Seized with desire
Drilling deep

Trust me, I'm telling stories

I've just realised that this is my hundredth blog post, so thank you to everyone who's dropped by, read, commented, linked, or just said something that got me intrigued and sent me over here to work out what I think. For example:

Poet Sheenagh Pugh has been blogging here about Linda Grant's piece in The Guardian that also set me off on Rogues and Vagabonds. It's apparently even harder to persuade readers of poetry that the persona in the poem is not the poet, than it is to persuade the readers of novels that the author made it up. And then on Friday I had a drink for the first time in ages with a short-story-writing friend. She has an extremely high-powered professional life and a large family, and she writes strange, dark stories which don't spring directly from her everyday life, and would completely change how people saw her if they read them. So she writes under a pseudonym, and I sympathise hugely with that, and not just because negotiating contracts is hard to do with someone who's read your stories of... well, that would be telling. No, not just because it's bad for business: consciousness of external scrutiny of what you're doing (as opposed to consciousness of the need to communicate what you want to say) is creative disaster.

Meanwhile, she was sympathising with me about the fact that the advance reading copies (bound proofs to you and me) of A Secret Alchemy should be going out any day now. I'm bracing myself, not just because the early reviews - the ones the book trade reads - won't be long behind, but as anyone must brace themselves who writes any fiction rooted in well-known facts. To hear some - many - readers of historical fiction, you'd think that accurate facts are what they're looking for, and in some ways it is. It's frightening how many lovers of historical fiction were completely turned of real history by bad teaching at school. They still want their history fix, though, so the history in a novel is what matters to them, not the fiction. Of course I have my professional pride, and I hope I haven't got any facts wrong that I meant to get right. But I hope more that people read A Secret Alchemy as I meant it to be: a story. It's not history, though it has its roots in history. It's fiction, and anyone who wants history should go and read a history book: I made this up.

And I suddenly realised that so many fiction-readers read not to be transported elsewhere, as we all were so easily in childhood, but to get a fix of non-fiction: history, geography, science or a dozen other subjects in easy-to-swallow form. No wonder they're so upset when they realise that something isn't true in the factual sense. As well as all the reasons I touched on in 'Rogues and Vagabonds', I find this attitude annoying because it ignores what fiction is for, and if the author gets it wrong, it takes their fiction to task for not being what it was never meant to be. To my mind, if you want history, read history, if you want geography, read travel books. They're stories too, of course - though they play by different rules - because humans are story-telling creatures and we have no other way of making sense of our experience.

I'm telling stories by fiction rules, and I make no promises about what's true and what isn't in what I write, but only that I'll make that call as seems best to me at the time. All I promise is that, of itself, the story will be whole, will make sense, will be true to human experience, will satisfy you, the reader, as real life - real history - so often doesn't. Trust me, I'm telling stories.

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