Friday, February 16, 2007

Imagine, just imagining, and other thoughts this week ...

from Jacqueline

I’ve been trying to go easy on my political commentary of late, mainly because I have to save some blood vessels to burst when I go back to the UK at the end of March, and because my mother thinks THEY will revoke my green card if I keep on like this. Of course, when Our Polly posted his piece earlier this week, I almost gave myself an aneurysm as I rushed to agree with every word he said. So, I am going to comment on a couple of items snipped from the garden of “news” this week that have caught my attention.

First off, Lynne Truss – you remember, she wrote “Eats Shoots and Leaves” about the correct use of grammar and punctuation. I think her book should have had a panda on the cover, eating bamboo shoots and waving a Magnum (and not of champagne) as it leaves a bar. She brought up a very good point in an article on imagination. Using the recent example of James Frey’s memoir/novel/book, where he was lambasted for fictionalizing and embellishing his “real life” experiences, earning the wrath of Oprah (did that guy not see the Jonathan Franzen debacle?), she asked why a fine novelist was taken to task for fictionalizing her fiction. Turns out that Stef Penny (an award-winning British writer) had never been to Canada before writing her novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, set in 19th century Canadian wilderness.

“What happened to the imagination?” said Truss, who asks, “At a time when memoirs are being attacked on grounds of literal truth, perhaps people are getting confused about what fiction is - and are therefore asking the wrong questions.” She goes on to say, “Making it up is the point, really. And I have concrete evidence that people can tell the difference between the authentically invented, and the inauthentically factual.” (An aside from me: That last bit sounds familiar in the realm of politics.)

This interests me, this chain of thought, because I take my research seriously. However, I am a storyteller first, as you’ve no doubt heard me say here before (can you “hear” the words on a page?). I make up stories. I once had someone contact me because she couldn’t find a certain address used in one of my books, and I felt like giving her a one-word answer: “Fiction!” Can you imagine what would have happened if I’d used a real address, the poor occupant about to sit down to dinner and there’s a woman at the door wondering whether Maisie Dobbs worked there once?

But there’s no getting away from it, readers are interested in the background research, and to have gone through that process adds weight to the integrity of the story. Should it be that way? As writers of fiction, surely it’s our creativity that counts. In the meantime, I shall just continue in my own sweet way, doing the research – it fascinates me anyway – and Our Polly will continue with the tax-write-off ski vacations, and Patty will drive Porsches at breakneck speed with a gang of wild guys. Mind you, I remember someone once asking Lee Child, at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, about his research, to which he replied, “I just make it all up.” And a great job he does too!

Onward to the UN (seeing as we’re talking about fiction, and having an imagination). This week a UNICEF report on the best place for children to be raised was released to the press on both sides of the Atlantic, and no doubt to smug Sweden and the Netherlands, who came out on top of the list – and rightly so. In Britain there was a general sense that its place close to the bottom alongside the USA, was down to the fact that the UK was emulating life on the other side of the pond, so had begun the descent down the slippery slope. The articles and interpretations regarding this report make interesting reading, however, The Independent newspaper in the UK (one of my favorites) went straight to the children, asking youngsters what they thought of the report. Here’s a comment that came, not from some high-falutin’ clever clogs from the UN, but from a kid in one of Britain’s toughest areas: "The richer we become as a society, the less mature young people need to be. Too many people expect the good things but don't want to take responsibility." Hmmm, reckon the same could be said for a lot of adults.

And seeing as you probably saw the title of this blog, “Imagine” and thought it would be about something else, together with the fact that I was listening to GWB pushing his case for "escalation," on the radio today, and had to turn it off because I couldn’t stand it any more, I think we need a Zen moment or two, so here’s John:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one


  1. A reasoned and thoughtful post, as usual, Our J.

    I love books that include places I've visited. It makes me feel as if I'm part of the action. And count me among all those people who have set off to find Sherlock's digs on Baker Street in London, only to find that there was no such address. What a let down! I'm just glad there's still Santa and the Tooth Fairy to believe in.

    Ah, John. Unfortunately, we aren't any closer to his imaginings than we were when he wrote that song. How sad that we can never learn by our mistakes.

  2. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, Patty. You know, I had a call last summer, from a professor who was planning a "Winspear Tour" to England, and though he thought he could handle the London segment, he wanted advice on the other regions mentioned in the books. I was blown away - and I had a blast playing tour-guide via email!

    And yes, no closer to those imaginings, but the song tears at my heart-strings every time I hear it.

  3. What a wonderful post, Our J, and I'm with you and Patty on Lennon's song. Makes me tear up every time it comes on the radio--especially "imagine there's no countries."

    I always make an effort to envision a world in which there's no longer any need for borders or any other artificial constructs "defining" identity, whenever I hear that line. I hope someday we'll evolve to the point of conducting ourselves (and perceiving each other) as just plain human, at long last.

  4. from Jacqueline

    Cornelia, I like that phrase, "conducting ourselves as just plain human, at long last." So often, when we despair of the conduct of others, we perceive them - out loud in most instances - as "animals." However, though there is definitely aggression in the animal kingdom, we are supposed to be the thinkers, the human race, who can rise above and banish inequities. I think I shall take that phrase with me today and endeavor to conduct myself as plain human, while remembering I have a soul.

  5. I loved this post, particularly its thoughtfulness.

    Thanks for the moment of calmness ;-)

  6. We all need a bit of calm, quiet reflection ...

  7. Jacqueline,
    You hit the nail on the head. Realism is great but a story and characters are the most important thing.

    Someone was talking about two science fiction writers. He said one was a great writer and the other a great storyteller. Hew preferred a great story teller.

    I also love the Truss book.


  8. Lovely to hear from you, Jim. I always refer to myself as a storyteller. And research I do has to support the story, otherwise I might as well be writing non-fiction. I always liked the comment by Susan Isaacs, who said in the acknowledgements page in one of her books, after thanking all sorts of people for their help, "... and where their facts did not suit my fiction, I have jettisoned the facts."

    And "aye" say I to that!