When I read this quote from Philip Pullman everything inside me shouted; yes!
Fiction is my first love – I fell in love with fiction long before I fell in love with any boys or girls. I come from a large, chaotic family and whilst we all love one another, there is always some sort of drama going on, always has been. I was the eldest of five, on top of which my parents were emergency foster carers, so we regularly had neglected and abused children arriving on our doorstep at various times of the day and night and staying for anything between a few days and several months.
Story books were my refuge, my inner sanctum, they were the place I went to when the chaos outside got too much. My love of reading soon translated into a love of writing and despite being a painfully slow writer, (which I still am) I began writing about life through stories in primary school. I don’t just write fiction; I also write poetry and I have a blog in which I write about family, life and my experience of battling depression. However, as with reading, fiction is my first love.
Writing fiction is not only instinctive for me, it is also essential. Through writing stories I make sense of the world. Through the creation of characters and situations I convey meaning in a way that is totally, and sometimes brutally, honest.
Last year I undertook a Masters by research. My main subject was the eighteenth-century Romanic poet, Mary Robinson. In it I considered how Robinson’s image has been manipulated and misrepresented in order to discredit her feminist writings. Integrated within the critical writing were four stories. Whilst it is extremely rare to have fiction interpolated within a critical piece, for me it was an essential part of the process.
Understanding the complex interplay of identity, perception and representation involves exploring personal prejudice, both historical and current. However, asking someone to consider how their prejudices interfere with their perception of others is like giving them a nut without any means of breaking into it.
Writing a story about the particular aspect of prejudice you are trying to explore is like giving them a nut and a nutcracker; there’s now a way in. Like Virginia Wolf, I believe that often fiction ‘is likely to contain more truth than fact.’ This is in large part why a considerable portion of the gospels are told through the medium of parables.
Stories are essential to our understanding of the world and how it functions. We tell our children stories to help them understand how to function in society. The social and individual importance of storytelling, demonstrated through myths and fables is fascinating. Storytelling helps us to explore issues which are unpleasant, uncomfortable or are socially taboo. We only have to look at traditional folk tales to see the importance that a variety of societies place on storytelling. Fairy stories contain gems of information regarding social roles and values which parents impart to their children as they tuck them into bed.
On a deep level we have always understood that stories are more instructive than, say, a set of instructions. It seems counter-intuitive, however, it’s easy to argue with or dismiss a set of instructions but a good story leaves you ruminating and asking questions about it long after you have finished reading it. Stories have the capacity to hold up a mirror and turn on the light; through them we get to see ourselves and one another more clearly and more honestly.
By nature I’m a bit of a people pleaser; I don’t like to hurt or offend, I like to keep the peace. Consequently, I’m often quite measured about what I say; I consider the way what I say or write could be interpreted or misinterpreted. It’s considerate, it’s polite, it’s kind, but it’s not completely honest. This desire not to offend extends to how I write my blog and to a lesser degree how I write my poetry. It is only in my fiction that I feel I have the freedom not to censure myself. Because fiction is made up it enables me to be totally honest. I can paint pictures that reflect society as it is and people as they are; no editing, and that is so liberating.
It gives me a freedom that I don’t experience anywhere else and is the reason why, after all this time, my first love has not faded.
Paula Kelly-Ince is a mum, nana, and writer – pretty much in that order. Along with an expanding waist line, creaky knees and the suspicion that she really would benefit from taking up yoga, middle age is offering her lots of new perspectives. The most shocking of these is the realization that her youthful dreams of being a well-rounded, fully-functioning human being, like her adolescent dreams of being the next Madonna / Mother Theresa / Enid Blyton (dreams alternated, depending on mood and current level of altruism), were indeed just that; dreams. Consequently, dreams have been adjusted and re-named goals (goals sound much more achievable). She now aspires to be dysfunctionally happy, and her blog, A Guide to Getting Life Wrong, is a documentation of the triumphs and failures in the achievement of her newly lowered goals.