People often ask me how much of Random Acts of Heroic Love is true and the answer often surprises people because whilst it is documented in the book that the story of Moritz is based on a true story about my grandfather, we have absolutely no documentary evidence of which camp he was in, which battle he was captured in or which route he took to get home. He left no letters and died when my father was 5 years old. I did extensive research in to the period and then selected a POW camp and a battle which I thought would make good drama. So the battles of Gnila Lipa are true, the POW camp Stretensk is real. There was an outbreak of typhoid there and there was a fire but I have no idea if my grandfather was actually there or somewhere else. The route he took home was also invented and his travelling partner Kiraly equally so. In fact the only truth we know for sure is that he was taken to somewhere in Siberia and it took him three years to get home. The rest is fiction.
As for the modern story, the opening of the book is the most autobiographical. I was in a bus crash in Ecuador in which I lost my girlfriend. The feelings of confusion and grief were my own but after the funeral the story of Leo is almost entirely fictional.
The father figure Frank is fictional in his attitude to his faith and his denial of the past. His weakness of character and vacillations are also entirely his own. However he shares some history with my father in that my father was also a Kindertransport child who lost his mother in Auschwitz and was brought up in Salford by spinsters – although my father was only 6 when he came to England where Frank is older. Thankfully my dad has never been in denial about his past.
You could say that I have taken some interesting truths and used them as coathangers from which to hang fiction.