Caroline Baum had an interesting piece in the Weekend Age dealing with the stresses fiction authors may place on personal relationships when they use thinly-disguised friends or acquaintances as fodder for a novel or short story. As a blogger who occasionally pens “vignettes” from real life, it’s a potential issue that I’ve pondered about, even though I’m yet to have the uncomfortable experience of a friend discovering and being outraged by something I’ve written about them. That no doubt flows from the “select” size of the Troppo Armadillo readership compared with Thomas Kenneally (the main focus of Baum’s article) and the fact that few of my readers live in Darwin (whereas most of my ‘factional’ characters do). I see that Gianna has already struck the problem, however, with some of her workmates becoming aware that she sometimes writes about them on her blog
It will probably happen to me one day, so it’s worth pondering when use of a personal relationship for creative purposes becomes abuse, and what ethics should apply.
My own view is that, as long as you’re essentially truthful and you disguise a casual acquaintance’s identity so that few if any readers would recognise them, it’s not a problem. Of course, no doubt the acquaintance would recognise themselves, but I don’t see that as either an ethical or practical problem as long as they’re mere distant acquaintances not friends. For example, if Billie-Jean and Alphonse were by some extraordinary chance to stumble across my recent post about them, I doubt they’d be very pleased because the portrayal is hardly flattering. However, to be quite frank, I couldn’t care less. I don’t see them often and I hold them in rather low regard.
Workmates or others in a position to make your life uncomfortable on an ongoing basis raise rather different problems. However, they’re issues of self-preservation rather than writerly ethics, so in that sense they’re not difficult to resolve either. It simply depends on how prepared you are to have all your workmates think you’re a complete prick (or rather know you are). If you intend being ruthlessly judgmental or sarcastic about real people you actually have to deal with frequently, you might need to consider becoming a pseudonymous blogger like Professor Bunyip (whose post this morning, incidentally, is a veritable masterpiece of distilled malevolence – a description intended as a compliment).
Family and close friends pose a much bigger problem. Using them as cannon fodder for a blog raises problems of ethics as well as self-preservation. With the benefit of reflection, for instance, I have to confess that I regret blogging on my daughter Rebecca’s breakup with a former boyfriend not so long ago, without clearing it with her first. It was a breach of trust, because it identified her and could have embarrassed her with her peer group if the post had ever become known to them. As events transpired it won’t, because it disappeared along with all the rest of the posts from the previous “cyberfuddle” manifestation of Troppo Armadillo.
As for my occasional posts about Suzy Kruhse, I always phone and tell her about them in advance, and send her an email copy of the post as well. Fortunately, she’s almost impossible to embarrass, and anything I write about her is likely to be rather less peculiar than the reality if anything.
PS – For anyone who might have been idly curious about my brother-in-law Adam, he now seems to be out of danger and slowly on the mend. He’s still having weekly (and very painful) operations to scrape the suppurating wounds on his legs and shoulders, however, and he’s lost about 2 stone in weight (and he wasn’t overweight to start with). They say Adam’s likely to remain in hospital for at least another month or so. Not nice at all. Still, at least he had “key man” insurance which is now starting to pay out, so my sister Sue no longer has to work double shifts at RNSH or enlist the assistance of the rest of the family to babysit their two kids while she does so.