Sunday 19 May 2024

If it’s Not True, it Should Be

By Felicity Pulman

If it’s not true, it should be is a collection of essays collated and edited by Paul Ashton, adjunct professor  and co-founder of the Australian Centre for Public History at UTS. This collection, written by both academics and authors, gives a fascinating insight into the craft of writing creative non-fiction/historical fiction for children and Y/A.

As one of the contributing authors, I found it fascinating to read where the other contributors found their inspiration (photographs, family histories, memorabilia, ‘ephemeral objects’ etc) and how they went about researching and writing their books, blending research with imagination to make history come alive for their readers. How much historical detail is too much? How far can you take liberties with the truth?  And how do you bridge what is known with what you imagine might have happened ‘to make history immediate, personal and accessible to readers at all levels.’

I found having to revisit and analyse the novels I mentioned in my essay (The Janna Chronicles, A Ring Through Time and Ghost Boy) was a challenge, but it also revealed some interesting insights, both of a personal nature and with regard to what I’ve learned about the craft of writing during my writing journey. I also shared some of my misgivings about writing in the age of ‘cancel culture’ and whether the truth of times gone by needs to be skewed to the sensitivities of the present if one wants to be published!

Contributors to the collection include Clare Halligan of Walker Books who writes from a publisher’s point of view; Stephanie Lee-Ling Ho who recognised a gap in novels about Singapore and set about filling it; Alison Lloyd, who stresses how important it is to stay true to the facts and to beware of anachronisms; and Sarah Luke who talks about ‘the problem of ghostly girls’ – filling the gaps and silences of history. Both Sophie Masson and Stephanie Owen Reeder speak of being inspired by photographs, the former on seeing a photograph of ‘the Kelly gang,’ which led her to write the award-winning The Hunt for Ned Kelly. Stephanie’s book Lennie the Legend was inspired by a black and white photograph of ‘a small boy in a funny hat’ who rode his pony Ginger Mick about a thousand kilometres from Leongatha in Victoria to Sydney so that he could witness the opening of the Harbour Bridge. Philippa Werry, a non-fiction writer from New Zealand, explores historical aspects of  New Zealand as well as some of the amazing creatures that inhabit it. In my case it’s sometimes a ‘voice’ or a vision that has inspired a story or taken it in a different direction. 

Other contributors include Peter Stanley and Pauline O’Loughlin. Each and every one of these authors shines a light on what life was like in the past, and the magical process of ‘bridging the gap between imagination and accuracy.’

If it’s not true it should be is published by Halstead Press and is also available from booksellers on line like Booktopia and Amazon.

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