And Then Came the Biggest Surprise of All…

September 3, 2008 at 7:50 am (Uncategorized)

Boy, of all the left-field, totally unexpected shocks of my life, this honestly takes the cake: apparently what I’ve written isn’t a novel at all, even though I made it up. I thought the test for fiction was created characters and invented dialogue – both of which I have – but it seems that may not be the entire picture, at least not for what I’ve written. And let me say for those of you who are now wondering, and come on, I know you are, the protagonist is not me, and her experiences are not mine. But truth is a tricky thing, isn’t it, because I’d be lying if I said to you there was nothing of me in her. That’s just false. There’s a lot of me in her. In fact, I’m not quite sure how I could write anything without smearing my grubby paws all over it. It’s coming from me, after all, so I make every single choice, about every single word, every single step of the way (there I am again! And there! There too! Dash it, I’m all over this thing!).

One thing that does ring true for me was Peter’s suggestion that if it was published as a straight novel, people would simply assume it was autobiographical. It’s a first person female narrator who’s only a year older than me and lives in Sydney. Uh huh, s-u-u-u-r-e she’s a figment of your imagination, Di, we believe you… And yet things happen to her – big things, lots of them – that never happened to me. That is an indisputable fact. Another indisputable fact is that I have peopled it with people I made up. That’s not to say there aren’t… what, homages to real people right throughout it, because I like people a lot, and I like a lot of people, but there is not one character, not one, whose depiction in the novel isn’t an invention of mine. 

So what is it, then? A hybrid? Yes, perhaps. And I guess that in the final analysis (final?! Who said anything about final??!! Back in your box, brain!), I can stomach that, and actually I think that if we’re going to be honest, and let’s, then it’s the case for so much writing people claim is fiction (hello, Helen Garner).

A hybrid. Literary non-fiction is the term Peter and I have been debating over the last two days, that and ‘creative non-fiction.’ He thinks the audience for my manuscript is likely to be people who look to non-fiction, and he may be right. I don’t honestly know. I’m proud that my MS seems real enough to him that he thinks people would assume it was all true, but then again, I always thought that was a test for good fiction. But what are these categories in the end? What are they really? To me, they are, finally, immaterial. The only thing that matters to me is that I communicate something that resonates for someone else and invites them to communicate in return. Some small fragment of the human experience. Call that what you like, but I suppose that sort of writing does, or it should, at its best add up to some kind of truth. And do I aspire to that? Absolutely. Always.

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2 Comments

  1. kate said,

    This is interesting Di, particularly in light of the whole A Million Little Pieces/ James Frey/ Oprah controversy. And so much more complex than I would have thought. Here’s me thinking you just write a book!!

  2. doctordi said,

    Yes, the Frey situation has been discussed up here quite a bit. I think the difference is that he suggested these things had happened to him and passed off everything in the book as actual. I’d never do that. It’s a bit fraudulent. I’m coming from a fictional framework within which I now have to consider very carefully the presence and weight of non-fictional elements. I don’t mind admitting that some of the things that happen to Eleanor (my protagonist) were inspired by real events in my and other people’s lives, I think that’s pretty conventional for first timers and sort of obvious to me as something people do, but I’d never, ever suggest it’s all true, because I know how much of it came out of my own head and is completely fabricated. I think so long as you are clear about the fact that there’s actually a combination of both at work, I don’t see the drama. These categories only become so hotly contested when the author refuses to be transparent. Non-fiction, Frey’s an obvious example, and in fiction, Helen Garner’s The Spare Room is a cracker.

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