“Write what you know” is a classic piece of writing advice that authors – especially indie ones – love to debate. Wouldn't it be better to write about what interests and excites you? Or what you'd like to know about – and for which you can justify that dream research trip? Or is it the fiction writer's prerogative to make it all up, which precludes needing to know anything at all? Elizabeth Ducie shares her experience of changing her mind on this issue, and explains why she's not looking back.
Before I ‘gave up the day job’ to write fiction full-time, I worked in the international pharmaceutical industry,with governments to set up appropriate control systems and with manufacturers to help them implement those controls. In more than thirty years, I interacted with hundreds of people, in dozens of organisations, in more than fifty countries.
I had a number of pharmaceutical textbooks published over the years, and these are still available on under my married name of Kate McCormick. So when I started the creative writing – and for several years, the two activities overlapped – I decided I needed a pen name to prevent scaring off potential readers. Elizabeth is my middle name and Ducie was the name I was born with, so it was just a short step to take.
Of course, there was a slight problem in that most of my contacts were also in pharma, so in order to encourage them to buy my books, I had to ‘break cover’, but by and large, I managed to keep the two personae separate. Many of my short stories are set outside the UK, and my first novel Gorgito’s Ice Rink is based in a factory in Russia, but that’s really incidental to the story. When I talk to groups such as WI or U3A, I talk about my travel experiences and my writing, but I have steered clear of my working life.
My next novel is the first of three thrillers set firmly in international pharma. It’s a story that’s been buzzing around in my head for some years and has finally insisted on being heard. And with publication due in less than six months, I’m working on my promotional planning, including making overtures to local radio. This was something I knew I had to do, even though the idea of talking to a total stranger in the presence of countless others without a prepared script was rather daunting to someone who is naturally rather shy and tongue-tied.
During February I spent a week as the guest presenter on Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Devon’s Early Show. My theme was lessons I had learned during my international work – along the lines of travel may broaden the mind, but multicultural working blows it a mile wide!
I touched on experiences in Russia, in Africa and in Europe; and suddenly I found myself with lots to say; plenty of experiences to relate; and opinions to give. Each morning the slot became longer as the presenter and I found so much to chat about. When you write (or talk) about what you know, there is limitless material.
Why Only Now?
Thinking back, this is a lesson I should have learned much earlier. Although I’ve been writing and publishing for many years, I believe I still have a lot to learn about creative writing and would not presume to teach this subject.
But on the other hand, I have occasionally written about my experiences with self-publishing, as that side of the industry is developing all around us and to a certain extent we’re all learning together. And as business owner for more than twenty years, I do know a lot about finance systems for writers and have written the odd book or two on that subject.
And now, with my sudden realisation that thirty plus years in one industry does make me an ‘expert’ of sorts, I think I’m going to be talking and writing about that subject a whole lot more in the future.
OVER TO YOU What's your take on that classic piece of advice to “write what you know”? Join the conversation!Writing: Why You Should Write What You Know – Yes, Really! Click To Tweet