I mentioned recently in a tweet how, when seeing the copy edit of a book I'd written ('Hard Cover' - in the Marc Portman series, since you ask) I found I'd forgotten some of the details.
Nothing huge.... well, apart from a couple of characters' names and a plot point or two. Who? Did I write that? I mean, it's not as if I hadn't been living and breathing them for several months during the writing, so how come they'd slipped so easily from my mind, like melting snow off the roof?
As it happens, quite easily. And it reminded me of a freelance pilot I used to know years ago, who once told me his brain was full. When I questioned this (we were in a car at the time and he was driving very fast down a narrow road with one eye on the mirror - and the comment had come unbidden out of nowhere), he explained that he had to remember so much information related to flying, such as call signs, weight and load factors, airport, route and weather details and all manner of other statistics, most of which were related to keeping him in the air or placing him in jail if he got it wrong. (He didn't elaborate further, he was that sort of pilot. But I rather thought that jail was the least of his problems, since the alternative to not staying in the air for a pilot was probably death - although he didn't seem to consider that somehow).
I didn't think about it too much at the time, as I was wondering teeth-clenchingly how long it was going to be before we met a tractor, truck or a herd of animals head-on. We didn't, thankfully, but it was a close call. However, since then, I've begun to realise what that pilot was talking about, and how easy it is to feel that one's brain, like a hard drive, can get overloaded.
Take the book I mentioned above, details of which now seem sketchy. I wrote it about six months ago after a lot of research, sent it off... and promptly began another one. Out with the old and in with the new; clear the decks and start working on new characters, new scenes, new settings... and a whole bunch of new research. That's pretty much my writing life.
I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Life has a habit of piling on facts and figures, names and details (internet passwords alone are never-endingly added to) that it's no surprise if some of us begin to feel overwhelmed by having to absorb so much new information which demands to be recalled at the drop of a hat.
So what chance does a writer have, switching from one set of facts, figures or characters, probably never to be encountered again, to having to immerses themselves in a whole new set?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'd far rather have this minor problem to deal with than any that I used to have in a former life. But if you're ever at an author event and ask about a character or event in the author's book, don't be too surprised if you see them quietly having a goldfish moment.
Just for a few moments, they're probably wondering if you're talking about another author altogether.