Truth — stranger than fiction?

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked about ‘No Regrets’ is to do with how much the novel is based on real events. I can usually answer this quite confidently. I have never undertaken a bet to accept every invitation I receive for a year, I have never joined a running club, all my games of Scrabble have been perfectly innocent, my wife has not left me for a PE teacher and I would never subject my children to the embarrassments that the novel’s central character Rick Matthews (see, nothing like my name at all) chooses to inflict on his.

There is one part of the novel, though, which those who know me think must be based on real events. Rick has a student son, Danny, who is a stand-up comedian. I happen also to have a son who is a stand-up comedian, and this, for many, is enough to prove that this part of the novel must be based on the details of my own life. In my defence I point out that I wrote the novel some time ago when my son, a sixteen-year-old, had only attempted stand-up once. The fact that he, like Danny, went to Oxford and that he continued to perform stand-up is mere coincidence. What’s more, I say, I have never seen him perform.

That, though, has now changed. I have just come back from Edinburgh where, for the first time, I saw my son perform stand-up, an experience which has led me to reflect further on the relationship between truth and fiction. The fact is that this ‘real-life’ experience was far more embarrassing than the version I imagined at my keyboard all those years ago. To see your son describe his Boomerang Kid status, to hear him describe father-son tussles over the TV remote and ponder the Oedipus Complex, not to mention seeing him imitate conflict-resolving monkeys performing sexual acts on each other, proves several things conclusively. The first is that Rick Matthews escaped lightly. The second is that truth can, indeed, be stranger than fiction.