From fact to fiction

The last few weeks have been full of new experiences and much new learning. When things slow down a bit I’ll try to collect my thoughts about all of that, especially what I’ve learned about being interviewed and how to stay calm when you’re on the phone, live, to a lot of people listening in other states. I’m still a real beginner but the best things so far (for me, anyway) have been the encouragement and feedback. Readers tell me their thoughts about my book and their own reasons for a personal connection with the story. Messages from reviewers and writers have also meant a lot to me.

It’s also been a busy time of moving on with writing something new and that feels strange, with so much interest now in John and Georgiana Molloy, having so many conversations about them and answering questions about researching their lives, at the same time as I’m travelling  further into the new manuscript I’ve been working on for the last six months. It’s fiction so it’s another challenge but I deliberately set out to find out what would happen for me as a writer if I stepped way beyond my comfort zone.

The extended pathways of research over the last decade meant that I collected a huge amount of interesting material that ended up being filed away and was never used.  But there were a few things – tiny, colourful pieces from hidden lives – that lodged in my memory and kept burrowing away into my imagination. I couldn’t let them go and last year I decided to find a way of bringing those parts together and adding new elements to make a complete story. I thought fiction would be so easy in comparison with writing a historical biography… After all, you can just make it up! But it’s not easy. It’s difficult. Yet it’s difficult in the same delicious, mind-stretching way because it still involves choosing words and putting them next to one another in the very best way you can.

Family anecdotes and old, old documents like this one from Georgiana’s history started me off on an exploration of someone else’s world, one that I had to create rather than find. But it still feels like ‘finding’ and the people in this narrative have already become real to me in a way I’d never, ever anticipated. The strangest thing of all, so far, has been the way a new character appears in front of me in the scene I’m writing. The whole book is planned and researched and plotted and yet someone I wasn’t expecting suddenly walks onto the stage and I realise they were part of the story all along. I just hadn’t met them yet.

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