I Write What I Don't Know
by Barry Graham
The Guardian asks: “Are novelists obliged to tell the story of their private life?”
“Write what you know” is a maxim preached to aspiring writers.
I get emails from single fathers who tell me The Book of Man captured their experience. I have no children. I get emails from people who’ve been hospitalised for depression saying the same thing about the same book. I have never been depressed, and when I wrote that book I had never been hospitalised.
I have also never been a young Dutch woman, nor a Mexican-American drug-dealer and murderer, nor a murderous paedophile, nor a female ex-cop from an upper-class background, nor a former U.S. soldier turned handyman, nor a lounge musician who commits armed robberies.
War veterans have said that the book that best represented their experience was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, who never saw combat.
Bram Stoker wasn’t a vampire. Stephen King doesn’t hang out in drains, wearing a clown suit and luring children to their doom. Experience is a poor substitute for imagination and empathy.