Fact, fiction and ditching the sister: Ali Bacon ponders being classified as non-fiction

Not long ago I wrote here about opting for fiction rather than non-fiction in my latest book, but recent events have made me wonder if I achieved what I set out to do, since I’m delighted that In the Blink of an Eye is listed for the People’s Book Prize but a bit disconcerted to find it in the non-fiction category!

I daresay the competition may have its own reasons or its own criteria and I guess it’s too late to ask for a ‘reassignment’. Nor is the book so far from the facts for the classification to worry me unduly, although it does feel odd to be alongside (and up against?) books like Understanding BRCA or Rock and Pop on British TV which I am sure are entirely laudable in their respective ways. A trip to an indie bookshop on Saturday which had lots of genre fiction also made me wonder again about where my book lies in the scheme of things. I couldn’t help feeling it looked more at home in the biography section than next to Robert Harris, Karen Maitland and Simon Scarrow. And these days there are so many gradations between fact and fiction. Remember how His Bloody Project gave itself a (spurious?) authenticity in purporting to be a recorded report?

Even Sugar Money by Jane Harris, recently shortlisted for the Sir Walter Scott Prize does something similar at the end, explaining how the hero’s journey came to be written down and I see one reviewer says it is based on a true story. I’ll have to reread the author’s notes! But this strikes me as a Victorian preoccupation, needing to feel things are real, or give an account of how the story as passed down which I actually feel is unnecessary – it’s just a story after all!

Going back to Blink, although the form and structure are different, I think it’s closest in intention to fictional biographies like Loving Frank, by Nancy Horan and my most recent read, Love and Ruin by Paula McLain, about Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's second wife.  When successfully done (and not all of the ones I've read actually work) these books fashion the story of a well-known figure into the novel form. I read these books and accept them for what they are, a filling out of the facts as they are known, and especially the attempt to get inside the thoughts and motivations of those concerned. They answer the question not so much of what happened, but how did it happen and what did it feel like to be there?  With Hemingway, with Frank Lloyd Wright, with my heroes Hill and Adamson?

If you’re wondering about the sister, by the way, when I began to write Blink in its final form I stepped away from the research and wrote from my memory of it, my own ideas of how it had been. As a result I left out a few people who weren’t required by the story and didn’t ever add them back in. So Jessie Mann  is know to have had two sisters, not one, and the May Mann of my story is a total fabrication. Similarly Amelia Paton had a younger brother Hugh Waller Paton, a respected artist though less celebrated than Joseph Noel Paton who appears in my version as Noel. I’m afraid Hugh Waller simply doesn’t figure, though who knows his influence on his sister?

So there we have it, some of our facts are fiction, others are just plain missing. I don’t imagine the organisers of the People’s Prize are too concerned. And at this stage, you can vote for there books in each category – so Rock & Pop on TV, BRCA and me!

Vote, vote, vote! (and only 0.99 to buy this month)
The e-book of In the Blink of an Eye is on offer at 0.99 until the end of June from Linen Press or you can read an extract here
I would of course love you to vote for it in the People's Book Prize along with any others you fancy.


Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks for the thoughtful post, Ali. I'm continually wrestling with this fiction-nonfiction conundrum myself. As Mark Twain once said: "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story - unless you can't think of anything better."
Griselda Heppel said…
Well, I've voted (I think - the PBP website has changed since I last voted but it looks a lot better). Your book looks really interesting and I followed the link to the Youtube video about Hill and Adamson - what extraordinary artists and what an exciting, quirky, moving subject for a book. I'm a bit baffled about the non-fiction category - however close to historical facts a writer keeps, once some of the real people in your subject's life are omitted or combined into a single 'person' , you're writing historical fiction, not biography, aren't you? Still, PBP will have had their reasons...

Lots of luck - I hope you win!

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