Good research of facts makes fiction more believable, even when that fiction is fantasy. As readers we can relate more easily to the writing when we trust the writer knows his or her subject.
But research must be deftly sewn into the writing, so that it doesn’t outweigh the fiction, dragging it down into a muddy recitation of facts. Invisible sewing is the name of the game.
Another way fact can get in the way of fiction has occurred in my life. I was expecting to be absorbed in writing my new novel, working title “Greek Gold”. I have got my main character to arrive in Cairo in 1943, poised for action. But life, or rather death, has intervened. My husband’s sister’s partner (not a close relationship from my point of view) died on Thursday of prostate cancer. His unavoidable death has been expected since diagnosis last winter. All the same, a death – however long expected – is a shock and a loss when it occurs. As my sister-in-law’s partner he has been part of the family for many years, living only half-an-hour’s drive away. We’ve been supporting Jennifer during this time and were at the nursing home with her when Bill died.
This is the second time I’ve witnessed that moment when someone crosses the hair’s breadth line between life and death. Then how quickly the person we know becomes absent, leaving just chalky white material covering bones. It is an astounding event, besides being the cause of grief.
I find that I cannot get back easily into writing fiction. The image of Bill on his deathbed gets in the way. Of course I know it won’t stay in the foreground of my mind for long. The living man as he was will be what I remember. But the manner of his death and the image attached to it will stay at the back of my writerly mind, and is likely to re-emerge as fiction in the future.
Real life feeds fiction, and fiction feeds real life.