From Fiction to Non-Fiction

The Love Beggar: Non fiction

 It’s not just a question of changing the first person into the third, or changing names of characters and of places. Turning your personal narrative into fiction, as I have discovered, involves a huge task: it means starting over. And the question that keeps battering at my door is: What is it/are you trying to say? What is it about? Easy to answer, perhaps, when the narrative is just your own story told in a creative way. But turned into fiction, it seems to me to demand a raison d’être all of its own, to beg a justification for being, a reason over and above the fact that it depicts a real life or part thereof, representing a “truthful” narration of events.

When it was non-fiction, I called my novel “The Love Beggar”. This seemed to typify what it was about,  bringing all the disparate bits and pieces together under one thematic banner.  I was the narrator of the story, in which there were several love beggars, of whom I was one. Now that I have fictionalised it, however, this no longer seems appropriate. The story has changed, is changing more and more into something “other”.  I am no longer the narrator. Who is? That is the first question that I now struggle with. Is it a middle-aged person like myself? Is it a friend of the family of which I write? Is it one of the country uncles? A city cousin or aunt? A school friend now middle-aged? One of the story-tellers of the time about which I write? I like this last possibility. Perhaps it is Uncle Bargy, the stutterer, or even Mrs Hooley, who lived on the river bank not far away from our place in South Grafton.

Now that I live in a city, have done so for many years, should I not be writing about urban issues? Why go back into the past, to a country setting, when there are lots of issues to write about in the city?

All I know is that I like to write and to create narrative structures that are seductive enough for others to want to read. Is that not reason enough to justify my art? I also know that I like the company of other writers, and that I enjoy reading their works and encouraging them almost as much as I like writing  myself. I see this as a win/win situation; even if I never get to be published, I am able to follow my passion and to improve at it. 

have been trying to get my novel ready for publication, on and off, for three decades. The writing has improved greatly since then, but the goal of finding an agent or  publisher has remained elusive. Only recently have I come to the realisation that what I needed was a good editor! This was the best move in decades: to pay a reputable editor for reading my manuscript.  Since having the novel assessed, I have been able to see where I am floundering, and what I need to do in order to find the right direction. I’m still a long way off  the final goal, but I can at last see the tiny light flickering way off in the distance through the telescope.

My writing  started out as therapy for a difficult childhood. From about sixteen onwards, after learning about Freudian theories at College, I started regurgitating painful memories, trying to find a listener, and obsessively telling my friends about the past in an attempt to exorcise it. My own childhood had been stamped indelibly by the fact of not having had a voice within the family. I needed to use my voice at long last! Of course this did not work, as my friends did not want to hear my tale, nor could they empathise with my experience, coming from different, often diametrically opposed, but maybe just as difficult, backgrounds. The obvious answer was to write about it and, eventually, to seek professional help, to find someone who was paid to listen.

Starting out from this point of view, my writing naturally leant itself to autobiographical or memoir genres.  I did courses on Life Story Writing, which helped me a little with style and structure.

My first attempts to create a readable structure that fitted in with publishing houses’ needs were a dismal failure. Later on I completed a degree in Professional Writing and learnt about narrative and creative features, dialogue and voice. Through feedback sessions in student groups, my writing improved even more. Still I felt impelled to redraft my work and I was forever in search of  the right structure, a plot and a voice to suit my needs. Some of my teachers and tutors were well established writers and gave me invaluable insights into the craft. They even edited parts of my work. However, I came to realise, one day, just as I was about to send in my memoir to an agent, that I did not want my family and self exposed in this way.

So I set about turning the memoir into fiction. There were already some fictional elements, but I wanted to fictionalise the work even more. And to add credible dialogue, which is difficult within a memoir.

The problem with turning the memoir into fiction was that it became a hybrid structure, retaining parts of the memoir, that did not always fit in with the events and actions of the plot. In fact, it was a novel in search of a good plot. According to the editor, the writing was good, but it lacked a consistent point of view and a solid plot line.

So this is where I am at now.  I must go back to the drawing board and recreate the whole, changing place and disguising the characters and omitting the more obvious “real bits” behind the story.

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