research

11. Interviewing and Sensitivity

Welcome to my blog about Interviewing and Sensitivity.

Have you ever told someone something confidential only to have them blurt it out to friends?

It’s not that you thought it was a secret or that it was even personal but there are some things you don’t want to share with a wider audience.

You might have been in a particular situation, mood or even with a stranger when a discussion takes place and you play devil’s advocate. Then when your view point is repeated afterwards – it’s not how you truly are or how you really feel.

As many politicians or people in the public eye already know – if what you say is taken out of context it can have a whole new meaning. It’s the same with writing and researching a novel.

adoptionfeet

With this in mind, my interviewing technique when starting MASTERPIECE had to be quite gentle and respectful. The subject of adoption for most people is an opinion, but for those who have been affected or involved – then it’s personal.

As an avid fan of ITV’s Long Lost Family I sent an email to Ariel Bruce, a Registered Independent Social Worker, who specialises in tracing people affected by adoption, and who has worked on every series of this programme. I introduced myself and explained the outline of my novel and asked her if she could help with with information about adoption laws and situations thirty years ago. I had to know my plot was plausible.

I was setting the backstory for my protagonists, Josephine and Mikky, and in order to make the situation authentic I had to make sure I had the facts right. Laws change and over the years the world is also a changed place from thirty years ago and I also knew it was a delicate and sensitive subject.
To my delight Ariel telephoned me immediately. She was interesting and well informed. We talked through ideas and although she didn’t speak about specific cases she was able to advise me on situations and what could have or what might have happened. Listening to her professionalism and having the opportunity to ask her questions allowed me to push the barriers and the circumstances of Josephine’s life and Mikky’s birth. This has created an insightful backstory for my main characters in my Culture Crime Series.
By using Ariel’s experience, I was able to make the circumstances believable for my readers and create tension, excitement and conflict.

When I met my friend Jo, over thirty-five years ago, she told me immediately that she was adopted. I knew her family well and still treasure the memories of Julian and Barbara and their kindness to me when Jo and I were at University together.

When I was writing MASTERPIECE, Jo shared the documents, letters and photographs of her adoption with me. While searching for the truth she discovered her birth mother had passed away but she found her family in Ireland. The first weekend Jo contacted them created another surprise. Unbelievably, her sister in Switzerland, who no-one knew about, contacted the family that same weekend. Jo and her sister share the same birth mother. Neither knew the other existed.

Jo also found out that her birth mother’s brother was adopting a baby girl at the same time that she was put up for adoption. Jo’s mother had kept her daughter’s births a secret. There was only one family member in Ireland who knew about the adoption and who was able to verify the truth.

Happily Jo and her sister have travelled to Ireland to meet their relatives and although Jo’s birth mother and Julian and Barbara have passed away, other family members stay in regular contact. Although Jo has no bearing on the characters in my book, she shared with me her experience with honesty and candour. She told me how she felt reading letters and looking at photographs and what it meant to her seeing and meeting relatives for the first time.

I did not recreate Jo’s life or experiences but I did use her thought process as I read the documents with her and I learned how she felt. For example, I didn’t realise there were two birth certificates, a short one and more detailed one, and more emotionally, I shared a letter written by Jo’s birth mother to the adoption agency as to why she was taking the difficult decision that she made.

As I said in the beginning of this blog, these details are private to Jo. She trusted me not to use her experience as an example or to quote her or to share her personal feelings. But I was able to learn from her, and from that I could create feelings and emotions in my character to create a realistic backstory and provide authenticity to my writing.

Adoption is a delicate and sensitive subject. Sharing with friends and strangers in a respectful and safe environment is a special and rewarding experience. I was grateful to these remarkable and interesting women who spoke with experience and wisdom.

REMEMBER: You’re writing fiction – it’s a story that can come alive through other people’s experiences. It’s not journalism or exposure, or betrayal of trust if it’s done properly.

Next Blog Post: Writing about Kitesurfing.

LINKS:
Ariel Bruce
Adoption support
MASTERPIECE

Janet Pywell

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