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Fiction and Autobiography

As I mentioned in my previous post yesterday evening myself and another writer friend trudged along to King's College London to hear a talk with Hilary Mantel and Fay Weldon, chaired by Robert McCrum. At first glance it is one of those subjects that can be easily dismissed into two boxes - one marked fiction/untrue and the other marked autobiography/true, or at least 'subjective', which means it can be true to the author, even if not those who were actually present in the story, each of us having a slightly different perspective. However, as Fay and Hilary (or Mantel and Weldon, whichever you prefer) made clear, using their own works to illustrate, the lines of division between the genres are not lines, more like a free-floating cloud of division. In short, there is more of the self betrayed in fiction than can often be the case in 'controlled' truth of autobiography. 'The act of autobiography is fraught with peril', Hilary said, not least because one is 'constantly interrogating oneself with questions like 'am I being self-important' etc. There are also questions the author needs to ask such as 'what tone is appropriate - what tone for relaying childhood/teenage years/adulthood' and so on. There are, she contined, family sensitivities to consider. She admitted that there were plenty of events from her own life that she had deliberately left out of her own work for this reason. Fay said that writing about characters is a good way of taking 'the next step' to put one's own experience onto paper. However, Hilary implied that knowing oneself first, one's own motives etcetera, leads onto greater depth when writing fiction as this insight is transferable to fictional characters. Fictional characters, though. Both admitted to using large bits of themselves, and others, in their fictional work. As could be guessed from the author of Beyond Black, Hilary said that she undertook regular 'spiritual healing' and that doing so had powered up her writing. However, the conclusion was that, whatever the case, fiction/truth, in Hilary's words: 'what gets onto the page is (always) the author/ised version'.

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