Biography versus Fiction

Since my Harry Potter re-evaluation I have been reading all bar one of the books. This dose of fiction has been something of a welcome break as the last four or so books I have read have been biographies (Ian Kershaw’s ‘Hitler’ and Alison Weir’s ‘Elizabeth: The Queen’). However, as I need a break from Hogwarts I have reverted back to type and started to again read biographies.

First was Mary Kenny’s excellent “Germany Calling: A personal biography of William Joyce” and now it is Alison Weir’s “King and Court: Henry VIII”.

This is not intended to show off how erudite I may think I am but, to highlight a point. I want to be a writer, I think most people who blog do, or are one. So I should be concentrating on fiction. Learning through example the craft, pacing and all that other literary jazz. Why then, am I always drawn to the real?

For me, the biographies of the famous or infamous can illuminate the world we inhabit and reinforce the events of today. Obviously, fiction shines a light on the world and makes it seem different. But a well written biography can, in most cases, explain why people acted the way they did. This shines a light on the human condition. For me, good poetry and good fiction can do this. A biography is more pertinent and more accessible.

Maybe it is a lack of imagination on my part. I could be failing to see the Qudditch pitches and Quaffles as clearly as I see the battles and courts of times past.

Of course there is also the argument that says simply: read what you want to read and that will inspire the fiction and the poetry. Maybe a book such as Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” will combine the two perfectly. That is then, what I should read next. Her “Beyond Black” was great… but then, this can lead to the so-called realms of Historical Fiction and all of its pitfalls.

However, the deciding factor could well be whatever is on offer at Easons when I go in to buy a book.


About poetryinstasis

I am a long haired, infrequent blogger and Literature enthusiast. I also watch an unhealthy amount of Football (Soccer) and am the rarest of things as I support my local team. "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know the best" Frida Kahlo
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1 Response to Biography versus Fiction

  1. agatharuncibleforever says:

    This is an interesting one. It sounds like you’re talking about two separate things really – training to be a writer and literary guilt. There’s definitely a pervading sense that we should all be reading ‘literary fiction’ whatever that horrible phrase denotes – indulging only in the high-minded and high-brow elements of literature/reading/writing. And I don’t think biography – or indeed much non-fiction – comes under that heading. I think this is bollocks – you shouldn’t be dictated to by canon-formers and the Establishment. It’s the worst route to originality possible.

    Secondly in terms of needing to read fiction in order to be a writer, well I’m not sure on that count either. I think to be a writer you need to read good writing, and as wide a range as possible in terms of content, form and style. A keen reader and/or writer devours all types of writing; again I don’t think snobbishness is the path to great creations. I wouldn’t cut off your access to good sources of material because they’re not considered ‘worthy’. I also think that the whole concept of fiction needs a kick up the ass. I’m currently working on a memoirs that will be part fiction, part memories, part recording of facts. My writer friend came up with the term ‘creative non-fiction’. It stemmed from the fact that I had decided to write a fictional account of my grandmother’s life but remembered that I hate writing fiction longer than a short story. So I suppose what I’m really say is, that your engagement with non-fiction could lead potentially to more creative avenues that you’re currently giving it credit for. Maybe this is something for you to explore?

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