In a report for the BBC, children’s author Judith Kerr explained that one of her most famous characters, Mog the cat, was inspired by the real family pet cat. The children in the story were named after the middle names of her own son and daughter, Matthew and Tacy, and the illustrations of their house were inspired by the house in which Kerr’s family really lived.
Inspiration usually comes from things writers experience in everyday life. But it can be strange when a literary character is based on a real person, a person they actually know, it can be awkward. A cat is one thing, but they are unlikely to know there is a series of books written about them. On the positive side, if a writer chooses to base a character on a friend or family member, that person will live forever in the pages of the book. It can be quite flattering to think that someone has used your personality traits to create a character, or to realise that you must be so interesting that the author hasn’t needed to use their imagination to create something new. But, of course, characters inspired by real people aren’t always portrayed in a positive light. Oscar Wilde, for example, famously fell out of favour with his friend and occasional lover John Grey, when it became obvious that Wilde’s character Dorian Grey was so obviously based on him.
I have been thinking about this in relation to my last Author’s Top Tips post – Keeping a Record. I don’t think I have ever consciously based any of the characters I have written on people I know, but I do think that sometimes writers can use this inspiration quite unconsciously, so perhaps I have in fact taken some real life inspiration without even knowing it.