Peter Murphy: A Few Helpful Tips on Writing about Family


Writing about family can be a very dangerous business because not all families teem with the ideals of unconditional love and the consistent and constant support so often attributed to the institution.

Many, it would seem, are populated with jealous and cranky contrarians who have the ability to see slights in everything, said or unsaid, action or inactivity, presence or absence; the types that will see themselves in books that are not about them and cannot when they are.

These are the sort of people that will never be happy with how you have written them. If presented in less than flattering light, they will threaten legal action, disowning, or shunning. While if you choose to be more positive, they will go around telling everybody that they were your inspiration and that your book would not have been any good without them. And if you decide to leave them out and write about other family members you risk being accused of favoritism, or worse.

So, if you do come from one of those families, it might be better not to write about them at all. Even if you know it would get you on an Oprah-like show. In addition to the points raised above, this world is already full of those kinds of books and, given the times we live in, dysfunctionality has become the new norm.

I jest, of course.