I’m not happy with the non-fiction genre tag.
I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that didn’t have a certain shaping to it.
Not even a brief but instructive spell as a BBC online journalist helped me lose a basic mistrust of ‘objectivity’.
I don’t mean with names and dates, which even the worst of journalists should acknowledge.
It just seems hard to ignore that it’s the lines of text bouncing between facts that get the attention. They make those facts go somewhere.
But you have to be disciplined. As biographer, Richard Holmes says: “If you are only a scholar your story will be dead, but if you are only a storyteller then it will be ludicrous.”
Richard Holmes taught me at the University of East Anglia when I was studying for an MA in Life Writing. Richard, and Kathryn Hughes provided the necessary rigour, passion, and encouragement to write biography.
Poets are good to write about. As George Barker wrote to friend and poet Oliver Bernard:
Your personal affairs as I see them are in no real way distinguished from your poetic affairs for the personal affairs of the poet… are the poetry. What else could it possibly be? It is why poets have such very STRANGE personal affairs.”
After Life Writing, I flirted briefly with creative nonfiction as another way of facing down facts.
“Saving Grace”- a biographical short on the Victorian heroine Grace Darling- was published in the UEA anthology Concertina, 2004.