Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pants on fire

I  responded to a post on FaceBook. What's the novelty in that, you might ask. True - we respond to stuff we see all the time.

This time, it was a statement by my good friend and collegue Duncan Long  - illustrator and author par excellence. This is what he wrote:

Every successful novelist
must first be a good liar.

Pic courtesy
This of course set me thinking and writing. But let's face it, how long and hard does one think when one taps off a response on Facebook? Not terribly long at all. This was my response:

It's not lies we tell, strictly speaking, although tradition has it that it's what we do. We invent, create, and build a whole world on top of a fabrication. How thin, or how implausible, that fabrication is largely instils in the reader the necessity to suspend disbelief. If, however, the fabrication is so strong and feasible that debate is taken up among readers, or real-world belief becomes attached to the tale, it constructs around that author the ability to "pull the wool over readers' eyes" and when the obvious revelation is made that it's fiction (duh!) the easy decision is made to dub the author a liar. This happens with authors who use gaps, loopholes, and mysteries in history to devise a rollicking story ... it's my genre, so I think I know of which I speak. As long as the reader sits back and breathes in awe, "Wow - what a lie. What a great liar!" I do not mind being called that one bit.

Then I stopped to think again. How many authors truly sit and think of the "lies" around which they build their fiction? How many - like me - latch onto some gap in history, and use the spak-filla of words to create a tale for readers' edification and entertainment?

If you are an author, tell me whether how you build stories feels like lying.

If you are a reader, tell me whether you regard authors as being great liars.

And then look at my novels, especially, to see how I love to find a bit of a blank in history or literature, or art, or music, and insert into it a story worth telling. And worth reading. Many have done it before me, and perhaps better. AS Byatt, Hugh AshtonMeredith Whitford, Anna Jacobs, Mel Starr, Brian Kavanagh,  and other authors do this regularly. And how can we not love what they do?


  1. Rosanne:

    Thanks for the kind words. Possibly the lie told in story eventually comes full circle, bringing a greater truth to the reader that lives somewhere in our soul and perhaps will even heal a few tears in the heart. Keep up the good work!

  2. An important topic, Rosanne. For me, as a writer of historical fiction, truth is not the same as accuracy. I need to be true to myself and to my characters and to my readers. That's the truth that enlightens and heals. I think I'm agreeing with Duncan.

  3. Ah! Taking another tack on the meaning of "good liar". How we must watch our nuances and meanings, indeed, Stephen.

  4. Thank you for mentioning me, Rosanne. I always enjoy your blogs. You're a very 'thinking'sort of person. I like to take a real historical background and insert my characters into it. 'The Trader's Gift', my July 4 book (how kind of the USA to celebrate publication day for me) is set in 1871, during and after the two-month journey from the UK to Western Australia, via the recently opened Suez Canal. I never feel I'm telling 'lies' just creating a new world out of the old.

  5. Not lies, Rosanne, legitimate tale weaving. I'm scrupulous about accuracy in writing historical fiction - the reader expects no less. But she is looking for a good story based upon fact. Only someone as manic as David Starkey is going to scream liar, as he so often does to writers such as Philippa Gregory.

    Frances Burke

  6. A most interesting post, Rosanne. I never think of myself as a liar when I'm writing, simply a story teller. What I look for as a reader is a writer who can create an imaginary world so well it is real enough to leave me with a sense of loss when I turn the last page. I see that not as lying, but a wonderful gift that can bring pleasure to any number of people.

  7. Actually, fiction can be truer than life: a distillation of what passes us by when we are doing the usual sleepwalking most people spend their time doing.
    For example, many people unthinkingly engage in workplace politics and backstabbing. When a good novelist focuses in on this, it can expose the whole process and, hopefully sugar-coated in an exciting plot, expose a social evil.

  8. Your traffic feed is lying! It says I'm in Arnold, Missouri. I'm not!

    Writing fiction is a fabrication...lying is a fabrication.... Okay, it's a technicality....

  9. An interesting topic, Rosanne. I don't think of my fiction as lies. I'm a story teller and I hope through my stories to entertain and maybe make my readers think about some issue I believe to be important but that is secondary. The story always comes first.