Category Archives: Blurring the lines between fact and fiction

Four Years On…

A lot has happened in the last four years since my debut novel was published. No more novels are out yet and that is a shame, but it is not that novels have not been written, just that things have slowed down since I was signed by my agent. I am hoping that 2018 is the best year ever by seeing progress in getting that second novel out there. So watch this space.

Well, today sees the 54th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination: the event that inspired, first the short story and then the novel While No One Was Watching. So it seems right to slip in another quick blog post for the rare few that follow this blog that did not buy the book, with a blatant plug! I launched it on this day at the same place I will be launching the Canvey Writers book this Friday. November 22nd, 2013 was, in fact, a Friday and we showed the famous news clip announcing Kennedy’s death at almost the exact moment it broke some 50 years before!

I did see that the book Kindle version is only 99p today so do download it if you haven’t yet and the paperback is also on offer too!!!

So here it is… !!!

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Friday Writing Prompt

Inspired by my talk last weekend, and thinking about the close interaction between fact and fiction, here’s a prompt for you.

Take a key moment in history; so something that ‘literally’ stopped the world, not just your world, so let’s say, as is the case in my novel, the death of a president, maybe 911, Diana’s death, Elvis… ? and then write a short piece of ‘alternative history’ as if it never happened. So you will need to use fictitious characters perhaps or make it a memoir piece where the event affected you, but now let us see what happened if something else happened instead… So, for example, JFK Airport used to be called Idlewild and, in fact, this is the name of Mark Lawson’s alternative history novel, if Kennedy had not died as he did and make him the icon he is, would the airport still be called that? In fact, that is the case in this novel; Kennedy is still alive years later. Perhaps juxtapose what might have happened with what did happen, so some of you might even want to write two versions…? I will leave that to you! Allow your imaginations to run wild… and not be idle! See what I did there 🙂 Groan!

Happy Writing!

Happy Weekend!

Happy Being YOU!

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Rochester LitFest Rocks!

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

 

I had a great night last night. It was my first appearance at a literary festival and I hope not my last!

The venue the Nucleus Cafe is a trendy arts cafe in Chatham. If I lived closer I have a feeling the kind of place I’d be meeting writer friends! My north Wales writer friends would love it! I think Jaye has done a great job with this new festival that only started last year. Check out the website here: www.rochesterlitfest.com

 

Nucleus Arts Cafe, Chatham

The Venue (sorry slightly blurry photo taken by me!)

I wrote to a few festivals when I knew I was moving back to the south east proposing a talk about ‘Blurring the Lines between fact and fiction’. Jaye Nolan who organises the festival said yes, it fit her other talks and the rest I guess is history (literally!). I want to thank her for all her tremendous efforts and again if I was closer I would certainly like to be involved and help out. I will try to do more next year, perhaps spend the week with my brother so I can offer my support to the writers etc.

Jaye is pictured here (centre) at the event last night

Photo by Bill Gooch -- official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

Photo by Bill Gooch — official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

 

I hadn’t given this particular talk before, although I have talked about the subject matter a lot and it was part of my MA dissertation, how fact and fiction are not opposite ends of a spectrum but intimately woven into the fabric of how we tell stories. ‘Factual account’ — uses wiggly in the air finger thing — are often biased, spun from yarns, filled with opinion and conjecture while fiction does what it says on the tin and is created from imagination but needs fact for authenticity, right?

The venue was intimate and being a great fan of the coffee-shop culture (not enough of that on Canvey Island) it worked well for the talk. The first half I felt was slightly less coherent as I did jump about a little in subject, although the audience were kind and receptive and I felt enjoyed it from the great reaction in the break. The second half was more focussed and more engaging. By then everyone had relaxed, we’d chatted and everyone wanted to interact so having thrown out the odd question it then became really interactive and I think it worked well. So I think I need more of that in the first half when I do this again. I am wondering about hosting an event on Canvey — ideas machine now flowing!

I loved meeting the people, some readers, some also writers and I already see friend requests and followers on Twitter, so I hope to have made some new friends!

Another photo thanks to Bill -- do check out his FB page here:  LINK

Another photo thanks to Bill — do check out his FB page here: LINK

 

I am still buzzing from the event and the engaging conversation and I can’t wait to do it all again!

It’s been a crazily busy few days since my move, so busy I can not wait for a couple of days just to relax. I have worked this week too although not written but my plan is to do a rare thing and take tomorrow off after my workout as I have a full day at the Southend Book and Art Fair this Saturday. And next week will be a normal working and writing week, which I need! I also seem to have a short story buzzing like a fly inside my head — perhaps one for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize I wonder …

So I will leave you with the last two photos from Bill Gooch, and will share some my brother took next week!

Thanks again to Jaye and the festival for having me!

Chatman 3 2014 Chatman 2 2014

Clearly making an important point!

 

Thanks Rochester LitFest!

 

 

 

 

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When truth is elusive

Lots of thoughts buzzing this weekend as I made preparations for my talk at the Rochester Literary Festival in ten days’ time. When I wrote While No One Was Watching I realised more than any other work, that truth is not something absolute and is defined by context. Yet we would tend to believe truth is a defined thing: a fact or belief  about something known to have happened. And the lie is considered a deliberate distortion of truth. But when truth is open to interpretation and is in fact really only in the mind of the believer, and a lie is only really a lie if a deliberate act, then is there such a thing as absolute truth?

When it comes to the Kennedy assassination, the quintessential conspiracy theory, truth is perhaps even more elusive. How do you know what  to believe when you have credible books by experts, equally convincing, but saying the exact opposite thing. Is what we believe weighted by how many books we read that say lone assassin versus how many say conspiracy — is that a known entity defined by how many books are actually out there and is that a figure biased by what people actually believe — or is what we think just how many books we happened to read? #random? I mean you can’t read them all? My science brain is kicking in, having worked in research so I know how many credible sources you need to say something might be probable and the errors through biased reading before you even examine the credibility of the source and author bias — I mean, even ‘factual’ books are little more than opinion a lot of the time, not absolute truth.

So I realise that there is truth in history, the known facts — Kennedy was assassinated at 12.30pm CST, on 22nd November 1963 in Dallas Texas as we rode in his motorcade, by gunshot wounds but even when I go to write from an assassin’s bullet I realise we are not moving away from absolute truth — how many assassins? The placement of the apostrophe suddenly becomes significant. So now we enter the realms of speculation and conjecture. Probability in fact!

I amassed huge amounts of information when I did my reading for While No One Was Watching. Huge. Far more than I needed, given the assassination is a catalyst for action and yes it is integral to plot but it is not an assassination novel per se. But the scientist in me has to have all the details. But truth remained elusive. The ‘factual’ books nothing more than conjecture. And while historical novelists receive critique from historians for their ‘bad version of history’; it’s a novel, by definition it’s ‘fantasy’ ; the author executing ‘creative license’ and since it means no one really knows which part is real and which is fantasy, I propose the novelist creates their own version of truth.

Stephen King claims that ‘Fiction is the truth inside the lie.’ I like that. I like that a lot. The novel is, in its purest form ‘made-up’. But, as in my novel and just about most novels you’ll read, it still needs some facets of reality to work. In my case, fact and fiction are woven together so tightly in places you can’t see the join! So the fiction writer is not so much the fantasist but the creator of a different type of truth. The truth of the story and the role of the fiction writer is to make the reader believe.

A recent psychological study said that the way we read fiction and non-fiction is different. We tend to be far more critical about non-fiction. And if we are emotionally engaged and immersed in a story — we are far more likely to believe it. And indeed the writer of the novel has failed if their reader does not believe it, right? The rules are the rules the reader has created; an un-truth in reality, look at the alternative history novels like Mark Lawson’s Idelwild, Kennedy didn’t die that day but the reader will believe that as the ‘truth’ inside the lie — right? Of course they know here he did die. But what if the fictional elements are more subtle than that, a possibility the reader hadn’t considered before that changes his view about the historical truth?

Lydia Collins in my novel is psychic and even friends who confess to initially having reservations about a ‘psychic’ narrator, said by a page or so in they found her beguiling as a narrator and believed every word. So I did what I was supposed to, right? Phew. But what about my suggestions about what really happened that day at the grassy knoll?

So there lies the crux of the question I pose at my talk, this being the case, where the factual elements and the fictional ones are so close together, will my readers also believe, if even for a fleeting moment, that there really was a little girl called Eleanor Boone who disappeared from the grassy knoll and it had to be a plot to kill Kennedy or why else is she still missing?

The question therefore is: Do fiction writers affect what we believe about history?

What do you think? What films/books/plays etc. used real  events and changed what you believed about the real event? (Even if it wasn’t actually true.) I would love to know … for my talk! Please email me or reply to this post! writer@debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk

Have a great day everyone.

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

Don’t forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent! BOOK 

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The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2015

Some of you may remember my blog post last year when I had the great honour of being invited to the opening of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, having made the short list in 2013. So I was indeed honoured to be invited once again this year to the opening of the prize. What made it extra special was I asked to bring a friend and they said with pleasure — so I invited the talented Paula Readman. Not only that, I also made  contact with Tracy Fells who was on the short list for the UK/Canada region this year and we all met first, note the selfie below, affectionately titled The Bridge House Anthologists — Tracy and Paula having made it into the next Bridge House collection!

We met at Green Park and partook in a Costa Coffee snack (as you do) — it was the first time I’d met Tracy, but our writing paths have crossed in a virtual sense a few times, so was great to find another kindred spirit. We got to know one another and I was interested to find she had a similar background in science to myself. Tracy is a very successful published short story writer and aspiring novelist so I may ask her to be on my blog soon.

We then walked to the grand and very regal Marlborough House and met with lots of dignitaries — Commonwealth people, agents, publishers, writers, journalists and diplomats. After a short drinks reception, this year we were treated to an interesting discussion by a panel of talented writers including this year’s short story prize winner: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. The other panelists were:

Romesh Gunesekera, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,originally from Trinidad, author of eight fiction books, novel Reef, short listed in the 1994 Booker Prize and Chair of the  2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Leila Aboulela, Sudanese novelist awarded the Caine Prize for African writing for The Museum included in her short story collection Coloured Lights.

Kei Miller, Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist, his collection of short stories Fear of Stones, shortlised in the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. He also won the 2014 Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature.

The winner of the 2014 short story prize, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist, short story writer and poet with a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and her doctoral novel The Kingu Saga won the Kwani Manuscript project in 2014. Jennifer teaches creative writing at Lancaster.

The panel hosted a discussion called: No Laughing Matter: Conflict and Humour — is there a line?

I will blog more about this at some point and open the discussion to all of you as I think, having read a lot of short stories in my work, there is a tendency in short stories for the deep, the tragic and the sad  and I know with Bridge House, when stories are able to use humour, pathos, it’s a great device. So the discussion looked at the role of humour in even the darkest tales. How does humour translate across the countries of the Commonwealth? While not covered per se, what aspects of humour do cross borders? Is there a universal humour? Are there lines we can’t cross — perhaps as Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi suggested it’s okay to laugh at ourselves and our own culture, but what about other people and other cultures? What about conflict and how do many of these countries where conflict is part of life, create a need for humour, a way of coping?

I know the stories of mine that seem to have the greatest success are those where I use humour and sadness alongside — pathos. You only have to look at the story that won the Bath Short Story Award Learning to Fly to see how I took a family’s grief and used humour to show how even in the darkest moments there can be light.

Tracy and I talked about our short Commonwealth stories after the event, noting that not only did both reveal something about life in Britain, both had elements of humour woven into the fabric, as did the winning story. That does not mean jokes, but use of voice and events even when the essence of the story has sadness. I do this all the time and not necessarily by conscious choice. I happen to think creating believable well drawn authentic characters calls for humour and the ability to laugh at situations, even ourselves. Tracy tells me her story also had elements of magical realism as well as humour and she didn’t expect it to do so well. Same with my story Chutney, never thought it stood a chance! It’s about unlikely friendships formed on an allotment in East London. There is a sadness there, one being a Holocaust survivor, but there is a lot of humour between the characters.

So if you’re thinking of entering this year — I would bear that in mind! Here’s the link and it’s FREE!

LINK

Also some great news that I hope happens, as I had a lovely long chat with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, asking the pertinent question of whether she ‘did the dance’ when she found out she’d won, what did she say? Of course she did! I asked if she would be a guest on my blog and she said yes! So watch this space!

What is lovely for me is being part of the Commonwealth family like this and I feel highly honoured. It was great to see some familiar faces from last year, including the intern Joe who now has a full-time job with the Commonwealth Foundation AND is a great writer as I looked at some of his work for him last year. The new intern, Jake was lovely too. I also got to meet some of the writers I met last year and friend, also an agent and publisher, Unthank Books’s Robin Jones.

It was a great evening and I say a HUGE thank you for the invite.

While last year I posted some photos of Marlborough House from a website, grandeur in abundance, this year — the selfie!

Have a great day everyone and remember my talk at the Rochester Lit festival in 2 weeks’ time! Got your copy of my novel yet? Bought your tickets for this event? Go on, treat yourself!

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

Don’t forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!  BUY

Got yours yet?

Got yours yet? BUY ME

The Bridge House Anthologist and so much more…

The BHP Anthologists

 

Tracy Fells (UK/Canada shortlistee 2014), Paula Readman (winner Harrogate Crime Short Story 2012) and of course Debz  (UK/Canada shortlistee 2013)

Don’t mess with these guys! Look at those plotting faces… pause for evil laugh

MWAR MWAR MWAR…

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Meeting the lovely people…

I know some writers who tell me they’d hate to do what I’ve been doing these last few weeks. Standing in bookstores armed with bookmarks and telling them how I’m signing in store and come have a look at my book.

Well you know, promotion like this is just one of the ways to get your work noticed. It’s baby steps. You’re making only a small dent in book sales, I know that. You can stand in store talking to everyone and really working it, for hours on end and sell just six copies. But that’s six more people who know who you are and more importantly who will read your book, not to mention the ones who they’ll pass the book onto and those who say they prefer Kindle and will download it. And since I give out a lot of bookmarks, and yes many will end up in the bin, some  I hope will buy the book later. It is hard work but I like people. And our  readers matter, so you have to do it. And you might as well enjoy it, right? It is what I always wanted to be and it goes with the job.

It’s amazing how tiring it is spending four hours or more standing and talking! But I realise that while the blurb sells the book in terms of if it’s their kind of thing, people buy into people. So yes I am annoyingly happy all the time and yes always smiling and no that’s not fake, that’s just me, my sociable approach must count. Or I hope it does. I am certain the way I approach people and really just chat to them, means if they like me, they are more likely to go and pick up my book to read the blurb and perhaps buy it.

It’s been a busy but great few weeks. Yes it means having no day off and I can feel the tiredness seeping in, but it’s so worth it. I have my final two Saturdays in Bangor back to normal, meeting writing friends etc and then once I move, and as we head closer to Christmas (yes I did use the C word!) I will be putting together a signing tour in that part of the world, so if you think your local bookshop might be worth including, preferably south-east or close, let me know! I am going to make a list of places soon and start approaching them. I figure a signed novel is an interesting and different Christmas present, right? So many books will be bought online and that’s fine but something unique about it being signed by the author. Remember I also have signed copies I can personalise on my website (sadly I do have to include the £3 postage) but I will have it an offer price of £10 with p&p in the run-up to Christmas, so if I am too far to make it to your local bookshop, please do message me or watch my website as I will be able to send a signed one.

Yes these are baby steps, but how else will people know about my book.

And that’s why reviews count so if you have read my novel please do post reviews on blogs and Amazon or Goodreads etc (if you liked it!) and it all helps!

Right. Might be bank holiday for some here in the UK, but for me, business as usual.

Have a great day everyone!

Signing in LlandudnoSigning in WHSmith, Llandudno, Saturday August 23rd 2014

 

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Blurred Lines

wordl-war-1-header

 

My workshop has taught me the importance of support networks and the workshop on Saturday was great. Loved it. Tomorrow I will share photos and talk about what we did. Today I’d rather use my blog to create a pause from our everyday lives.

It’s hard to get away from the fact that one hundred years ago today saw the outbreak of World War One and with the current ongoing wars devastating us every time we turn on the news, it proves that humans are not so good at living in harmony.

Today might mean little to the youth of today, but thankfully history in schools will attempt to make sure it’s not forgotten. I remember the war poetry we read at school, some still resonates.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

© Wilfred Owen, borrowed from: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/anthem-for-doomed-youth/

I think the poets and the fiction writers can do something often the history books can’t. They bring it to life. They allow the reader to be there in the trenches, to smell the gas and the rot. They make real people out of names in a history book.

Morpurgo’s War Horse I think brought the horrors of the trenches to life in a far more vivid, albeit heart breaking, way than many historical texts might — showing the young reader the horrors in a way they’d understand. But this novel does not take sides — we are all human it says and we all grieve the same. So it’s not a war story for the warmongers — but one that says war hurts everyone. We are the same.

The blurred lines between fact and fiction is something I often discuss because, while I am not a historical novelist per se, I do use history and real events in my work and of course While No One Was Watching does just that.

At my workshop I talked about themes and the way the past shapes the present is one used a lot in fiction — or as I say the what if it had happened this way instead ideas. There are many of those been used in fiction — have you read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life? This is second world war but it cleverly does just that — resets and restarts when the narrator dies and we see what if explored in multiple lives. An interesting structure I recommend — take a close look.

I will be talking in Rochester Lit Festival on October 1st on this interplay of fact in fiction and fiction in fact. About our obligation to truth. There is a line of thought that says writers and movie makers make ‘entertainment’ out of historical disasters — the holocaust frequently cited. Someone even tweeted me last year and said did I enjoy making money out of the death of a president.  I asked him to let me know when I do make some money and then pointed out he would need to read the novel to see how that is really not the case. And referred him to the Spielbergs and the Stones for starters on that one. If you define entertainment as laughter and frivolity, then something that made light of the mass death of millions of jews would indeed be wrong. But if entertainment is immersion, is being taken to another place and if being moved and learning is part of that, then I would say the fiction writers have an obligation to make sure the stories don’t die.

And perhaps fiction is the thing that helps keep it alive in a more vivid way?

You could teach that millions of horses died with the men in the trenches — words in a history book.  Yes powerful, but name the horse and show its relationships, take the young reader to the trenches to see for themselves and it seems all the more real — doesn’t it?

The blurred lines between fact and fiction is a huge topic and one I look forward to examining at my talk — but since today is another significant anniversary, I thought it only fitting I ask you, wherever you’re reading this to pause for a moment and reflect.

Even if the lines are blurred, if we cry for the fictional characters in the pages of a great novel or on the silver screen, or for our great grandparents, the feeling is the same and we know that behind the fiction are real people. People who died.

Remember.

 

Cue silent credits …

If you have someone you want here, be it a real person or a fictional character who died in World War One,  message me and I will add it to the wall below …

I will start: Wilfred Owen 18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918

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