When Your Book Mirrors Reality, or The Dangers of Being Seen as Fanfiction

I set about to write a novel - Playing At Love - where the main characters are part of a successful four-piece rock band. In Ireland. No, not that band. But yes, similar to them. Especially the fact that the fictional lead singer has long-running issues with the absence of his mother. Just like Bono, as it turns out. In U2's latest album, Songs of Innocence, Bono explores how his mother's death affected him both when he was a teenager and up until this day.

Most U2 fans (and maybe even some casual observers) will put two and two together to recognize that my fictional singer shares this significant, defining characteristic with the real singer of U2. And though I was only lightly borrowing the idea of the effect of the absent parent on an artist, I know some may want to read it as fanfiction.

Playing At Love takes place about thirty years after U2's meteoric rise. The singer in my book, Gavin McManus, is inspired to be an artist after his mother abandons their family when he is very young. He, in fact, takes comfort in not only Bono's story, but other musicians like Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Geldof, and Eric Clapton who all also suffered some sort of loss of that all-important maternal figure.

The drive of all these artists to funnel the anger, hurt, and anxiety from their loss into music is something that the fictional band's guitarist, Conor Quinn, recognizes and respects: 

Conor had always been drawn to those who possessed raw talent—both out of admiration and a tinge of envy. He was attracted to that intangible thing that elevated mere aptitude to something great, especially in music. By studying his favorite artists, he realized the key to their genius was an ability to channel the wounds of a damaged childhood into their art. Gavin, having lost his baby sister and mother when he was just seven, had that same wounded artist aura. And he had used it to impressive effect over the years.
— Playing At Love

The novel also questions, not the legitimacy of artists' wounds, but how actively they nurture those wounds in order to mine them for inspiration. That is, if they had had a "normal" upbringing with both parents present, would they have gone on to become legendary artists?

In Gavin's case, he's not just using his music as a means of catharsis, but as a way to reach out to the mother that he hasn't seen since childhood. He's motivated to become famous so that she will return home, return to him.

Now, these themes may seem a bit heavy but they are mixed into what are essentially parallel love stories with Conor trying to finally figure out how to have a real relationship and Gavin trying to win back his estranged wife. There are also lots of glamorous backdrops, including fashion shows on the runways within Paris' Carrousel du Louvre, a romantic nighttime episode on The London Eye Ferris Wheel, island-hopping in Greece, and explorations of Sydney, Australia.

With the characters being Irish rock stars, I realize that I've opened up the possibility for it to be seen as U2 fanfiction. That was the risk I took when I set the story and characters the way I did. Part of why I did that was to envision what the next big band out of Ireland might look like, as there could one day be another U2. Though that may have already happened, but with a solo artist who beat me to any imaginings of what's to come. His name is Hozier. And as far as I know, he doesn't have any mother issues.