“Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental."
The above disclaimer usually appears on opening the pages of a new novel. Several fellow writers have reported to me that they are often asked whether the characters in their stories are based either on people they know or on themselves. I might compare this to looking into a mirror and writing about who you see.
My own answer is usually something along the lines of: "My novels have nothing to do with me, my history, personality etc. Who on earth is interested?" Having said that, I am aware that the books could only have been written by me and my unique experience of the world around me.
In this sense, writing can be a powerful tool for processing events and making sense of personal experiences. It also suggests that the border between fiction and nonfiction is rather fuzzy. But I often wonder about the readers' questions and their desire to have answers. Do the answers really matter? Perhaps, many authors are writing about their own lives and looking for confirmation of the value of those lives. Therefore, huge sales of the book would mean reinforcement and a massive ego-feed!
I can say that descriptions of the town Bellano in "Lights over Bellano" were taken from memories of the years I spent in Italy (Verona and Treviso) during the 70s and 80s. But that doesn't mean the novel was about me, does it? Many people live and have lived in these places.
So, what about Ralph, the man through whom we watch the events unfolding? Some aspects of Ralph's life are similar to mine. We are both British. We are both southern English, middle-class and we both lived in Italy. However, Ralph drives an Alfa. I have never driven an Alfa. Ralph is dead. I am alive and I never committed a serious crime. While writing and re-writing the book, I developed a clear mental picture of Ralph and this picture strengthened as the book went on. But he was always my puppet and not an extension of me. But I would say that, wouldn't I?