Fact or fiction?

Updated: Jul 15

Do you like watching 'docuramas'? You know, the ones that are based on a true story and then are coloured in with imagination? I love them! They are my favourite kind of movies (well, except perhaps the super-hero ones, or the spy dramas - I'm fond of those too!). When choosing a new book to read, when I don't have a pile of recommendations or 'must be read', I am often drawn to biographies and memoirs.

I've always wanted to write a novel. Long before teenage poetry, I was writing short stories for myself and my sister. I even illustrated them - badly! I vaguely remember writing one about a little girl lost in a wood, or something along those lines. And I distinctly remember writing a primary school 'diary' entry which centred around me be whisked away by aliens in a flying saucer when I opened the front door one morning. That was illustrated too...

I never really progressed beyond those early tales. My first foray into writing as an adult was the blog 'Twenty Years an Expat' on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of my arrival in South Africa from the UK. I've since compiled the posts into a book, which you can buy here if you'd like to read it!

The feedback from the blog encouraged me no end. Friends seemed to like my style. They enjoyed my stories. I wanted to write more, but didn't come up with any ideas.

Until God spoke to me while sitting in my garden, thinking about a recent trip to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls. 'Write what you see in a book,' was his very clear instruction (from Revelation 1:11 , just in case you are worried I may be hearing random voices out of the blue. Especially after the alien incident ...).

Well, I could do that. So I wrote about travels in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. I composed poems and reflections out of the whispers I had heard. I shared my love of garden spaces and the joy of roads less travelled. I scribbled pages of plans for future books to show gratitude, to lead up to Christmas, to prepare during Lent.

I have had so much fun, listening and learning and writing.

And yet, the dream to write a novel still burned slowly on the back burner. I toyed with ideas. I imagined places and people and plots, only to throw them all away as really not worth the time and effort. Until I 'saw' something to write, there was no point in trying to put pen to paper (or yes, fingers to keyboard).

And then my eyes were opened and I saw the view before me. I knew what to write.

In The Outskirts of His Glory, my first published book, I focussed on the whispers of God I hear in his creation, in the natural world. For my next book, I wanted to listen more carefully to some of the whispers I've heard through history - people from places who have left footprints in my soul.

I began choosing which places to include. I thought I would follow a similar format to before - a short background story of my visit, a reflection and possibly a poem. I started with a small village in the north of England, near where I had grown up. It was early 2020 and the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and suddenly Eyam (pronounced 'Eem') was featured in newspaper articles from around the world. Why? It had been centre stage on a previous occasion, during the plague of 1665-6. I thought that would be a timely story to tell, and I set to work.

As I got going, I realised I wanted to say far more than two or three pages would allow. But a history textbook? No, I didn't think so. Why not a novel?

Why not indeed? I chatted with friends and author mentors. I read up on how to plan and structure a full-length story. I signed up for a November writing challenge, agreeing to try and write 50,000 words in a month. I researched. And I wrote a novel.

I realised God's original word to me still holds true, whether I write fact or fiction or faction. I need to write what I see. Then I feel I am writing with his wind in my sails, his creative imagination in my heart and mind. I feel there is a point and a purpose. And I enjoy every minute (well, almost!).

My novel about Eyam is finished and edited. It's nearly ready to be launched into the world. The story of the book is as amazing as the story of Eyam itself. But that's for another day...

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