Chris Gardner

The joys of self-publishing.

Sorting Fact from Fiction


Does anyone else get a bit annoyed when they’re reading a book which purports to be non-fiction but is clearly riddled with fiction elements–the way people are feeling, for example, or what they were thinking about? It’s possible, if the writer is using diary entries, to stick to the facts and still include such details, but generally they must be invented. I don’t object to that style of writing at all–it makes the characters seem more real and makes the book more interesting, but I do like to know what is fact and what is fiction.

One of my all-time favourite genres is historical fiction–I’ve always been fascinated with history but even more so when it’s interpreted by a great writer. Some writers do let the reader know at the end of the story just what’s real and what isn’t and that’s what I did in my historical fiction, “Her Flesh and Blood”. BookCoverImageher fleshandblood

I attended university a few years ago as a mature age student, majoring in history. I loved it, especially the research, which I expected to find horribly boring. I admit some of the books were, but the primary research was absolutely fascinating. Reading newspapers over 100 years old and handling original letters written by a murderess before she committed her crimes, in 1910, I felt incredibly privileged! I wrote my Honours thesis on Infanticide and Child Murder; as I said, the research was amazing, but writing within the boundaries of a university thesis was a hard slog.

After I graduated I felt I had to use the material I hadn’t been able to use for my thesis, that the story needed to be told, and I wrote “Not Guilty“, the story of the worst of the cases I studied, which, coincidentally, took place in the town where I live. This is a true account and the newspaper accounts are very creative but, as a writer with a fiction background, I was frustrated by what, in spite of all my research, I could not find out about my protagonist, Camellia McCluskey, so I not guilty 2014 coverblogdecided to give her a life of her own and wrote a fictionalized account. Having been somewhat obsessed with this horrific crime for several years it was a bit like an exorcism when I wrote “Her Flesh and Blood“. I was able to say what I wanted to, without the restrictions and I made sure I noted at the end of the book what was factual and what wasn’t! I also published my original thesis, “Demented Mothers“, on Amazon, for those who like all the facts and the sources and especially for anyone who might be studying the topic.

It’s the last day of 2014 here in Oz–Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s hope it’s peaceful.

My grammar guide, “What Did You Say?” and my children’s book, “No-one’s Good at Everything“, are free from December 31 to January 2.


Author: cmsgardnerblog

I'm a writer of fiction and non-fiction, for teens and adults. I live in Central Victoria, Australia and my books are available at

5 thoughts on “Sorting Fact from Fiction

  1. It nags at me when nonfiction includes details that could not be known, like feelings at a moment when no plausible record of the feeling could exist. I think nonfiction writers can approach that closely enough, though, by doing things like (say) reporting what the weather is like in the location today in conditions similar to those of the event, or if they want to establish a person’s thoughts, reviewing what things were plausibly in their mind and what their priorities seem likely to have been.

    Since someone pointed it out to me the quirk of “Surely he could not have imagined that in two years he would see this city as a nest of enemies” (or the like) has gotten to be mildly annoying.

  2. I think it’s tricky. Maybe you can say something like ‘He must have thought it strange that . . . ‘ but I don’t think you can say ‘He thought it strange that . . .’ You can perhaps imply what he may have been thinking but I’d argue it’s not really non-fiction. The weather is probably safe enough but if you are using actual dates you’d need to make sure the weather is correct for those dates.

  3. I just read ‘Not Guilty’ on the weekend, after stumbling across the case while doing some family research.
    I was very happy, and amazed to find that a book had been written on something I was attempting to do my own research on.
    It was a great read, and I finished it in one sitting.
    I’ve drawn my own conclusions about the characters involved, though I feel they may be similar to yours. Well done, a very well written novel, on a very intriguing case.

    • That’s good to hear Luke, thanks. If you’re still going to research it there’s a lot of material available at the Vic Public Records Office and the State Library. Fascinating. I also paid a visit to Abbotsford Convent, where Camillia spent a few months, and Bendigo Gaol as well. I admit I was slightly obsessed with the whole thing!

      Any chance you could repeat yourself in an Amazon review?

    • It just dawned on me, Luke, that you mentioned family history. Are you related to ‘George’? I actually met his granddaughter which is why I haven’t used his actual name in the book.

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