacy, or bring the risk of libel suits? Libel is a false statement – presented as fact and concerning a person – that causes damage to their reputation. Pointing out that a novel is a work of fiction may not even be enough to keep an author out of court, I’m told, so I’m not chancing it.

The closest I’ve got to using a real person is in Hampstead Fever, where I have a Jeremy Paxman lookalike striding into the lobby of Broadcasting House one late night, while Dan, my fictional chef, waits to be allowed into the studio with the platter of fish he prepared earlier.

Book signing at Foyles

Signing books at Foyles

I admit it’s tempting to incorporate people I know, like one particularly memorable patient from some thirty years ago. “You should write a novel about general practice,” said my then tutor as I returned from yet another house call.

Nonetheless, it would be wrong to use Mrs X or another of the other quirky characters I’ve met since I trained as a family doctor. Writing patients into books isn’t just breaking medical confidentiality. It’s stomping on it in hobnail boots, throwing it on a bonfire, then scattering the ashes to the four winds.

Then there are colleagues past and present: devoted, brilliant, arrogant, eccentric, disillusioned, or just drunk.  No surprise I’ve included a doctor in both my novels to date, and there’s one in the next book too.  My Geoff is going through a mid-life crisis and wonders if he really does make people better.  I like to think he comes across as genuine.

All the same, he’s not based on any one person in particular.  And he’s definitely not you, even if you’re burnt out, divorced, and estranged from your only child.

It’s as if readers can’t believe that anyone can conceive a novel with a multiplicity of characters and viewpoints without recruiting real people.

But the truth is, authors have fertile imaginations. We can sit all alone at our desks all day and dream up not just a cast of motley characters but entire worlds. My novels are contemporary and the worlds I create tend to be rooted in the here and now. I’ve squeezed yet another upmarket eatery into Hampstead’s iconic Flask Walk, without so much as a whisper to the planning authorities. That doesn’t make Lolo’s restaurant, where chef Dan toils in Hampstead Fever, any more than a fantasy.

Hampstead Fever Facebook page

All novelists use elements of their own experience to lend authenticity, which is different. That’s why my dramatis personae includes a struggling freelance journalist, anxious new parents, a young man diagnosed with cancer, a single mother who rarely has energy for anything more strenuous than lifting a glass of cheap wine, and a dazzling actress who takes part in clinical scenarios to help medical students learn bedside manners.

Novels aren’t real, but they should, I believe, be relatable. It’s what makes readers smile in recognition and keep turning the pages.

Thank you, Carol. I couldn’t agree more! And I loved ‘One Night at the Jacaranda.’

What’s Hampstead Fever about?

In a sizzling hot summer, emotions reach boiling point.

The lives of six Londoners overlap and entangle as each of them searches for love, sex, money, or just a respite from squabbling children.

Set in Hampstead, North London, this slice of contemporary urban life will especially appeal to fans of the film Love, Actually.

Amazon     Kobo    Apple/iBooks    B&N Nook



Find out more and connect with Carol:
Blog: Pills & Pillow-Talk           Twitter: DrCarolCooper   Instagram: drcarolcooper
Website:   Facebook author page: Carol Cooper’s London Novels



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. A Roma Nova novella, CARINA, is published 23 November 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

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