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Writing Books/Using quotes & names in a Memoir


I have completed a memoir and mostly only used first names or referred to persons as "the twins" or "my mother", etc.  Some portions of the story relate drug use in the 70's and I relate that one person was an abusive molester.  I only refer to him by his first name however I am quite sure those who know me will know who I am talking about.  Since these stories involve crimes, crimes past the statue of limitation, but still crimes.  As long as I don't use last names, am I safe against lawsuits??  Also what are the restrictions as far as quoting comments made by subjects in my stories??  Any assistance you can give me would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.  Debra

Dear Debra,

Thank you for the question, it is an important one. I am sorry not to have replied earlier but I am travelling at the moment.

The use of people's full names in memoir is fine if you have not asserted a crime committed by that person. You do not even need to have permission from the person. However, if you have asserted a crime, or even simply suggested it, using a person's name is unwise. More than that, even if you describe someone in a way that means they might be recognised by another person, then you have a potential legal problem. In a recent case in Australia, a public figure had a book pulped because he said that people could recognise him by the description of the freckles on the back of his hands. No name had been used, but he won the case.

My advice is to have the publisher and editor check the manuscript with their legal department.

Good luck with your memoir.


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Sandy McCutcheon


Author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a memoir and children's fiction.I can work with people on the process of writing, what to expect and ask for from an editor. How to work with the publisher`s marketing and publicity people. And how to survive book launches and publicity tours!


Published author of 22 plays, 12 bestselling thrillers, a young adult and three non-fiction titles. Visit his Moroccan blog at for a look at his blogging work.

St Andrews, Helsinki University and other institutions. Adult Educator of the Year Award, Australia

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