Writing what you know (or don’t know)

Iain Banks’s final novel, The Quarry, was published at the end of last week, nine days after his death from cancer. What is most amazing about this, is that The Quarry is about a man coming to terms with the fact he has cancer. But, as Banks stated before he died, this was not a responsive piece – he didn’t get the news of his illness until he was 10,000 words from finishing it.

What this must have felt like I can’t imagine. I wonder where his initial inspiration for this story came from, and whether, on hearing the news of his own illness, it made him want to go back and change anything he had already written. There are arguments both for and against writing only what you know, but what happens if you start to write something that you have no personal experience of, but then halfway through the process, you suddenly find that you have, perhaps accidentally, become a bit of an expert? Would it change your writing style? If it was quite a personal topic, would it put you off finishing it, or would it spur you on? And does it matter either way?


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