Fact and fiction

One of the joys of writing fiction, so it seems to me, is doing the research so often necessitated by the subject. Even if you are writing about a time and place that are familiar, inevitably questions arise, and some answer must be found that will satisfy the most hawk-eyed editor and reader. These days the internet is a valuable resource - of  course not the only one, but still extremely handy for those very specific and often obscure questions which might otherwise take some time to answer.

My next novel has a medical background, something about which I am lamentably ignorant. I have always harboured an interest in medical matters even though I could never have pursued such a career: rubbish at science, clumsy, no good at sewing, and squeamish into the bargain. So researching it from a manageable distance is both engrossing and safe. My recent researches have taken me into worlds I could barely have imagined and I  am immersed and agog. One book I recently devoured was the extraordinary true account of a young man determined to become a surgeon. It starts during the First World War and finishes before the Second; it was first published in 1938, so I read it for background interest only, rather than for anything appropriate to my projected story. The vicissitudes of the author's career, the setbacks, privations, triumphs, disasters, determination and sheer punishing hard work made fascinating reading. However it was his concluding sentence that gave me most pause:
'I had learnt that no triumph and no defeat is final.'

His story made my petty frustrations and disappointments look quite pathetic, and I took his words as an encouragement to pursue one's goals no matter what: to maintain faith, to be resolute in the teeth of apparent failure and personal adversity, to use one's gifts for God's purposes.

So far, so good, if easier to proclaim than to execute!

But his dictum, however admirable, applies only to this life that we have been given. It has no bearing on the life that we, as Christians, hope for when this one is extinct. I know it's fruitless to speculate (even though it doesn't stop me wondering just what eternity will be like. Will there still be work to undertake, goals to chase after, development, progression? Or...what?)

Meanwhile I am trying to remain focused as well as faithful. Ours is the work, His is the increase. And there is still much learning to be done, if I am not to fall on my face over a verifiable fact. The story may be fiction, but the facts have to be right; and here I must acknowledge the inestimable value of a good editor.

How about you? Do you enjoy research? Do you perhaps, like some, enjoy it a bit too much, so that the actual beginning of the writing is endlessly deferred, and the book (or whatever it may be) never gets written? I'd love to know.

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has written five novels from a Christian viewpoint, available in the usual places. A sixth, 'A Vision of Locusts,' will be published by Instant Apostle in the autumn.


  1. Hi Sue, Yes, I have enjoyed the research around my New Zealand novel of the nineteenth century, although it was rather handed to me on a plate by a non fiction booklet compiled by a distant relative. Still, I have done my own as well and have really enjoyed doing it. And yes, there is always more to be done. How great that we have the privilege of our work reflecting just a little of our faith.

  2. Great post, Sue. I agree, the myriad different things we learn when researching are amazing. We can learn a lot about life, and ourselves, in the process.


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