Blog: The Inspiration for The Other Me
The main inspiration for The Other Me was a deeply personal one –about ten years ago I discovered the identity of my father. By the time I’d tracked him down in France he’d died. I’d missed him by months. But I did meet my half-brother, Vincent, who showed me photographs and was able to fill me in on my family history. To my surprise, I discovered that my father had been Jewish, of Portuguese and Dutch blood. He’d lived in Paris since arriving in the city as a young man. He’d been an artist in the COBRA movement in the early 50’s. He’d always loved horses and dogs and jazz. It was strange to have these facts about him and to feel a connection through them – I love horses and dogs; my daughters are artists. My son plays jazz piano. These were tangible things that seemed to have come down to me through him.
As a blonde, slightly Scandinavian-looking person, I’d never though that I might have Jewish blood. It made me take a new interest in Jewish culture and religion, and of course, I immediately had a different take on WW2, knowing that some of my relatives would have been caught up in the anti-Semitism and quite possibly died in the Holocaust.
I began to think about the importance of knowing our parents – how our identity hinges on who they are. Having stories and facts and anecdotes about my father filled a void. As I stared at the black and white photos of him, searching for similarities, I knew that I wanted to write a story about identity, and about the uncertainty that comes from any ambiguity around the question of parentage. I believe that at some level a child will always know if a parent isn’t their biological one. I knew this from personal experience. I’d been brought up by someone that I called ‘Dad.’ Yet I understood deep down, without anyone telling me, that he wasn’t my real father.
I’d already played with this idea in my second novel, Without You. In The Other Me I wanted to develop the idea further and I wanted to add a historical element, because it occurred to me that I might just as easily have discovered that my father had had links to Nazi Germany, especially with my Saxon colouring. And I asked myself how I’d feel if that was really the case: would I suddenly inherit guilt? Would I become ashamed? Would it change the way I thought about myself?
These were the questions that were in my mind when I began to construct the story of The Other Me.