Every so often when I’m writing I come across something which, when I look at it again, I realise “Oh! I wouldn’t have thought that a few years ago!”
It’s not just age/maturity/extra life experience which causes these moments for me, it’s also where I live, how we live, and sometimes more exactly who else lives here… Our little village in the mountains of Mid-Wales is one of those rural communities with an ageing population – at a rough guess, we’re probably somewhere around 50% retirees (I say “we” meaning “our village”, I personally am several decades away from any hope of retirement). In the nine years since we moved here I’ve got fairly well used to being the youngest in the room by 30+ years.
All of this is a bit of a preamble to my most recent realisation of how my life shapes my writing: back when I was first exploring writing in my early 20s, I worked and socialised primarily with people no more than a decade older than me and the characters in my writing mostly reflected this very narrow age range. The other day I was wondering whether the character I was introducing should be the grandfather or great-grandfather of my main character. I wanted him to be the great-grandfather but at the same time it has to be believable that he is able to do certain things required by the plot – and at this point in the story my main character is 21.
So I sat down with a pen and paper, noting down first the known birth date of the main character (Alex), the dates I had in mind for certain key events in his father’s life, and therefore a likely birth date for him – from there I extrapolated his father’s birth date, and then that of the generation above. A simple calculation then gave me the answer that Alex’s great grandfather would be 86 in the year that Alex turns 21.
“Oh well that’s fine then,” I said to myself, “perfectly believable that he’d still be around and keeping himself busy, even if he can’t quite do everything with the energy he had in his youth.”
Somehow, I doubt I’d have thought that way ten years ago, before I found myself in a place where I’m regularly socialising with people several decades older than me…