I’ve often heard the adage, “Write about what you know”, but I’m not sure if I agree. My own novel, The Cross Of Santiago is based around the ideas of reincarnation and past life regression. I have personal experience of neither, but a huge interest in the area and a quirky enough imagination to write an interesting story about it. Like all writers, I do draw from my personal experience when it comes to characters, locations, feelings and emotions in order to ‘ground’ the story in reality, but when it comes to the plot, I like to let my imagination run free. I can’t imagine a novel written by someone who is completely limited by their own personal experience. The creative arts are the one area where we can take poetic license to dream, to create, and live out fictional fantasies that will hopefully engage the reader and take them on an interesting journey.
At the moment I’m reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (who, according to the jacket, is living in Ireland). This is a masterpiece in creating a fictional world where anything can happen. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and it’s becoming clear that one of the characters thinks she could be the reincarnation of a male composer. I think a well written story can stray from the conventional without losing the reader, but that requires a serious amount of research. Or RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH!! as I kept saying to myself when writing my novel. Setting my novel partly in the 16th century required a tireless amount of research into medieval life – everything from what they ate to what they wore, the political environment, the contrast between the different classes, their religion and cultural beliefs. There is also a large chunk of the book set on the sea, both in the present and in the past and I had to do a lot of research into yacht sailing and the kind of ships used by the Spanish Armada when they invaded England.
Obviously, I wrote about something I was interested in, so the research was a pleasure rather than a chore. I am a huge historical fiction fan and reader, so I knew I had to get my facts straight if I wanted to be taken seriously as a historical fiction author. Now I find that a lot of my reviews include comments from readers who say they felt as though they were really stepping back in time, and that is the greatest compliment I could receive.
So my opinion is, you can write about whatever you want to write about – just do your research!