I swear I made you up - Apology to Vellanoweth, by Roz Morris

It’s a funny thing, releasing a novel. You think you’ve made everything up, then someone informs you that it’s not as fictional as you’d hoped. And moreover, you got it wrong.
The other day I had an email to say that the fusty village where I’d set the action in My Memories of a Future Life was not spelled Vellonoweth but Vellanoweth.
‘No it’s not,’ I replied, thinking my correspondent had a cheek. ‘I made it up.’
‘It’s near Penzance,’ he said.
Oh dear. It was.
I honestly had no idea the place existed. My Vellonoweth, with an o, was inspired by a stand-out surname I spotted in a magazine. It embodied everything I needed for my setting - a fusty, sleepy hell full of dreary people. If I used a real town I couldn’t take it to the stifling depths I needed.
But it turns out there is a real Vellanoweth. So I may have some apologising to do. Here it is.
  • 1 I’m sorry I gave you a terrible amateur dramatics society, which was performing a musical they’d written themselves about a lost hat.
  • 2 I’m sorry I gave you so many atrocious singers and musicians and I’m sorry my narrator didn’t find that endearing.
  • 3 I’m sorry your only watering hole was the Havishamesque and immense Railway Hotel with its curry-coloured carpets and paintwork like melted royal icing. In earlier drafts it was much worse so I’ve spared you a lot.
  • 4 I’m sorry I gave you a dismal 1950s high street with concrete shoebox buildings.
  • 5 I’m sorry I made it rain most of the time, which made the precinct even more depressing.
  • 6 I’m sorry about the spiritualists.
  • 7 I’m sorry no one could pick up TV or radio, except for the barmy local station in the old wartime fort which most of the time played industrial whalesong.
  • 8 I’m sorry the electricity supply was as bad as the weather and the singers. But on the plus side I did give you a decommissioned nuclear power station which attracts more tourists than Glastonbury Tor and allows the locals to sell home-made radiation detection badges. See, it wasn’t all bad.
  • 9 I’m sorry the people I despatched to this hell from London behaved so bizarrely and upset these good folk, who as you can see had enough to contend with.
On the other hand, as the novel is about other lives, perhaps you’ll enjoy Vellanoweth’s literary alter ego. To allow some respite, I did give you the neighbouring towns of Nowethland and Ixendon. If they really exist I’ll eat my atlas.
Yours sincerely, Roz
(Thank you for the pictures, Hydra Arts, Angelhead and Abode of Chaos)
My Memories of a Future Life is out now on Kindle. A print edition and audiobook edition are also available.
Roz Morris is a ghostwriter, editor and the author of Nail Your Novel - Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Her website is www.rozmorris.wordpress.com and she blogs at www.nailyournovel.com. You can follow her on Twitter as @Roz_Morris.


Dan Holloway said…
ouch! It's a real minefield (the making it up thing, not Vellanoweth, in case anyone gets further upset). The advantage of writing about real places is that you can knowingly fictionalise them and be pretty sure you've eradicated any sensitive bits. Writing about people and places fictitious is a whole bundle more fraught it seems. Funny old business!
JO said…
I so hope your apology is accepted, after all that grovelling!
madwippitt said…
Maybe they'll invite you over to find out what it's really like! (Although if they meet you off the train carrying burning torches and pitchforks, probably best to stay on till at least the next stop ...)
Jan Needle said…
I had a worse experience with my Wagstaffe the Wind-up Boy. Seventy three people wrote to say they really did have clockwork insides and a dirty big key sticking out of their back. I didn't necessarily believe them, but I did apologise, just in case. Anyway, is there any real evidence that Cornwall exists?
Dan - hmmmm, sensitivity. Guess I'll find out if they're 'Most Sensitive Town of the Year'.
Jo - I think I grovelled pretty comprehensively there.
Madwippitt - perhaps I'll go in disguise. I am very curious to visit them now, though.
Jan - LOL! There's always one...
I had a similar experience with my book "Spellfall", which has an imaginary parallel universe called Earthaven. After the book was published, someone from America wrote to say there really was an Earthaven, they lived in it, and it was an alternative community... strangely with much the same philosophy as my Earthaven, though without the unicorns (I think!)

So maybe it's more a case of the names belonging to certain types of places... you can invent the place, but not the name? Even the spelling is not necessarily wrong - many towns and villages have had various different spellings through the years.
Susan Schreyer said…
I'm laughing myself sick, Roz! Memories is on my "to be read" list -- but after this post it's moving to the top.
Katherine, that is priceless. Send them a unicorn.
Susan - Thank you (and your handsome unicorn...)
Anonymous said…
Your groveling is quite sincere.

The good news is that someone from unexpected (and previously unknown) reaches of the world has read your book!

That has to count for something.
Victoria Mixon said…
"I'm sorry about the spiritualists."


It's driving me nuts that I can't remember who said it, but a great writer once pointed out that all your friends will be offended when they see themselves in your novel whether they're there or not---or else they'll be offended when they don't.
Hello, Cat! Definitely got to look on the bright side about that!

Hi Victoria! Oh that's so true. I have a friend who has repeatedly hinted he'd like to have a walk-on at least.
JournalPulp said…
Ms. Mixon, perhaps you're thinking of Edith Wharton, who in her autobiography A Backward Glance wrote this:

"All novelist who describe what is called 'society life' are pursued by the exasperating accusation of putting flesh-and-blood people into their books. Anyone gifted with the least creative faculty knows the absurdity of such a charge. 'Real people' transported into a work of the imagination would instantly cease to be real; only those born of the creator's brain can give the least illusion of reality.... Nothing can be more trying to the creative writer than to have a clumsy finger point at one of the beings born in that mysterious other-world of invention, with the playful accusation: 'Of course we all recognize your aunt Eliza!'"

And there's also this:

"Every writer uses the people in his life -- what other experience does he or she have? For every Dubliner who was scandalized by the publication of Joyce's Ulysses and every East Side socialite who was shocked by Capote's 'La Cote Basque,' there are probably as many people who felt hurt that they were not included. What's worse: to read something scathing about yourself, or to be deemed unworthy of comment?"

(Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees).

As an aside, I will note that I emphatically agree with Edith Wharton: nothing is more trying than a clumsy finger point.

My thanks to you all,

Thanks for anointing my post with such fine quotations, Ray!
Margaret Duarte said…
Love this. I often wonder what the reponse will be to the locations in my novels when they are published. I real towns, just change the names of the shops, restaurants, etc., to protect the innocent. You handled this with a great sense of humor.
Thanks, Margaret - it's funny how what you write with complete abandon might come back to bite you! If I were you I'd swap the personnel around too so they don't recognise themselves...
Anonymous said…
Oh dear. It happens. As sure as, just as you type "The End", you come across a book, already out and successful sounding suspiciously like your own. Same with characters' names and, you got it, places you think you've made up!

I read MMOAFL, all the time thinking that Vellanoweth was an anagram of The Law Novel or The Awl Novel! And that I'd guessed some writerly trick of yours :)

I google virtually every name I come up with. Whatever it is, it always seems to exist somewhere. Probably prior to the internet , we would never have known. Never mind. This stuff happens and at least you took steps to put things right with the real inhabitants!

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