Fact or fiction?

The first draft of Alan McCluskey’s novel The Boy in the Book is complete. Read more, including an extract from the book.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I’ve just finished the first draft of my latest novel, The Boy in the Book. My 18th novel, this one amounting to over 110,000 words in 52 chapters. As I reached the end, my writing accelerated, with me struggling to keep up as I was compelled to write over a chapter a day. When I finally looked up from the finished draft, as if emerging from a dream, I was startled and delighted to peer out at the world and see snow falling heavily in giant wind-borne flakes.

It is strange how my writing has evolved. The stories of my first novels seemed to flow unabated as I wrote them. I couldn’t have stopped them, even if I’d wanted to. Now the stories are more hesitant, moving forward in fits and starts as I double back weaving in new threads or elaborating those left undeveloped. Or I listen out for the words and phrases that put themselves forward as better options. Words and language have become cherished friends.

Here’s a short, more philosophical extract from The Boy in the Book in which young Bea, our teenage heroine in a momentary pause in the action, talks to a university professor about the distinction between fact and fiction.

Extract: The Boy in the Book

Bea was still grappling with Priscilla’s ideas when Manuela called them, saying tea was ready. “Surely the distinction between fact and fiction is capital?” Bea finally said. “Don’t we battle against the trumped up rubbish that politicians dish up every day? Don’t we seek to know if the story a neighbour tells about the escapades of the woman across the street is true? Don’t we trust science because the results of its experiments have been rigorously verified?”

“True,” Priscilla said, settling in her armchair. “But traces of unverified stories contaminate every fact we take for granted. Your scientist, for example. Have not his expectations influenced the outcome of his experiments? You yourself spoke of the impact of the observer in quantum mechanics. What’s more, the man’s expectations are based on ‘stories’ he tells himself about the world, stories that go unquestioned, including about science and how it works. Are those ‘stories’ not reality embroidered with very unscientific threads of imagination? Or that neighbour you mentioned. She knows what she saw. There can be no doubt. But what of her expectations, her understanding of the world? Can it be trusted? Or is what she knows to be fact not based on a worldview that is run though with her own personal fictions? People are telling themselves tales all the time. It’s how we make sense of the world. Yet we are mostly unaware we are doing it. Unadulterated fact doesn’t exist. It is always shot through with fiction.”

Find out more about The Boy in the Book

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