Why I stopped writing fiction for more than a decade

James Garside
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SilencePhoto by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth

I wrote a short story called Vocal. I released it as fiction but it was based on real events.

It’s basically a true account of what happened when I confronted my uncle who sexually abused me as a child.

It was written more than 20 years ago, soon after I first confronted him — as best as I could manage from memory.

I was on a Writer Development Programme. We were meant to workshop our work every time we met so I took it to the group.

One person knew it was a true story but I presented it to the group as fiction. It was fiction as far as I was concerned because even the truest and most accurate account you can manage is an embellishment the moment you set it into words.

History is fiction. Reality is fiction. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.

As Muriel Rukeyser said: “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

I didn’t want sympathy from people or to talk about the real events that took place. I just wanted them to respond to it as a piece of writing.

I thought that this would help me to gain emotional distance from it, so that I could move on, but that’s not how things worked out.

They slated it. Or at least that’s how it felt at the time even if people weren’t trying to be cruel.

They commented on how unconvincing the dialogue was, that it wasn’t very good, that it was very rough and badly written, and so on.

I stopped writing soon after that.

I later wrote a poem called Acceptance Speech that didn’t fare any better. It was a fanciful attempt to articulate my loss of voice and take stock of who I was. It was written, you guessed it, as an acceptance speech. People were not amused. Nor did they think it counted as poetry.

So I can’t write fiction, I can’t write poetry, and even the unvarnished truth seems hackneyed. No wonder I eventually trained as a journalist.

You have to speak out. You have to say what is in you to say. If you don’t it will kill you.

It’s taken a long time for me to admit this — to myself as well as others.

I often feel like I’m screaming from the bottom of a well and can’t escape. People around the well are having a party — they can hear and understand me but don’t care enough to respond.

No doubt there’s probably a bunch of reasons why I stopped writing fiction. In my head this is one of them.

Maybe it isn’t the real reason why I stopped writing; I just think that it is in retrospect.

Maybe two nervous breakdowns, drug and alcohol abuse, panic attacks and suicidal depression had something to do with it.

Sometimes the truth cuts a little too close to the bone. Isn’t that what it’s for?

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NCTJ-qualified British independent journalist, author and travel writer.

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