Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Our groups are discussing a thread at the moment based on two Guardian articles by Gavriel Kay and Antony Beevor as to why Historical Fiction writers shouldn't base fiction on 'real' people. Amongst the reasons given are:

1. Fiction distorts historical accuracy, thus misrepresenting the real character.
2. Invades that person's privacy and distresses relatives or ancestors.
3. Historical fiction can produce 'counter knowledge' i.e. the propagation of false legends.

Some authors who write historical fiction mix well known facts with supposition, and perhaps their readers may be unable to separate them. Beevor says the defenders of 'histo-entertainment' claim that, even if it distorts the material, it gives a taste for the subject -he disagrees, saying this is dangerous as in a film or TV docu-drama, the audience may believe what they see on the screen because original locations and names are used.

Doesn't that assume a low level of intellect in most people? If I pick up a book which purports to be a novel about a famous person, I assume there is a thread of truth in the story, but I don't necessarily believe every word - after all, how can an author re-create a conversation that took place three hundred years ago in accurate detail? [Elizabeth Chadwick excepted, but that's another blog post] It makes sense that some of it will be added to give an authentic atmosphere and to fill in the gaps.

Even historical fiction fans don't dash to the shelves when they read a historical novel to check the facts, although there are plenty of historically accurate books by historians like Hibbert and Schama to set me straight.

How can reactions to what people read be controlled? I don't think they can. There are those who will always believe what suits them, so if the Da Vinci Code appeals to their imagination, no amount of contradictory evidence is going to convince them otherwise.

Is this an ethical dilemma? Does fiction need policing in case it misleads the reader? Or is it simply the literary mafia telling us not to watch or read anything which may be slightly historically inaccurate? And what about the premise that history is written by the victors - so how true is true?

Beevor says: 'From selling fiction as truth in books and movies to the big lies of counter-knowledge is not such a very big step after all. The key point, surely, is that we play with facts at our peril.'

What do you think?

Monday, 10 August 2009

One Lovely Blog Award

Ginger Simpson has awarded me a Blog Award, not that I recognised myself in her testimony - in fact I'd better check. Oh yeah, she did mean me! How nice of her. Now I have to think of three people who write blogs to send this to, and not all my friends write them.

These are the three, in chronological order of christian name so I'm not playing favourites;

Anne Whitfield, who took my embryo scribblings and helped me turn them into a proper novel. Poor woman, whenever I get discouraged by the number of rejections and my critiques don't come in with the comments I had hoped - she's the one I go running to for a good old whinge. She never gets bored with me - or at least she says she doesn't, I'll bet her husband Mark has a different story! She's a real fan of my work and I couldn't do without her.

Gemini Sasson, is also a critique partner and someone I got to for impartial advice. She is an awesome writer herself and I really value her opinion on my work. She is great fun and loves dogs as she's a breeder of Australian Shepherds, so what's not to like?

Lisa Yarde, is my soulmate from whom I must have been separated at birth. Although she lives in New York and I live in London, we are so atuned, we always know when the other one is feeling down and the writing thing has got us stumped. Always encouraging of my work, she gives me great advice and some very well thought out critiques. She too is a fabulous writer who is simply waiting for her time - and I feel sure it must come soon. I'm an avid fan of her novels, and she introduced me to critique groups which have totally changed my life. Love ya Lisa.

You know the rules, pick your three awards and pass them on, giving a link to my blog when you do. I have plenty more bloggers I would love to mention, so I shall have to award it again sometime.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

For those of you who have e-mailed asking how Mike is doing on The Mongol Rally - Here are a few excerpts from his blog. I think the roads must be bumpy or his internet time is restricted as his spelling is awful! Oh hang on - it always was-and this is a boy with two degrees!

Turkmenistan proved to be a shock. We had been warned of bandits, people who hate you, high prices and shitty roads. Apart from the roads ........ Turkmenistan was amazing. We met a young guy at the border who spoke perfect english and laughed at all the tales we had been told…it seems the place has moved far in the last few years. Ashgabat is insane; the president is basically playing Sim City with all the cheats on, building everything and making the place stunning but ignoring the fact he has nobody to live there and it’s to expensive. They have an Olypmic Stadium (labelled as such) which the locals say has never been used by anyone, ever….

In Turkmenbat on the border and stayed in the worst ex soviet hostel known to man, but it did the job. The landlady slept on a camp bed on the front steps, and inside was virtually derelect, but the hospitality was good and we got a nights sleep. Also turned out the gas story is true - gas is free but you pay for matches so they leave it burning 24hrs a day. When we offered the landlady a box of matches you would think we had just bought her a Ferrari…

The Uzbek border was another time consuming one -from here we drove to Bukhara and then Samarkand, both of which were incredible .....Our last night was at a family restaurant by the highway outside Tashkent, where an old lady made us chai and fried fish simply to die for.

Crossed into Kazakhstan and set up camp-three locals turned up with the standard gold teeth and laughed at our attempts to create fire before inviting us back to theirs. We discussed it for some time but didn’t get bad vibes, and as always on this trip all turned out to be well - they fed us, provided plenty of beer and vodka, and we spent a night passing my Russian phrase book around trying to understand each other. A true experience!

However, we also heard some terrible news on the Londoners, who wrote off their Kangoo in Uzbekistan. Galli, one of the girls, broke her leg and is being treated in Tashkent; the girls are probably headed home and the guys want to continue, but our thoughts go out to them. Proof you don’t want to relax too much on this trip.

That’s all for now, .......the tough desert bit starts shortly….on target to hit Ulaan Baatararound the 22nd-25th! Love to all

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Are Writers Needy?

'You run into them [writers] at cocktail parties and have to bluff you way through. Writers, honestly, a lot of them are really nice, but they're so f*****g needy. They need constant validation.'

Quote From Too Close To Home' by mystery writer, Linwood Barclay

Hmmm . . .so does this mean he doesn't need validation and resents those writers who do, or is he taking the rise out of himself? If the former, I suppose having two 'Bestsellers' is validation enough that you have achieved status in your work and don't require the approval of others.

Writing, as every writer knows, is a solitary occupation and you have no idea if what you are writing is mildly acceptable or even plain rubbish until someone else reads it. The normal course of events for a writer is a pile of, 'Not For Us' letters, or you may be genius/lucky enough to get an acceptance. Even then, once a book is on the shelves, it may or may not sell well according to the marketing it gets.

Is it any wonder we need someone to tell us we have got it right? - that we would like to know if someone not only read, but enjoyed the work we spent months, even years living with? If that means I require validation - absolutely.

I don't, however believe everyone is going to like my stories for reasons of plot, setting, conclusion, my characters, the fact there is no exlicit sex [!] etc. Everyone has different tastes and a certain story or character will appeal to some and not others.

I'm still trying to work out if Mr Barclay was serious or not.