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Real names in memoir? (1 Viewer)

MichelD

Senior Member
Does anyone remember the beloved James Herriot? I love his stories. Only, they're memoirs, not stories. I forget what his real name was, but he kept a list of real names that he cross-referenced with his fictional stand-in names, and changed not only names but places as well, and -- gosh, I don't want to google this -- any way, about the time he was really popular here in the states, it was the mid nineties, and there were James' Herriot Christmas gift books and related paraphernalia at the bookstores at the mall and the BBC was airing a charming series based on his life and stories. Except, when he died -- again, google it to find out the facts -- the whole real town of real people found out it was them he was writing about and decided to sue his estate. (The lawsuit might have been in the late eighties, but it didn't stop the stories from taking on a life of their own as a tv show.)

I think the long of the short of this is, don't just keep an eye out for liable & legal matters, but check to make sure you're not profiting too much from other people's real-experiences. They might want in on it someday. ;)
You must be kidding.

He was very well-known in the U.K. There was a TV series based on his stories. The notion that there was a whole village of people who didn't know until he died they were being portrayed in stories is just not credible.
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
You must be kidding.

He was very well-known in the U.K. There was a TV series based on his stories. The notion that there was a whole village of people who didn't know until he died they were being portrayed in stories is just not credible.

Hi @MichelD, I hope that is shock and not an accusation there. Look into it. I know the matter of the town folk & accusation of libel was all over the news when I was in middle school, in the late eighties, as he was my favorite author (other than that I can't tell you much about the state of affairs in the world back then). And again in the nineties, something similar came to light at about the same time the British sitcom really took off. What I remember of the earlier incident was that he kept a list of real names and alternate names, to protect people's real identities, but when it was discovered I think he had to make a public apology but nothing more came of it. But what followed, and I think because of the sitcom, was a defamation suit brought on by his former employer who he often cast in the role of the antagonist. I remember hearing it on a radio show and, after this hit the news, all of a sudden the bookstore displays disappeared. Coincidence? I don't think so.
 

MichelD

Senior Member
If you look up James Alfred Wright (aka James Herriot) on Wiki or Google there is no reference to any lawsuits or libel. I would be happy to be proven wrong.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
If that action occurred in the UK, they have an entirely different take on defamation law, and my research only applies to the USA.
Does this mean one can write that Abraham Lincoln had sex with sheep, and his descendants can't do anything about it?

Great discussion and reasons for the OP to have reservations about using real names. More information on the topic that may explain the Peter Sellers case:

"Survivors or descendants of the dead have no legal claim on behalf of a deceased relative’s good name, nor can they collect on behalf of their own interests relative to that person’s reputation. Likewise, the estate of a deceased person cannot be liable for the defamation of the dead. Survivors, relatives or friends of the deceased may, however, have a cause of action if the defamation reflects on their own reputations and they have, in fact, been defamed by the statements."


Does anyone remember the beloved James Herriot? I love his stories. Only, they're memoirs, not stories. I forget what his real name was, but he kept a list of real names that he cross-referenced with his fictional stand-in names, and changed not only names but places as well...

A good reference and obviously he was taking some precautions. I did find this:

"To this day, James Herriot and the fictionalised accounts of his life - based almost entirely on Alf's, but tweaked to avoid libel claims - remain etched on the national psyche, to the point that his old stomping ground, the Yorkshire Dales, is still known as Herriot Country."

 
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MommaKat

Senior Member
Right now I'm writing fiction, but several characters are based on truth. There's a couple that I used real names, but checked with the person involved and she's thrilled I used her name as a character. The main truth in it is her personality and profession. She is actually reading the draft right now.
I also have some writing that my mother gave me that I want to expand on, they rescued and hid jewish families during WWII and were very much a part of the Dutch Resistance. That story will be based in fact, likely with real names of those who are in my family...would like thoughts on that (as an aside)
Peace and blesed day of thanks for whatever you are thankful for.
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
You have been misinformed.
Hey MichelD, I'm addressing this only one last time and I'm addressing it because it is an accusation. My personal experience of the first event came through the news of the day and the later event while shopping at a bookstore that used to air current author happenings over their music system as people shopped. The store later pulled their James Herriot display. I witnessed these things. For you to say this is an ad hominem, lit. 'an attack against the person;, and in no way addresses the material in question but is questioning my ability to tell the truth. So I am done with this conversation.
 

MichelD

Senior Member
Thank you for your perspectives everyone.

I am currenlly reworking my first memoir according to a publisher's suggestions. That manuscript does not have any subsituted names in it, primarily because the subject is basically growing up in a small growing industrial community with few controversial incidents.

The original question on this thread was regarding the second memoir I started before hearing back from the publisher that contains a lot more shall we say "racy" content, therefore I was wondering whether to use real names or not.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Thank you for your perspectives everyone.

I am currenlly reworking my first memoir according to a publisher's suggestions. That manuscript does not have any subsituted names in it, primarily because the subject is basically growing up in a small growing industrial community with few controversial incidents.

The original question on this thread was regarding the second memoir I started before hearing back from the publisher that contains a lot more shall we say "racy" content, therefore I was wondering whether to use real names or not.
If there are racy or questionable or criminal actions ascribed to a character, I suggest you change the name, and perhaps description of the character.
Who would like their past to come back and haunt them via a novel?
 
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