The Wight Fair Writers & Artists Circle

A Place for Isle of Wight Authors, Writers and Artists

Members Musings October 2017


Jonathan DoddBy Jonathan Dodd

The Fiction the Whole Fiction, and Nothing But the Fiction

A few years ago I was running a writers’ circle in Newbury called WordWatchers. We used to hold two short story competitions every year. These were never the same, because we kept reinventing them. Sometimes we were very strict on wordcount and title and sometimes we didn’t specify either, and sometimes we allowed different media, as in a poem rather than a short story. Rather like life itself, we made it up as we went along, and we learned as much from when it didn’t work very well, as we did when it went swimmingly.

We used to run these with a complicated method of blind judging. We each received a book with all the stories in, but without names, so we could only judge on the basis of what we read. We spent so much time trying to guess who wrote what, that we introduced an extra competition, to see who guessed best. I was amazed by how difficult it was to recognise each other’s styles. People even started laying out their stories differently, or using fewer semicolons, just to make it harder. I remember the argument we had early on, when we were discussing how we should judge, and what criteria we should use, when I said I marked down for bad spelling and punctuation.

Funnily enough, the biggest furore was about the content of one of my short stories. The month after the get-together when we found out who won and who guessed best, we always had a post-mortem meeting, where we discussed each of the stories. Mine concerned a policeman and a rough sleeper, and it was set in Newbury. The rough sleeper turned out to be the last living member of a family that had once owned most of the land that Newbury was built on.

I didn’t know any of the history of Newbury, but I needed it to fit my story, so I invented my own history, incorporating it into the story, and I wrote it to appear as true as I could, because I needed to highlight the downfall of the family. It didn’t win, of course. I only ever won once. I never understood why nobody understood what I was trying to say, and the brilliance of my writing. Of course, we all thought that.

One of the things that most people mentioned about my story was how fascinating my grasp of the history of Newbury was, and how much research I must have done. This pleased me immensely, as a writer, because that was what I was trying to convey, within the context of the story. But, for the sake of veracity, I had to inform them that I made it all up. They all started shouting at me, and I couldn’t understand why. It hadn’t occurred to me that my readers, all writers themselves, would be angry with me for making up a fictional history of a real place in a fictional short story.

They were angry because they believed the history I created, and they told me that I should have added a note to say that I had played fast and footloose with history, in case anyone believed what I had written. I thought that was a silly idea. We had a lot of strong discussions, because we all felt very passionate about writing. We never fell out, because we were all fast friends, but I think that was the occasion when we came the closest.

I’m still wondering about this. What do you think?

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