My Fictional World
by Tim Walker
It started with a winter’s day walk through a park with my 12-year-old daughter. A yappy dog bolted towards us and proceeded to run around her legs until its exasperated owner came to fetch it, amidst profuse apologies.
That’s an alien dog,” Cathy said.
Whatever do you mean?” I replied.
Well, all dogs are really aliens who control their owners,” she said, with complete certainty.
Over the duration of our walk I encouraged her to develop her story, and when we got home I fired up the laptop and typed it up. Over the course of our next school holiday get-togethers, she came up with three more stories that I recorded and helped to develop. And now we have a book, The Adventures of Charly Holmes.
I feel this book came out of nowhere. A random event. A real life incident or adventure. Had I not already been practicing creative writing, it would, most likely, never have been documented and in time forgotten. These four stories are ‘Children’s Fiction’ to the world, but they are something else to me. They are a record of precious time spent with a daughter who lives in another country whom I only see for a few weeks once or twice a year.
I started writing fiction in the aftermath of an almost fatal health crisis in 2012. My slow recovery and time spent indoors led me to take an online creative writing course and to start writing short stories. I had ‘boxed-off’ the medical crisis by writing a factual account. This was a cathartic exercise and the account remains unread by others, stored away on my PC. Having got it out of the way, I turned my attention to writing fiction. Making up stories and learning the craft of structure, whilst thinking of ways I could subvert it and still produce stories that appealed to the reader.
For two years I wrote short stories, testing my narrative nerve over a short distance, believing I was making them up. But an analysis of the fifteen stories that now comprise my book, Thames Valley Tales, reveals to me that they are a quixotic memoir. The common thread is their setting – places along the course of the River Thames, where I now live and have done off-and-on since the mid-80s. This theme only became apparent when I was looking for a title for the collection. The stories can be classified in terms of their factual roots as follows:
- Historical places visited – 4
- Episodes from my life – 4
- Local places of interest - 2
- Topical news stories – 2
- Written for competitions – 2
- Episode from a friend’s life – 1
In this regard, Thames Valley Tales, is a personal record of two years spent doing little else but slowly recovering whilst being medicated and prodded by various health professionals. Reading, going for walks and reflecting on my life were my sources of inspiration. ‘Fiction’, defined as ‘literary works of the imagination’, and ‘invented stories’ is a classification that fascinates me. In my case, it provides a platform that allows me to explore and describe personal experience, interests and opinions, through the eyes of made-up characters. It also suits where I am with my life, and the nagging feeling that I have somehow dropped out of the world of ‘well’, productive people into the nether world of the unwell. My instinct is to hide away, and fiction allows me to cocoon myself in made-up stories.
I had gone through a near-death experience and was still in a fragile state, and my weekly fiction blog, The Life of George, was a manic rant against a government who were underfunding health care, putting my life at risk, whilst rewarding the rich with tax cuts. Somehow, out of this, my first novel emerged – Devil Gate Dawn. My excellent copy editor got me to tone down the political ranting and focus on the plot, character development and sub-plots to add intrigue and interest in secondary characters. She earned every penny, as this was the most productive tutorial I have ever had. The finished novel is very different from its roots, but to me it will always be about what I was going through at the time.
I may say that I start with a blank page, and therefore anything is possible – anything my imagination comes up with. However, I am wandering into a world of storytelling – a rich tradition that is as old as mankind. I am also constrained by the rules of language. My fictional world is bound not just by the limits of my own experiences and observations, but also, I am told by Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots (2004), by a finite set of seven plot structures:
- Overcoming the Monster
- Rags to Riches
- The Quest
- Voyage and Return
Booker believes, “The very fact that they (stories) follow such identifiable patterns and are shaped by such consistent rules indicates that the unconscious is thus using them for a purpose: to convey to the conscious level of our minds a particular picture of human nature and how it works.”
Stories follow recognizable narrative structures because they follow the contours of human development: initial success followed by crisis, then lasting success or failure. Booker believes that the mark of a successful story is that every detail in it is somehow contributing towards a final resolution. The resolution doesn’t always have to be triumphant. It can be abject failure. But it must show that the main character or characters have undergone some sort of challenge or change through the process. This is the straightjacket of storytelling, and authors must be wary of losing their reader if they deviate too far from the path of dramatic expectation.
The publishing industry has created different genres or classifications, ostensibly to help guide readers to finding familiar and preferred types of story, although by doing this, authors are guided down the narrow corridors of conformity. I am not writing to any plan or grand design; hence my four books each being in a different genre – children’s short stories; adult short stories; historical fiction; dystopian thriller. I’m wedged into different tins by the spread of my subject matter.
Through the various constraints, my fiction remains deeply personal - a reflection of my interests, experiences and the product of a creative mind trying to make sense of what has happened to me, whilst celebrating my life in case it prematurely ends (drama!). It has become an intense part of my journey.
To me, my books say, I’M STILL HERE! Whatever they may say to my readers is simply the magic of fiction.
Oh, and an honorable mention is due to Amazon Kindle for providing a platform for indie authors to showcase and share their ideas with others.
To what extent is your fiction writing a reflection of your own life or inspired by real life events? Comment below, please...
Written by Tim Walker.