“Write what you know” is a cliché as old as writing itself. It’s a little-known fact that Homer started out writing rom-coms and dystopian sci-fi (as well as an ill-conceived TV pilot about an Athenian cop married to his own sister). It wasn’t until he got lost returning home from a holiday in Troy that the idea for the Odyssey came to him. He wrote what he knew. And Western literature has never looked back.
Most writers will utilise (steal) events, characters and, most importantly, jokes from real life. But until I wrote Our House I’d never written so closely to real events and real people. My wife read the book recently, chuckling away gratifyingly from time to time. She’s not one to laugh out long and loud, so a little chuckle means a lot from her. After she’d finished, I asked her if she’d enjoyed it. “Well, yes,” she said. “It’s just about us, isn’t it?”
And it is. Our House is a story that is basically just my own story. Or OUR own story. The Deal children are the same ages as my children were when I started writing it. In the book, the Deal family have recently moved to a big house with flappy wallpaper, wonky electrics and an overgrown garden, just like we did. Many events in the book happened to us in real life and all the best jokes are stolen from my children.
There are a few things I made up. As far as I’m aware, my oldest daughter doesn’t wake up early every Wednesday to ride up and down the street with the milk lady. The teenage son Jacob is fictitious and I haven’t yet tried to open our front door by chaining it to the rear bumper of our car. But, when younger, my son did often set off the alarm in Sainsbury’s and once he did indeed override the safe mode on a fire engine. Chloe, Daisy, Polly, John, Tamsin, Emily and Imogen are all real people. (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)
As hilarious and wonderful as they are, I don’t think there’s anything particularly exceptional about my family. I think there are thousands, probably millions of families just like us and just like the Deal family. Loud, chaotic, argumentative, loving, frustrating and very, very funny.
Not everyone has a family, of course. And some families look very different to mine. Some families have difficulties and aren’t able to laugh as much as they’d like. I know how lucky we are, but I can only write what I know. I wish everyone could have a family as lovely as the Deals, and I hope that everyone who reads Our House will see at least a little of their own experience in it and have a little chuckle.