Hey cHEwY gum gums!

Hope you’re staying safe and well, wherever you are 🙂

A few weeks ago, Chris Lilley copped a bit of flak when Filipe Mahe came forward and said he felt hurt about being the inspiration for Lilley’s show, Jonah from Tonga. I’ve never seen the show, but it got me thinking…as a children’s author, should we be basing our own characters on real-life kids? Do we need to ask for their permission? Should we be using their real names?

In my earlier novels, my main characters were based on me, but the ensemble cast surrounding Lengy in Thai-riffic! and Connor in Con-nerd had names from my high school, university and teacher friends. It was a tribute for their support of my writing journey. However, when it came to personality and likes, a lot of my inspiration came from kids that were in my class when I was a primary school teacher.

I would never use their names, for legal reasons. But also for creative reasons. Stephen, a trouble-maker in Con-nerd was based on three kids in my class who were disruptive. I don’t think that they find the funny side of that revelation. Besides, as a writer when we create characters from real-life people, we take parts of their personality and mannerisms. Keeping these things anonymous gives us a license to run free and do whatever we like with them.

Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice Miranda was based on a few girls that she taught when she was a teacher. These girls know and love it. But there’s a difference between a sweet heroine and a character that is ridiculed or disliked.

I always have a line when I visit schools and festivals. Anything you say or do may be used in one of my stories. As children authors, kids in our lives, whether it’s family or students we meet, inspire us. There’s only so much you can draw from your inner child and childhood memories. If we want our stories to be contemporary, we need to hang out with kids. It’s one of the perks of school visits and workshops haha.

So yeah, I will still be naming characters based on my friends, some of which who have kids of their own now (hello Isaac haha). I will collect some names of kids of books that I sign or meet at things like book clubs. But I never match them with their actual personality. Likewise, any personality traits of kids are mixed in with other people’s names.

I’d love to know if anyone else has had the same dilemma. How do you handle real-life scenarios and characters in your stories?

O.W

About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree