Splicing History and Fiction

Charles Kingsford Smith in the cockpit of the Southern Cross. Part of the extensive research needed for writing On Wings of Steel.

This week I have been working on the Bigger Picture Note for On Wings of Steel. While the novel itself is firmly based on the facts of Charles Ulm’s life I need to be aware of making the story work for the Young Adult reader. As I try to balance the two elements of history and fiction I am reminded of a very useful phrase used by one of my mentors. He refers to the splicing of history with fiction. When you splice two pieces of rope you weave together all the strands, some of which are frayed or broken, so that they become completely integrated. The one whole rope formed by this interweaving will be stronger and more useful than either of the two pieces you began with.

There has been a lot of debate about where the line between fact and fiction should be drawn or whether, in the end, such a line exists at all? Obviously in our law courts it is imperative to present only those facts which can be proven. But when writers become involved in telling stories from the past many of the ‘facts’ are not, and can never be, known. The writer of historical fiction takes on the task of bringing the past back to life. It is important to do this, not only so that we can be aware of, and learn form, previous mistakes, but so that we can build a picture of who we are and where we come from.

In today’s time-poor society people need relatively easy access to their history. What better way to provide this than by using the age-old vehicle of story? In order to capture and hold someone’s attention, however,  the story needs to be lively, believable and comprehensive. While staying true to the facts, the bare bones of the story, a little imagination must be applied to flesh out the skeleton and bring to life those important milestones in our history.

This is my job. Using thorough research and complete immersion in the life and times of my characters, I believe I do it! Wish me luck.

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