The Interface between Memoir and Fiction

At the launch of Every Second Tuesday, author Lee Kofman observed that certain of the Elwood Writers stories in the anthology exhibited a ‘fascinating’ interface between memoir and fiction.

This reflects, I believe, a growing field of writers who are mixing the two genres. Blending them, however, can be a challenge. Debate rages about where a writer draws the line. How accurate should non-fiction be? How close can fiction come to real life events, while remaining authentic?

The last time I remember making up fantasy stories was at about the age of eight. My younger brother reminds me that as we walked to school each morning, I told him stories about underground cities populated with elves and other-worldly spirits, who ran about their kingdoms leading magical lives. I would love to have that fictional story-teller back again. 

In 2018, Vision Australia Radio presenter Tim McQueen invited Elwood Writers to compile a program of our stories to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One. I broke into my usual sweat when asked to make something up. My grandfather had been in WWI, but beyond that I knew nothing about his war. After considerable research, I came up with a fictional diary, based on what might have happened to him at Gallipoli on the Turkish coast.

A novelist colleague explained to me, that if the memoirist makes it clear she is heading into imaginative territory, then the reader will be okay with that. Once I’d made this leap into fiction, I found it liberating. 

What might it have been like for my grandfather to witness the loss of so many lives? How did he feel at the time, or like any soldier, after the war was over? If I pictured his circumstances, perhaps I could get to the truth – which, after all, is what we writers are after.

The interface between fact and fiction is not a hybrid format. The memoirist will use fiction to colour real life events. Fiction writers are more likely to enhance reality (if they use it at all) with inventive techniques that get to the essence of their story.. We all find our way. But combining genres is a welcome and freeing development, in a rapidly changing literary world.

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