Posted in Writing

When Life Imitates Art: Some Writers Share Their Experiences

In this post, I share the experiences of writers who have dreamed up novels which at least in part becomes reality true post-publication.

My process is the same every time I write a novel – and I’ve written 12 of them now – I start by jotting down ideas in a notebook.

Once they’ve had a chance to percolate in my unconscious, usually for many months, and sometimes fpr years, I wrestle the ideas into a rough outline of the plot. Then I begin to write, using the outline as a prompt, chapter by chapter, until I reach the end.

My outline is brief – a sentence or two per chapter – but I always know the main themes, the broad structure of the plot, the key characters and the timescale before I start. I add a couple of new characters each time to add interest, and  each book is set at a specific time of year to add seasonal interest.

image of cards spread out on kitchen table
Stage 2 of the planning process for my new novel

My stories are inspired by real life, but my characters and the plots are entirely fictitious – or so I thought, until I started writing my current work in progress, Driven to Murder (working title), the ninth Sophie Sayers village mystery. Sophie lives in the isolated Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow, where anyone who doesn’t drive depends on the local bus service.

At the end of her previous adventure, Murder in the Highlands, Sophie and Hector made a pledge to each other: she will learn to drive if he learns to swim – two activities that play a crucial part in that novel’s plot.

At the start of the series, in Best Murder in Show, Sophie had made what some might consider a rash decision by moving to Wendlebury Barrow without being able to drive, and after living there for more than a year, it was high time she rectified that situation.

A driving licence will also enable her to take on more responsibilities in Hector’s bookshop business, which is about to launch a secondhand division, requiring stock to be collected from people’s homes.

As this is a murder mystery series, I needed to add some conflict and some motives for murder – other than the inevitable squabbles when Hector tries to teach Sophie tries to teach to drive!

I also like to address real-life rural issues in this series. Announcing the cancellation of the local bus service seemed a fruitful starting point, and I immediately began to dream up irate villagers’ protests, raucous parish council meetings – and motives for murder.

You can imagine my surprise and horror when shortly afterwards, in my real-life Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, it was announced that Stagecoach, our local bus service, whose slogan on its Facebook page is “Proud to serve the community of Britain every day” (ha!), was about to be axed.

Although I’m lucky enough to have a car and be able to drive, I know many people to whom this news spelled disaster and deprivation, from those needing the bus to get to school or to work to adults attending medical appointments and job interviews. Those without jobs will not even be able to sign on for their unemployment benefit at their local Job Centre, which is well beyond walking distance. Many people use the bus service for grocery shopping, as although we are lucky to have a wonderful village shop and post office, they’re no match for supermarkets and city centre facilities.

All authors are influenced by their environment, even fantasy writers whose works might not be expected to bear much relation to the real world. However it can shake us up when real life echoes what we’ve written, rather than the other way around.

Many of my author friends have had a similar experience of discovering that a theme in their book pre-empts a real-life event – sometimes frivolous, some serious. I’m grateful to the following writers who have given me permission to share their experience below.

Fay Keenan: My novel A Place to Call Home was inspired by the fight by Cystic Fibrosis patients abd their families for a particular drug to be provided on the NHS. This became a major plot line in the book, including the (sinplified) process of how the legislation was passed. Two weeks after it was published, the government made the decision to grant NHS funding. Strictly speaking, I was kind of running parallel with the real events, but the timing of it all was really something, as the book was handed in five months prior to the real-life decision!

Jane Davis: While I was writing An Unknown Woman, a novel about a woman who loses her house and everything it in, my sister and her husband lost their house and everything in it. Although my protagonist lost her belongings in a fire, while my sisters lost hers in a flood, the issue I chose to explore was what are we if we own nothing? I asked my sister if I should abandon the book and was secretly relieved when she said no, but I wrote my way towards a much kinder and more hopeful ending than the one I’d originally had in mind!

Clare Flynn: In my historical novel The Chalky Sea, I wrote about a secret listening station on Beachy Head during WW2. I made it up as it seemed a great place to site one A few years later a suitcase was discovered in a London attic describing and containing papers related to a secret listening station at Beachy Head. (You can read more about this extraordinary coincidence on Clare’s blog here.)

Caroline Finnerty: In my first book, In a Moment, I wrote about a character having a shock of discovering she was pregnant with twins, then a couple of months later it was me!

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Leonie Mack: My debut novel, My Christmas Number One, was about a female singer who was forced to team up with a Latin music star to record a crossover single and the month that I finished writing it in 2019, Madonna and Maluma lit up the stage with their crossover single Medellin! Reality was overtly a lot sexier than my book, where that was part of the conflict for the female main character who wanted to be taken seriously as a musician and not known for sexy dancing on stage! I should add that my character was from Colombiam and Maluma is from Colombia as well! But theirs wasn’t a Christmas song.

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Alison Morton: I was writing Insurrectio basing the rise of the antagonist Caius on Hitler – charismatic, manipulative, amoral and a total liar, obsessed with power and his own particular vision. l planned all the repressive measures and atmosphere on the Third Reich. Then Donald Trump entered the American political arena… Not quite the same, but a lot of people saw the parallels and feared them.

 Sheila Norton: In The Lonely Hearts Dog Walkers, I wrote a book where the lead character worked in a primary school as a teaching assistant, and soon after it was published, one of my daughters got a job doing exactly that – never having planned to do that kind of work at all. I also wrote a short story years ago about a woman having to rush to her daughter in hospital after the daughter had an accident – and a short time later I was in the same position (although my daughter was ill, not having had an accident). I suppose these occurences in life aren’t rare, but it does feel spooky when they occur!

Such developments are enough to make an author wary. Says Jane Lovering, “I’ve been so spooked before about these things happening after I’ve written them in my books that there are certain things I now won’t write about!”


Of course, it was ever thus – there have always been prescient novels. George Orwell, I’m looking at you.

George Orwell's photo from his press card
George Orwell’s headshot from his press card

1984 is of course far more chilling than any of the examples cited above. Please feel free to share your favourite examples by commenting on this post.

I’m thankful that in my case I can engineer a happy ending for the village community in Driven to Murder.

I just hope my real-life local bus company will do the same for Hawkesbury Upton.


My next book, Artful Antics at St Bride’s, is now available to pre-order! The arrival of an enigmatic new pupil is the starting for this fourth cozy mystery novel, which includes the introduction of a whole host of mysterious characters whose intentions English teacher Gemma Lamb must investigate in order to save the school! Click the image or the title to pre-order the ebook now. The book will be launched in ebook, paperback and audiobook on Saturday 29th July.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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