Creative Non-Fiction by Allison Symes

Image Credit:  Images created in Book Brush using Pixabay photos. The Hayes, Swanwick - photo taken by me, Allison Symes

I was at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in August, my annual residential writing week at The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire. As well as learning a great deal, I catch up with friends I only see in person here. We stay in contact via social media otherwise. A lovely time is had by all.

The Hayes, Swanwick, Derbyshire

I deliberately go to courses that are “left field” to my flash fiction and blogging. I learn more than I think I will from these and did so again here.


I went to the four part specialist course of Creative Non-Fiction by Simon Whaley. I found it enlightening as some of my blogs hover on this category of writing. (If you can go to his course, I highly recommend it. You will learn so much about observation and conveying the truth).


Creative non-fiction is factual work told using fictional techniques. Facts cannot be changed but it is how you get them across to the reader where the creative element can come in. A great definition given by Simon Whaley was journalists tell and creative non-fiction writers show.

Creative non-fiction writers can use dialogue and scenes to make their points. Journalists report. A lot of blogging where the writer talks from their own experience could fall into the creative non-fiction category.

Why? Because journalists don’t bring themselves into the story. A creative non-fiction writer can do that if they are an eyewitness to events or relating something from their viewpoint, as I am doing here.


However, writing creative non-fiction comes with its own challenges. For one thing, if you are relating something from your viewpoint, you need to make it interesting to draw your readers in. Hooks can come into this style of writing, as they would for fiction. So can scenes.

What was interesting was the use of telling techniques to link showing scenes. You get to use show and tell here.

I learn many useful things from the courses I go to, plenty too from lovely chats with other writers at the bar or over a cup of tea, but I love the challenge of going to something that isn’t directly “me”. It makes me think outside my usual boxes, encouraging further creativity.


Will I be writing more creative non-fiction? Yes. 

Can I see its appeal?  Oh yes.

One of my favourite books is Operation Mincemeat by Ben Mcintyre. He shares true events in the style of a novel and it is a marvellous read.  I haven’t seen the film (any thoughts, anyone?). This is a great example of creative non-fiction. A straight report wouldn’t be so interesting. 


The technique is often used in memoir. Ghostwriting is creative non-fiction given the book is being told as if written by Person A when it is being written by Person B. Yet ghost written books ring true. They must - truth is important. But how do you get that truth across? 

Creative non-fiction shows there are other ways of doing this than reporting and I found that fascinating.


Peter Leyland said…
Well, that is interesting Allison, especially the link to memoir which interests me as a writer. One thing I wonder about with this kind of writing is confidentiality. Did he mention that at all?
I realised reading this that I wasn't actually clear about what creative non-fiction is, although I may have written some (a family history account which is told from my point of view as a researcher, starting with what I remember and working backwards in time).
By the way, I've seen and enjoyed the film of Operation Mincemeat but have seen some people complaining on Twitter that it wasn't close enough to the book.
Allison Symes said…
Many thanks, Peter. Confidentiality wasn't specificially mentioned, the course was an excellent overview on what creative non-fiction is and how to develop techniques writing it.

I would've thought though, especially for ghostwriting and memoir, confidentiality would be agreed upon as part of any contract. Perhaps others here can share their thoughts on that? There would have to be at least some basic agreement in place. And of course no libel.
Allison Symes said…
Many thanks, Cecilia. I'm in much the same position with my blog posts especially the weekly column I write elsewhere. Having said that, the course was an enjoyable eye opener. Thanks for the tip about the film of Operation Mincemeat. I didn't get to see it but may well give it a go when it goes on Prime etc.

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