I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Reality in Fiction

Frank Wilson, the Book Review Editor at The Inquirer, brought up an interesting point after reading an extract from my new novel.

After saying, very kindly, that the extract was worth a look:


... he wondered about the taxi driver scene within the extract, saying it hadn't been anything like his experience in Ireland.

I replied that I had taken it from a real life experience in Dublin. I had actually arrived at the city's main airport and put myself in the shoes of my character (who also arrives at Dublin airport in the story). The result was a grumpy, xenophobic driver who used the F word a lot. It threw up a whole unexpected scene, and something that you would probably never be able to imagine.

This is always a question I've asked myself when writing: to what extent can I be inspired by snippets of real life?

I find it works to a certain degree and I seem to stick to a rough rule: real life can influence scenes but not plot. It's good when you want scenes to be realistic and not based on a stereotype. I told Frank that I didn't want a "top a the morning to ya" feel to the scene, which is what everybody might expect.

If I read in a novel that a character sits down in front of Trinity College under an Elm tree, and it turns out there is no Elm tree in front of Trinity College (I have been known to visit locations described in novels), I would be disappointed. If a writer talks about a place I know well and explains how ducks are shot during the summer shooting season, when I know it only ever takes place in winter, it makes me slightly annoyed. As I say, it depends to what degree.

But, we are talking about fiction, aren't we?

Why can't we plant a tree where one doesn't exist and rev up the details of a boring city (I'm not talking about Dublin here)? We're obliged to make up names of restaurants and squeeze in hotels that don't exist near the Irish Times (see my extract). It does come down to the importance of the detail. For example, I avoid having real life personalities make appearances in my writing - not only can it lead to legal trouble for a publisher but I think it jars if the rest is made up.

I'm not totally convinced about any of the arguments on this point. I've been to writing classes and talks where the opinion is always divided.

I just know that when I am writing a scene and I have the chance to "walk it through" in real life, it can throw up lots of little pieces of authenticity that add fabric and colour.

Of course, there is the other extreme.

Don't you just hate passages where the author has given you the painful, minute detail of something not very relevant to the story, just to prove that he actually went to a place, spoke to 25 experts, spent three weeks with those involved, and learnt all the big words that only experts would care about?

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