Monday, 3 October 2011

Fact and fiction - telling the story


Working in journalism, I am surrounded by stories daily. Except these stories are real. From murders to political scandals to simple human interest pieces which warm your heart, I tend to use these as fodder for my books. Throw my own personal experiences of every day issues into the mix and voila – here we have…a novel. I have to confess that I base the majority of my novels on high profile incidents, except I twist the stories and make them into my own pieces of fiction. Very often the inspiration can arise from one simple incident buried within a news story – one family’s struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one for example.

Even if you don’t work in journalism, it’s easy enough to pluck an item from the newspaper or even a piece of gossip from OK magazine, or that hellish place, Netmums (where you’ll find a rant about Little Johnny’s dad) and make it your own. If you’re stuck for inspiration and need to get into first gear, open the newspaper, turn on the television or look out the window and work with what you see in front of you. Heck, even now that it’s X-factor season, listen to what some of the most inspirational and quirky contestants have to say about their lives and develop your characters from there. You’d be surprised at what you come up with. Better still, eavesdrop on a chat in a coffee shop – after all, aren’t most ping-pong conversations about other people, especially those generated by groups of women?

A lot of the novels I love have been inspired by real life events, for example Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann (9/11) and Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (the bombing of Nagasaki). Those books that use an historical event as a backdrop, I find, are more engaging. I feel I can identify with the characters, as if I had lived through the tragedies myself. But that’s just a personal preference. Wasn’t there a whole flurry of novels following the events of September 11, 2001, many of which were based on single incidents within this whole tragedy? Falling Man by Don Delilo springs to mind. And they still keep on coming, years after the events have occurred. I’m keen to read The Submission by Amy Waldman, which deals with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The book follows a jury as they select a fitting memorial to the victims, the architect being an American Muslim.

One could argue that most books are based on real life events not covered by the media, even pink-covered commercial women’s fiction. It’s just that we don’t hear about these events as they are personal to the writer. What events have inspired your book? Are they personal and private, or have you been affected by something you’ve read in the newspaper? Do tell!

4 comments:

Sandra Davies said...

I'm wondering how to incorporate today's front page news (Daily Telegraph) that 'cake stands are making a comeback' into a story ...

JO said...

I've long wanted to write about a story in my local paper - the vet had 2 dead cats, cremated the wrong one and gave the other (wrong cat) back to a grieving family to bury. Trouble is, I can see a very funny side to this. but it was written as tragedy - it was front page news! Don't know how to write it without sounding like heartless cat-hater. (Definitely not - I used to have cats.)

Gillian McDade said...

Sandra - very simple! My recently completed book is about a cake. And it developed from a quirky news item.

Gillian McDade said...

And I've just developed an idea for a book/short story from an advertisement in Conde Nast Traveller.