Truth is beauty: beauty is truth

When you write fiction it has to be the truth. That sounds like a classic paradox but it is not. I don't mean the story has to be an account of what actually happened at sometime to someone or some people. I mean, when the writer has put a realistically fictional character or characters into a realistically fictional made up situation, the character or characters have to behave, by which I mean respond, exactly as he or she or they could have done were they real. All fiction is worthwhile only in so far as it does this. Such behaviour (response) of course need not be the obvious or the logical. For better or worse we are all subject to our own special inbuilt eccentricities - and it is this, as a fact, that actually involves us as readers. We want to know, for better or for worse, how X got himself / herself out or it or not as the case may be, and this cannot be faked if the work is to be any good. If the guy is a bit of a bastard sometimes he has to behave as a bastard, whether or not he, our central character, disappoints us in the process. We cheer if he prevails / overcomes and we forgive him and want to cry about it if he fails because we all know his fallibility as well as we know our own carefully concealed fallibilities. And anyway we all know that shit happens.

Ernest Hemingway's letters often compare writing to fighting (boxing). He saw that there is no place to hide in the ring. It is all there for us to see. It is the naked, often bloody truth. The following passage comes from my award winning story Speaking of Champions, first published November last in my anthology of short fiction called Twenty Bites ... The viewpoint character is a lady lying paralysed and incommunicado, the victim of her illness but with mind intact and still in possession of her wonderful gift of total recall  ... once upon a time she had been a schoolteacher and wannabe writer, herself  ...



She scans the hard drive, stops it at that sixth form, remembers the special one with Janine Stone. She looks along the seven rows of faces. All different, all lovely with their looked after young lady hair stylings, some of them very pretty, some not, but each of them beautiful. And each one of them intent. Looking, watching, waiting for her, expecting the daily demonstration of their teacher’s famous total recall.

“All right, ladies, this is Virginia Woolf being Clarissa, that's Mrs Dalloway. Clarissa is here thinking of her home city of London. Are you ready?” Without reference to any printed page she begins the lengthy quotation about the hush then Big Ben striking the hour, irrevocable, and about leaden circles dissolving in the air, about what was there in people’s eyes, the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle…She takes another breath, hears a small cough, ‘Miss?’

Janine, the little red head in the front row. ‘Yes, Janine, you’d like to comment?’

‘Well, Mrs Morajani, I think that was beautiful, but I think your writing’s just as good.’ The sudden pale-skin blush.

You smile for the girl. ‘Oh, I don’t think you should compare my efforts with those of Virginia Woolf, Janine.’ Giggles in the classroom. Vision of Miss Woolf walking into the river, pockets of her drape-styled coat weighed down with rocks, the darkening of the day as the waters of the Ouse close over her head. ‘Girls. The wonderful thing is this: that we, all of us, we know what’s wonderful! And do remember this, Janine, creative art is not some kind of a competition.’

But Janine again, challenging, questioning, impressing herself as usual on her teacher and the rest of her class; “Yes, But when we did Hemingway, he wrote in one of his letters to William Faulkner that writing’s like fighting, didn’t he? He said there are losers and winners. He said, ‘Dr Tolstoi and Mr Dostoevsky were both better than both of us’. He said that, ‘Shakespeare was the all time champion,’ didn’t he?’
Truth is beauty. Beauty is truth.

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