Monday, 15 February 2010

NEWSFLASH It's fiction - we make it up!

During an interesting afternoon speaking to some young offenders (16-20yr olds) about books one asked if my novel Spider (about joyriding) was real. His expression and the way he asked made it clear that if it was real then that was fine, but he didn't seem to think it would be valid, or worth reading, if it was made up.

These young men were very careful not to lose face amongst their peers. When asked if they had read my book some said no, but later in the discussion one asked about a particular relationship in the story which showed that he had read it, despite his previous negative.

When I asked whether they thought the story was real or not the consensus was that it was real, it had happened (therefore had been worth reading). I tried to get them to see that if they couldn’t tell if it was real or not it must have been credible and wasn't that a good enough reason to read it? That fiction is worth the experience if it is credible and makes you believe in the story and the characters.

I doubt that these young men would admit to reading SF or fantasy although in their situation I know I would be looking for some way to disappear into a credible but fantastic place.

Recently I have been following a discussion about SF and fantasy and I was reminded of these young men and also how often I find myself defending SF and fantasy novels to people who consider them silly or those who say they can't read it because it's not REAL.

They have no problem with other kinds of fiction including historical fiction. No one I know has as yet been able to travel back to the past before their own birth, therefore even well researched fiction (and the clue is in the word) is still made up.

We are just as likely to extrapolate realistically the feelings, problems and experiences of people living with technology that has not (yet) been invented as we are able to imagine what was said or thought in any period of early history.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is read by people of all walks of life, including many great minds - scientists and philosophers. It takes someone with an open mind to be unafraid to challenge what we know and to be prepared to explore the unknown. To start off with our world and extrapolate into the future until it doesn’t resemble anything we are familiar with yet still create a work of fiction that can touch us and make us consider the possibilities.

Often this is a genre that makes us look at  humanity and our planet, and often makes some very real comments on our society and where it is going.

Whether a novel is about present day life as we know it, the past or some distant future or fantasy planet, in the end fiction is, well, fiction!

For all those who are still unsure about this,  can I make it plain that   we, the writers...           

.............  make it up!


  1. Oh this is so apt - not two minutes ago someone walked out the door saying, "I haven't read that sort of book since I left school. Why would I waste my time reading about something which is not real?" (He has little imagination - and little sense of humour. It is really rather sad.)

  2. It's about escapism, Linda, isn't it? Reading something that you know is not real can be a real comfort - you can live the life of the character through their eyes, experience lives that you wouldn't normally see.

    It can lift you out of yourself and feel empathy for others in situations far out of your own frame of reference. I think it's important to read fiction as it's allows us to stretch our imagination and be creative - something some people never do and that's a shame.

    I'm glad it sparked such an interesting and diverse debate amongst your young offenders. How did you get involved in that?It's fascinating.

    Julie xx

  3. Hi Cat
    Yes, some people just don't want to know and are not prepared to try it.

    Julie -
    I was invited to visit the young offenders to speak to their book group. The group leader thought they would be interested because the book was about joyriding and they might relate to it.

    They were fascinating to talk to and seemed to be willing to engage in conversation but I found it very sobering to see how protective they were of themselves - and not willing (a sense that it would be dangerous) to lose face among their peers. It was a feeling of being wary all the time. Not an environment for the timid-hearted.

    I agree that allowing oneself to escape into another place through books can be creative and stretch us, broadening our horizons. One reason why it was sad to see these young men were so reluctant or unable to let that happen.

  4. Food for thought here, Linda. I can see I shall have to catch up with that SF/Fantasy discussion whereof you speak (so much to do, so much I've missed!). The trouble is, real or not, gritty realism fiction or otherworld fantasy, reading is not seen as 'cool' among a certain too-large section of young males. I was reading an article yesterday about homosexuality in sport--and how it is really hard for men to come out while they are competing. The saddest thing for me is that the basketball player who wrote the article said that it was seen as 'gay' to read, or use any word with more than three syllables. These sportsmen--footballers or whoever--are role models for our youth (especially for the age group of your young offenders). If reading is 'gay' to the sporting heroes, then that will feed across. I find that incredibly sad--and though the work you are doing is fantastic, I fear it is a drop in the ocean. There's a whole Atlantic to swim here, before attitudes change.

    Lucy at

  5. Hi Lucy
    Thanks for dropping by!
    Unfortunately it is the young men and boys we need to reach, but the most difficult because peer pressure is so much what dictates their actions, often with disastrous consequences.

    It is one reason why the cover of a book is so important. If they are reluctant to be seen carrying a book at least if the cover is considered 'cool' they might just be persuaded to venture inside.

    There are no easy answers but generating enthusiasm for books while they are at school is so important and why I was so delighted by the Red Awards day. (see previous post)