How much of fiction is based on a true story? Can you use personal experience to create imaginary characters and stories? My book “Seven Hotel Stories” shows how you can build rich fiction using a blend of anecdotes, real events and total fantasy.
A magnum of Champagne
I am enjoying a magnum of Champagne in the lobby of a breathtaking luxury hotel at the birthday of a top hotel professional.
All around, general managers of eye-popping resorts and directors of sales of world-famous chains gather at the bar. They sup cocktails, catch up, and swap stories.
Hotel professionals love to tell stories. They have some of the most extraordinary jobs in the world, and have to deal with some awful problems.
‘Is any of it based on a true story?’
‘I love your Seven Hotel Stories,’ the marketing manager of a legendary hotel on the Persian Gulf says to me. ‘The spicy, mysterious general manager Ms N, who solves crimes and sorts out impossible problems, is lovely. I adore all the strong women you create! Not to mention the exotic hotels, and the god-awful awkward customers and bosses who create the messes Ms N has to clean up. Is any of it based on a true story?’
‘Absolutely not,’ I say. ‘The entire series springs fully-formed from my imagination. Especially Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana. Neither bears any resemblance whatsoever to anyone I know. But tell me. Has anything weird or remarkable happened in any of your hotels recently?’
A pheasant in the pocket of her Barbour
‘Weird or remarkable barely suffices to describe what happened at my hotel in London last week.’ A nearby general manager based in London describes to us how a member of the British nobility, checking into his ultra-luxury establishment, removed from the inside pocket of her Barbour jacket a pheasant and asked if the chef might prepare it for dinner that evening.
A mixture of fact and fantasy
If this story sounds familiar, it may be because I used it as part of Hotel Story No.3, The Swedish Woman. In the story, the eponymous guest pulls a dead rabbit out of her inside pocket and asks the receptionist to prepare it for dinner. But the Swedish woman is not a member of the British aristocracy. Nor is the corpse of a man in an elevator awash with blood in the same story based on a real individual – any more than his wife Daphne, who emerges from the elevator carrying an ultra-sharp Chroma knife, her blood-stained shoes trailing a path across the lobby .
So The Swedish Woman is a mixture of fact and fantasy.
Made up? Or based on a true story?
The Hotel Stories – some are based on a true story
Here are a few other elements from The Hotel Stories that are based on real events; and some which are totally made up:
- Hotel Story No.1, Britches, features a combined St Andrew’s Day and St Patrick’s Day ball. Sound absurd? I’ve been to one. It featured some lurid stage acts, although none called the Long-Legged Lovely Lassies. The President of China, who features in Britches, was not present at the event I attended;
- Hotel Story No.2, The Two Rooms, features a truly obnoxious customer called Mr Burke who behaves badly towards women. Luckily I have never met anyone like Mr Burke but sadly such foul customers really exist. The story also features Kyoko, the hotel’s fiery-tempered Japanese chef. Fact: many chefs are temperamental. Another fact: one of my favourite five-star hotels features an Asian-themed restaurant. As for the interactions between Kyoko and Mr Burke, they are totally made up. I hope they never inspire any angry chef, Japanese or otherwise;
- In Hotel Story No.4, The White Blouse, Tatiana faces a fearsome passport official at the border of the country to which she is travelling to begin a new job. Fact: I have personal experience of ghastly passport and customs officials, particularly in countries where the rule of law is not tip-top. The story also features Eli the materials manager, a member of the hotel staff who participates in illegal, abhorrent acts. I made up the illegal acts – but Eli was inspired by someone I met.
Which Hotel Stories are real?
If you would like to know more about which elements of The Hotel Stories are based on fact and fiction, let me know – I’ll be happy to write a follow-up blog. Or if you’d like to take a look at Seven Hotel Stories and have a guess which bits are real and which are made up, leave a comment!
For more writing tips, see my blog Writing tips: how to write a novel – or eight – and enjoy it.
A full list of my published writing, including Hotel Story 8, Seven Ukrainian Girls, and Hotel Story 9, Total Control, is at my Robert Pimm Author Page on Amazon.