Where Fact Meets Fiction

We love to sort, indeed we have to sort to make sense of the world. Being National Non-Fiction November, the sorting I have in mind is that of children's books into fiction and non-fiction. By 'books' I mean any fiction or non-fiction story-carrying media and specifically, for  this post, the media are short stories and theatre.

The OED says that fiction is 'something that is invented or untrue' and that non-fiction is 'prose writing that is informative and factual rather than fictional'. Instead of a black and white distinction, I think of it more as a spectrum ranging from the completely fantastical to the rigorously evidenced. I do believe that although the OED suggests otherwise, any fiction has to have an element of truth. I'm in serious danger of straying down the philosophical rabbit hole of what is truth here so, cutting to the chase, my spectrum suggests there's an area in the middle where fiction and non-fiction meet.

2014, the centenary of the outbreak of The First World War has been a momentous year for remembrance. Last Tuesday on the 11.11.14, I saw the poppies at the tower, moving and symbolic as much for the spectacle itself as for the loss of life it represented. Barely a month has passed this year without some reference to The First World War.

An outpouring

August was the month that inspired this post. Hampshire Youth Theatre performed Michael Morpurgo's short story The Best Christmas Present in the World adapted for them by Oliver Birch. This beautiful story is an imagining around a real event, the Christmas Day Truce of 1914 and the subsequent football matches. This well-cited Wikipedia article is a fascinating and heartening account of the distaste for war. It records how frontline troops persevered in trying to make peace in spite of generals on both sides ordering offensive manoeuvres on subsequent Christmas Eves.

The HYT Programme

The Oliver Birch dramatisation was performed by young people aged 14 to 21 in a temporary performance space in Southampton's Guildhall Square, designed to represent a football stadium. The young people, in order to convincingly portray the fictional characters and real events of this story, had to research the facts of the war, the nature of dementia, loneliness and loss. Factual research like this would be the case for any play and any work of fiction or non-fiction but the advantage of the dramatisation is that it involves many more than just the author in the research, the non-fiction.

Where it fell

You might say that the truth of this story is that peace is better than war. However, it is not a fact, because however appalled we may by the idea, it is open for discussion. But the facts that make up some of this story while firmly in 1914, carry truths that are as embedded in 2014 as they were a hundred years ago. Fact and fiction met, even merged, for the writer, the readers, the young adult performers and the audience in the dramatisation of Michael Morpurgo's beautiful story.

Follow the links for rehearsal photos, the performers' experience of researching for the show, and the original short story published in The Guardian, Christmas 2003.

Jan Carr is handing over the editorship of Words & Pictures to the wonderful Nancy Saunders. Jan's works in progress are currently upper middle grade and new adult, if not adult (ooh er). She aims to blog here more regularly though she has blogged here almost every week since March 2013.

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