FROM FACT TO FICTION
With the launch of the
explicit and idiosyncratic crime-thriller, A Last Act of Charity, editor and technical
writer Frank Westworth makes the change from writing fact to fiction. Not, it
transpires, that there’s a vast amount of difference between the two in his
‘The naked, hairless woman
stared hard at the broken, bloodied man, wondering whether he was alive,
conscious, and if so what he made of the sight he saw. He blinked again, just
the right eye, and from that eye there rolled a tear. Just one.’
When a scribbler who’s
been scribbling for decades in what is humorously known as the ‘non-fiction’
world decides to write fiction instead, what happens? I’ll tell you what
happens; suddenly that scribbler is unable to avoid the sad recognition that a
scary proportion of his ‘non-fiction’ is infact entirely fiction. And that
proportion steadily increases.
It surely is a good idea
for a wannabee fictional author (take that as you will) to try out their
creative scribbly skills on a real, live, genuine audience. And of course a
successful magazine journalist already has a real, live genuine audience, an
audience he knows are prepared to hand over their heard-earned in exchange for
his jottings. Because they do that. They do that every month, often more than
once, and the scribbler knows this because his scribbly outpourings support his
jolly lifestyle, buy him mainly black motorcycles, mainly red guitars and
ensure that a profoundly black cat need not catch mice to survive. So, reasons
journalist, how will the audience react to great attempts at added creativity
in the technical magazines they pay to read?
Which produces an
opportunity to try out some enjoyably bonkers writing. Any magazine scribbler
reading this should try it at once – if they’re not doing it already under the
table, as it were.
The first opportunity to
flail the creative approach at a mundane topic arrived while gazing limply at
the wordy-gurdy screen and pondering how to write an event report. An event report,
in case you’re in delightful ignorance of such things, is exactly what it
sounds like. One thousand or whatever words reporting on an event. Such is
the challenge of a non-fiction author’s
world. So, instead of the expected routine, the reader received an almost
entirely genuine series of conversations between an increasingly bizarre set of
characters – and it should come as no surprise when I reveal that many of the
characters who attend events featuring rows and rows and rows of old
motorcycles on display are themselves pretty unusual.
The story went down a
storm, as they say.
So there was a lesson.
It’s not necessary to invent strange and unusual characters to populate a
fictional world; the real world is full of them. The trick lies in recognising
that strangeness, focusing on it and stripping away all the tedious nonsense
like where they live, what they do when they’re not being insane, where they
shop, which socks they wear and the colour of their furniture. So why do so
many fictional authors describe the mundanities of their characters’ lives? I
have no idea. I stop reading them as soon as they do. I want authors to provide
entertainment which is better than watching reality TV. That’s what I want to
So the hypothetical
successful magazine journalist under discussion (you get no prizes for spotting
who I’m talking about here) starts to write a story. He tries very hard to
write a novel. His magazine features are already infamous among their
readership for being quirky, odd, personal, provocative and even eccentric. So
why are the first 10,000, 20,000 words of fiction, where eccentricity and
oddness are the purpose rather than simply a sideshow; why are they so dull?
Because it’s easy to generate a snappy thousand words about a tiny subject in
which your scribbler is already a noted expert; it is entirely not easy to tell
lies in print. You know this already because you were here before me, I bet.
The answer is simple.
Stop telling lies and tell the truth instead. Tell the truth – in a sense at
least – and tell anyone interested that it’s all fiction. Instead of telling
lies and pretending it to be truth, stand on your head and do the opposite.
That was a blinding moment…
…actually, it wasn’t. It
was a gloriously silly moment. I looked at several of the people I know and
others I knew before in different contexts and times of life, and stripped bits
of them away from the whole, mingled those strips together with strips ripped
from other acquaintances and constructed characters who are at the same time
wholly real and wholly fictitious. Then brought them together to see how they get
on. And then put them in surreal situations, like a murder, where they might be
a participant in some way. How would these composite but almost real characters
react? Would they whip out their iPhones and take pics of the body for
Facebook, to be shared alongside pleasing images of their cats? Or would they
become fascinated by the coagulative qualities of blood on cheap carpets?
And then quite suddenly
RealLife demands that this plainly fictitious scribbler returns to writing
about old men and their obsessions with worn out and scabrous motorcycles. One
of them approaches me as I stare in bewilderment at his immaculate 1962 Triumph
‘You look miles away,’
‘I was just wondering
whether you’re a crazed axe murderer,’ I wilt, endearingly. He laughs anyway.
‘No. Detective Chief
Inspector. Before I retired…’
‘Many murders?’ Before I
could stop it, out it slipped. His eyes half-closed and he stared, scratching
gently at his T-shirt, rumpling its ‘If Moses Rides A Triumph, God Rides A
‘Not today,’ he smiled.
‘But there’s still time.’
A LAST ACT OF CHARITY by
Frank Westworth is published by Book Guild in September 2014.
Stoner once killed people: for the military, as a mercenary, for a living.
Highly-trained, finely-honed and used hard, Stoner now seeks not to kill as he
investigates underworld activities for the intelligence agencies, an entirely
deniable operative in sleazy situations. Less the blunt instrument, more the
series of brutal, blood-soaked murders look to be right up Stoner’s street.
When the investigation spirals in queasy circles, JJ seeks release in blues
music and weird sex with treacherous women. An old army comrade, equally
lethal, steps out of the shadows. Is he friend or foe? And who are the
seductive killing sisters?
Find out in A LAST ACT
OF CHARITY • ISBN 978-1-909984-42-4 www.murdermayhemandmore.net