When someone thinks you’ve put them in your novel…

“This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental”

That – or something similar – can be found in the front of most novels. It’s there to remind the reader that what follows is not ‘true’ – it’s made up, a work of the imagination not to be confused with real life. But the disclaimer’s not enough to stop readers speculating, especially when they think they may have spotted the real-life model for a particular character.

‘That character’s X, isn’t she?’ ‘You’ve based that character on Y, haven’t you?’ ‘That character Z. Is it me?’ When asked such  questions, writers may deny it, but they know it’s not quite as simple as it seems. Any character they create is the result of observations of people – their appearance, their traits, their quirks. Where else can writers get their inspiration for characters and events if not from their observation of the real world and the people in it?

But writers do have  to tread carefully to avoid charges of defamation or law suits, and in  my research for the third Garibaldi novel I came across a particularly intriguing  way of doing it.

Libel lawyers say that if you want to protect yourself from libel suits over your representation of a particular character you should give that character a tiny penis. This ‘small penis’ rule may work best with male characters, but its principle can be applied to all. In the same way that no-one is going to come forward and say, ‘that character with the very small penis, that’s me!” no-one is going to come forward claiming to be the model of a character given a quality or attribute no-one would want.

Writers are also asked how much they’ve based a particular character on themselves. This has certainly been the case with my fictional detective, DI Garibaldi. To what extent, I’m often asked, is Garibaldi based on me? I’m always honest with my answer. Garibaldi lives in Barnes. So do I. Garibaldi can’t drive. Neither can I. Garibaldi is of Irish-Italian ancestry. So am I. Garibaldi likes country music. So do I. Garibaldi is a QPR season ticket-holder. And so, alas, am I. Yet, despite these acknowledged similarities, I always say with confidence that I am not DI Garibaldi.

This vexed relationship between a work of fiction and real life lies at the heart of Every Trick in the Book, the third Garibaldi novel.

When the body of retired teacher, Liam Allerton, is found  in Barnes Pond police are shocked to discover that the circumstances of his death exactly mirror the death of the victim in Allerton’s novel, Schooled in Murder. Garibaldi is on the case and he is soon wondering how much of his own life, and the lives of those he knew, Allerton had put into his book.

He also starts to ask himself whether the clue to the killer’s identity might lie in its pages.

Every Trick in the Book  (Muswell Press) is out on February 15th 2024