Megan Taylor Reviews the History in Fiction Session
“There is fact and there is truth and there is fiction.”
Christy Fearn and Michael Eaton provided an eloquent and entertaining talk on ‘History in Fiction’ at Nottingham Writers’ Studio on 7 July 2011.
Christy, a self-confessed ‘Byron nut’ with a rather fabulous tattoo to prove it, began the evening by reading from her work in progress, a novel about the Nottingham Framebreakers, in which twins Lizzie and Robert become involved in the Luddite uprising. Her extracts were evocative, her characters well drawn and her setting—particularly during her descriptions of a fair at Sneinton—brought a past Nottingham vividly to life.
Renowned dramatist Michael Eaton presented us with an enticing glimpse into his forthcoming play, Peace’s War, a completely compelling re-imagining of the life and times of infamous ‘burglar and murderer’ Charlie Peace. Peace’s War is obviously a labour of love for Michael, a ten-year project that has been through several incarnations—a TV and a film script, and a graphic novel—before being reworked for theatre. Charlie’s voice gripped immediately—I can’t wait to see this on stage.
Christy and Michael’s deep knowledge and sheer passion for their subjects shone throughout the discussion that followed their readings. They each emphasised the absolute necessity for ‘scrupulous research’ when writing historical fiction, not simply as a means of providing an authentic background, but because of the sense of responsibility that comes with invoking real lives and events. It was also intriguing to see how they placed their writing in terms of their contribution to mythologies—both Byron and Charlie Peace attained legendary status within their own lifetimes and, in part, what both writers are offering is an exciting continuation, simultaneously rethinking and honouring these myths.
Christy and Michael also touched on some of the different ways in which social anxieties resonate (or sometimes don’t) between past and present. Christy considered the spirit of recent political marches alongside unrest in the early 1800s, while Michael acknowledged enduring pre-occupations, including our ongoing obsession with the darker parts of human nature—how ‘we’re all afraid of crime, but fascinated by criminals’.
Huge thanks to both writers for opening up such a great debate about creating and recreating, about facts and truth and fiction…. Interesting and inspiring, I could have gone on listening far later into the night.
By Megan Taylor.