Thursday, June 24, 2010

Truth in Fiction

Farm Kid One of the things that children's authors often do is school visits. Some people dread them, but I've found it's a great experience and a chance to find out what kids think about all sorts of things. But it did take me a little while at the beginning to get the hang of it. Firstly, the kids don't want a pile of facts, nor do they want to hear advertisements for your books. What they want is stories - more stories like the ones you wrote, or stories about the stories!

Farm Kid was my first verse novel for upper primary readers, and although it started as a bunch of poems about me on our farm way back when, it did develop into a story about a family who lose their farm because of a severe drought. I show photos of a lovely green farm, and then I show one of a Victorian farm paddock that is totally dead. Just one lonely rabbit in the middle. And then I tell the kids that I wrote a fictional story about a family losing their farm because, to me, the newspaper articles never showed the real truth of that situation.

Then I say how often fiction can tell the truth and make something real in a way that facts never seem to manage - and the kids always get it! I see them nodding, and looking at the photos again, and I read some of the poems. This always makes me think about books that have pretended to be memoirs and turned out to be made up, and how this makes readers angry (not to mention publishers who then have to pulp the book). It's something we demand of fiction and non-fiction - the truth - but in different ways. Perhaps with fiction it's more about the emotional truth of a character and a story, and this is part of where voice comes from.

Today, in Australia, our government politicians went into a room and when they came out, we had a new prime minister. Julia Gillard. At lunchtime, there was a press conference on TV, with Ms Gillard delivering her first speech. Very lovely it was, too. Well-delivered, passionate, and said in a voice that promised many things, including a new and better future. And I thought again about truth in fact and fiction, and why we get so upset about politicians who lie and deceive. Perhaps it's because they continually offer hope (whatever you hope for, they'll promise to deliver) and so rarely carry out their promises.

We'll see how our new PM goes, and whether she'll be just like all the others. In the meantime, I'm going back to reading novels where the author has delivered on their promise between those pages!

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