FACTION (fictionalising real events)
My guest tonight is the author of nine murder mysteries and numerous other books in a variety of genres, ranging from horror to comedy. His output is prolific, though his latest book The Dark Secret, a follow up to the successful Handshaker, took two years to complete... and he’s still not totally happy with it!
To my mind David Robinson’s horror and psychological suspense books are on a par with the late James Herbert at his best, but tonight I’m going to be talking to him about the use of FACTION, or the adaption of factual events into a fictional story.
I have to admit, David, that most of my books adapt History to some extent, perhaps because my imagination isn’t that good, but what was the first time you used it in one of your books?
To be honest, Richard, I think this is the first time. Like any other novelist, I slot real events into a story in an effort to anchor the tale in reality. It might be a reference to economic or political news, or even a football match. Voices, has several such references. Chris Deacon often refers to his Labour background and his dissatisfaction with New Labour, and his wife, Jan, follows Manchester United at their peak. It gives substance to the characters and the era.
The Deep Secret, however, was different. The catalyst for The Handshaker was a real crime which took place in Germany, in 1927, and the hypnotist’s abuse of his victim carried on for seven years. It’s a strange case, with so many aspects left unexplained. When I originally conceived the idea of The Handshaker, I wrote to the German embassy in London and they put me in touch with The University of Heidelberg.
Neither authority had any record of the crime, the subsequent trial, nor the criminal’s imprisonment. And yet, I have an account from a respected Swiss psychiatrist, Heinze E Hammerschlag, first written after the war. My copy of his book Hypnotism and Crime is a first English edition, published in 1956. There are many references to the case in other works, but all rely upon Hammerchlag’s account.
When I began work on The Deep Secret, it occurred to me that I needed to explain the secret’s history and that meant detailing the Heidelberg Case (as it became known).
I was left with many questions, but the most important was: Why is there no history of this man and his crime? When I thought about it, it was obvious. Franz Walter was tried and sentenced in 1936, when the Nazis were at the peak of their power. Think about this. Coming up to war, would a hypnotist with such extraordinary power be more use to the Abwehr, German Intelligence and Counter Intelligence, than left to rot in prison? So I began to adapt the German war effort to account for this missing information.
My faction didn’t end in Germany, either. When I was researching the subject, I found almost no information on the discrimination against German POWs who stayed in Great Britain after WW2. There is an account of Manchester City fans expressing their anger at Bert Trautmann, but he soon won them over with his goalkeeping skills.
There are, however, tales of discrimination against Germans after WWI, and I reasoned there must have been some after 1945, too, so again, I had to tinker with conventional accounts to demonstrate it.
Some say that taking an event that’s already happened and using it as the basis of a book is a cop-out and to a large extent a short-cut. How do you feel?
Having done it, I couldn’t disagree more. Indeed, it would have been a lot easier for me if I’d dreamed up the whole thing, and placed the 1920s case in some fictional country. You know me and my work, Richard. I can turn out a 50,000 word STAC Mystery in a little under three months. Why? Because I don’t have that much research to do. They’re set in the here and now, and in locations I know well. Writing The Deep Secret took months of research into pre-war Germany and post war Britain. If I had not needed that research, I could probably have written in in six months instead of the two years it took.
I recently bought my wife a boxed set of The Tudors, TV series. Michael Hirst, the creator, is a historian, and on the bonus disc, he talks frankly about the historical inaccuracies in the series. His idea was not to recreate the court of Henry VII, but to write a drama, based on the period. We all know that real life is very boring, and in order to create drama Michael Hirst needed an in-depth knowledge of the period, and then he had to play with it. It’s no cop out. It is seriously hard work, and having done something similar, albeit on a much smaller scale, I can suspend my irritation at the liberties he’s taken with history
To my mind there are three uses of FACTION. 1) Setting your story in a particular country, during a precise historic date and factual event. 2) Doing the same as 1, but allowing your characters to tweak history. 3) Allowing your characters to react with pivotal people in history events. Which of these have you used as a device, David, and which will use in future novels?
The Deep Secret uses #1. And will I use it again? Not if I have anything to do with it LOL. But even as I say that, I’m working on a third novel in the series, the final one (but not necessarily the last one to star Felix Croft and Millie Matthews) and this time, I’ll be hinting at the Cold War. I can’t tell you any more than that for the simple reason that the project has only just begun and on past form, it’ll be at least another year before it’s complete.
Thanks for your input, David, and good luck with The Deep Secret the sequel to Handshaker.
The Handshaker is available from Amazon on: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00B1FLYXK
David's excellent website is: http://www.dwrob.com
The Deep Secret Launch Event on Facebook is on October 25th: https://www.facebook.com/events/212542592248132/ You're welcome to join in.