BLENDING FACT WITH FICTION
There has long been a tradition in literature of combining the real with the imagined. In fact, as anyone who dabbles in creative writing will tell you, it is quite impossible not to do so. Only if you are creating an entirely new universe where you wish to challenge perceived ideas about everyday life might you avoid having to blend truth and fiction. There is a definite precedence for this within the Sci Fi genre, however, even then, authors will find that they still have to use some elements of the familiar, otherwise their readers will not be able to empathise with these newly imagined worlds.
When writing my first novel, ‘Aoife’s Chariot’, I decided to create a fictional Scottish Island called Garansay which would exist alongside real places. The island is based on the Isle of Arran where my father grew up but there are certain mountain ranges and features that I have added to my island which are entirely ‘made-up’. I am not the first person to do this, of course. In fact, when you think about it there are plenty of locations which exist only in the literary universe: Kingsmarkham, for instance or St Mary Mead. Even 221 Baker Street in London; where the current residents still receive bags full of letters every day addressed to the erstwhile Sherlock Holmes.
So why do writers choose to base their stories in these imaginary places? Why not use real cities, towns and villages in their novels? Well, some authors certainly do. Ian Rankin has made a unique selling point of his use of Edinburgh in the Rebus series. Just as Denise Mina has used Glasgow as the backdrop to hers; the list is endless. I can only speak for myself in explaining why I chose to make the foci of my novels fictional. For me it offered greater scope for plot development. I was able to form a landscape that fitted perfectly with my storyline rather than having to adjust my tale to fit into a real place. Readers get, quite rightly, rather upset if you mess around with the towns and cities that they know and love, so why not avoid the controversy by making up your own?
Another driving force for me was that I had spent over a decade as a History teacher- having to get every date and detail correct. I found it absolutely liberating to write books where I could make it all up! Although I cannot resist adding historical context to my books and I certainly need this to be completely accurate- my background would demand no less!
This addition of historical elements is where my books ‘blend’ or ‘mix’ together the real and the imagined and, if done well, it can make the factual elements of any novel come alive for the reader. I remember a wonderful History teacher of mine recommending Ellis Peters’ ‘Cadfael’ books as they painted a very clear and historically detailed picture of medieval England. It was a great recommendation and I have loved those books ever since.
Whatever genre of fiction you write in, you will find yourself having to integrate real life events and places into your narrative and, as long as it is credible to your reader, allow your imagination to run free!