While promoting my novel Poly, which was published recently in Australia, I’ve come out publicly as having an open marriage. There are reasons for that, of course. As with the premise of the novel, my wife and I decided years ago that we would see other people romantically while continuing to raise our children within our own loving and supportive relationship.

In broad terms, I’ve been happy to be questioned about this aspect of my private life. I feel no shame for what’s only recently been dubbed my “lifestyle”. I’m living as ethically as I can in a world where, frankly, there’s more to worry about than who’s having consensual relations with who.

Also, as the “own voices” debate rages in literature regarding who does and doesn’t have the moral right to portray certain stories focusing on race, sexuality, gender and identity, I’ve been keen to acknowledge that I know (in my limited and subjective way) the kinds of emotions, situations, headaches and joys that can arise from seeing your partner falling for someone else, feeling yourself pine for someone else, and seeing all of you, kids and all, cantering forwards like an extra-limbed panto horse, struggling to work out which part’s the head and which part’s the tail.

Maybe because of that openness, there have been lots of questions about whether Poly is “real” – a line of enquiry that still stumps me. The idea that anything is real in a non-factual book, whether memoir, novel, or something else, shifts written stories from what they are – the product of seemingly endless months in pyjamas and bad hair, getting words onto a page before revising them ad nauseum – to some fantastical realm where they are, or ever could be, a facsimile of real life.

The “real” question slots right in there with other hard-to-answer questions I used to ask authors while working at the Herald and Sunday Herald some years ago.

When in 2008 I interviewed Janice Galloway (who was, and still is, one of the writers whose work I’ve learned most from) I tried to press her on whether This Is Not About Me was a memoir, a novel, or something in between – to which she replied that it was “just a book”.

“As a writer, you just need to shift your head out the way and let whatever is rising subconsciously come out,” she said. “It’s [This Is Not About Me] a story about human nature. How you work out who you can trust, what you can trust, and the biggest question of all – what the hell is going on?”

All of which now makes sense to me in ways it couldn’t, fully, back then. But what I did know back then, and now, are the techniques journalists use to pry for the most compelling story, which is rarely related to how authors write their books.

At its most basic, it goes something like this: Before interviewing someone, you do your homework and develop questions you think will make for a good story.

During the interview, you talk about all manner of things as if you don’t have a clear agenda while – if it’s not going there naturally – steering the interview back to your chosen line. The key is not to alter your tone when your interviewee gets onto what for you is the juicy stuff, to appear as relaxed when they tell you about that time they burgled the local church as you are when they talk about the spreadsheet they created for their latest project.

With Poly, the questions that have nudged politely or barged unapologetically into my private life betray that same technique. In one interview, the discussion segued casually from “I love the way you portray the children in your novel” to “Do your own kids get bullied because of your lifestyle?”.

In another, the gearstick clunked from “Yeah, Melbourne’s a real character in the novel” to “Would you describe the suburb you and your wife live in as alternative?”.

A more nuanced, and mathematical, prodding at the porousness between life and literature came out in one interview as: “What percentage of Poly would you say is based on real life?” To which I blubbered something along the lines of: “Emotionally, about 94%, but in terms of the action, it’s all made up.” I doubt it’s a question Agatha Christie was ever asked about Murder on the Orient Express.

I’ve also been asked whether people should give polyamory a go (and again, I can’t imagine Ian Rankin being asked if people in Edinburgh should give crime a go). Most weirdly, those types of questions put me in a position where I’m simultaneously not an advocate for polyamory – I’ve written a novel, not a manifesto – and, paradoxically, I am.

With questions such as “how many polyamorous relationships end in failure?”, I’ve answered honestly that I don’t know, but do know that 42% of marriages end in divorce and believe that equating longevity with success is a faulty metric. When asked why I’ve written a novel about “free love”, I’ve explained that free love and polyamory aren’t really the same thing – just go and google it.

Most commonly, I’ve been at pains to point out that, while this is the first realist polyamory novel to be published in Australia, and one of a relative handful in the world, there is no one way to “do” polyamory, no pre-ordained configuration, orientation or expectation beyond what works for the people involved.

Claiming to understand polyamory through fictional descriptions of the sort seen in the Netflix series You Me Her would be like basing your entire philosophy of friendship on the 1990s sitcom Friends. In other words, my story is just a story, not “the” story, and certainly not the “real” story about anything.

My intended epigraph for Poly – “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?” – came from Bob Dylan’s Ballad in Plain D but had to be pulled because I didn’t want to pay the fee the record company wanted for it. I replaced it last-minute with “And they lived happily ever after …” – surely the most famous and misleading line ever written about love. It’s also a reminder that the stories we tell are stories and that real life – whatever that means – is happening elsewhere.

Poly, a novel by Paul Dalgarno, is published in Australia by Ventura Press. The Kindle edition is available from amazon.co.uk, £7.38