by Jennie Marsland
I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies of authors. We all put a lot of ourselves and our experiences into our writing, and a glimpse of those experiences makes my appreciation of an author’s work that much deeper.
For example, Agatha Christie worked in a hospital dispensary, and later used her knowledge of drugs and poisons in her writing. Tolkien trained cavalry horses during the Great War, which allowed him to write so movingly about the horse-lords of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Pamela Clare uses her background in archaeology in her historical romances, and her career in journalism is the basis of her I-Team novels. There’s a lot to be said for writing what you know.
And me? I write historicals. My credentials? A degree in Animal Science, a Master’s in microbiology, six years spent in a molecular biology lab, and nearly twenty years as a high school math and science teacher.
Have I ever used any of this in my writing? Only indirectly. Research skills apply whether you’re searching for papers on antibiotic synthesis or accounts of the Halifax explosion, and my experience with animals came in handy with my first novel, a Western. When my characters are sick or injured, the medical terminology I’ve picked up along the way is useful. I’ve considered writing a crime story set in a high-tech DNA analysis lab, but the skills I used in my work are now so outdated I’d have to start at square one, and I worked with DNA from codfish, not criminals. Though a man once called the lab, very much under the influence, and asked if we could check his DNA to see if it would be safe for him to have children. Now that might make a starting point for a story.
When I read, a part of my mind is always wondering about the author, pick up clues about the person who put these words on paper. I wonder how many of the authors I read have backgrounds that I would never suspect from their work? I guess I’ll never know, unless I find a biography some day.