The reader of course doesn't have a clue where fact ends and fiction begins, but the writer might well have a family unhappy to let those skeletons out of the cupboard to walk in the sun.
I know of one local writer who has written a pretty good autobiography but he is too afraid of what his relatives will say to put the thing before the public. (This is a great pity, becasue it's certainly the best thing he has written.) Instead he mines his material from time to time for short stories which he passes off as complete fiction.
Anyway, I promised my writing group that I'd paste up a link to this article which shows how one novelist has resolved the dilemma for herself.
As ideas go, basing a novel on one's family history has, at first sight, a pleasing simplicity: the ready-made cast of characters, the bare bones of a plot. But I soon discovered that there were other issues which make the process far more complex than I could have imagined.writes Louise Doughty in the Independent. Her novel Stone Cradle is based on the life of her romany gypsy forebears. She first of all faced the problem of naming her characters:
If you use the real names along with real events then what, precisely, makes your novel a novel? The fact that you have made up bits you couldn't find out about, or elided over anything awkward? The beauty of your prose? Many a memoirist has done as much. But a memoirist is entitled - even obliged - to say in places, this much I am only guessing at. This much I could not know. A novelist has no such excuse.She decided that she would change names, which she felt gave her greater freeedom:
... to invent where I could not discover and to explain discoveries that did not suit my invention in whatever way I saw fit.But, she cautions:
A family history is never your history alone. It is collective. It belongs to a whole set of people, many of them still alive, and however respectful you try to be of other people's opinions and feelings, there is no getting away from the fact that when a history is written down, there is a sense in which that becomes the authorised version, simply because it is a version which can be read by strangers.All's fair in love and fiction, I'd say!
By the way, if Louise Doherty's name and picure look familiar, it's probably because you are following her excellent A Novel in a Year column in the Telegraph.