Where I’m Writing From: real and fictional worlds

By Brianna Goldberg

When a book really means something to a reader, there’s always that sense of sadness after turning the final page. The characters and places with whom you’ve spent so many hours, all gone. And if the process of leaving a fictional world is so heart-wrenching for the reader—well, imagine being the author that created that world in the first place!

© readings.org

One of yesterday’s IFOA round table discussions, Where I’m Writing From, asked writers whose works hinge on the overwhelming real-ness of an environment to share their approaches to creation of place and setting.

The Sunday morning event was moderated by National Post style editor Nathalie Atkinson and brought together authors whose works exist in vastly diverse fictional worlds:

Joanne Harris, a UK writer known for her acclaimed novels including Five Quarters of the Orange and Chocolat—yes, the one turned into a film with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche—spoke of the tastes and smells from the contemporary French village in her most recent work, Peaches for Monsieur le Cure; American author Amor Towles elaborated on the jazz music intricacies of 1930s New York explored in his debut novel, Rules of Civility; and Iranian author Anita Amirrezvani described her fictionalized account of a historically real 16th century Iranian court in her latest novel Equal of the Sun.

Though the specifics of each of the authors imagined worlds were so different, the round table’s lively discussion revealed that their challenges with growing fictional worlds were shared. The most pressing issue all three noted was the sticky question of authenticity versus period-specific accuracy.

Towles explained his reluctance to immerse himself into too much applied research on 1930s New York, as he was suspicious of its effect on him and the story, fearing too many references to specific cultural items would make the story seem less real. Amirrezvani agreed, noting that although she amassed an extensive bibliography for her historical novel, readers aren’t interested in her research—if they wanted facts, they would read the research themselves.

Harris, meanwhile, faced the problem of authenticity from a different side, as her novels introduce magical elements into otherwise realistic contemporary landscapes. “People are more likely to believe in magic in fiction,” she said. “But I sit in my shed and make marks on paper, and someone across the world buys chocolate because of it? That is magic.”

Find out more about Goldberg on her website, or follow her on Twitter @b_goldberg. For more IFOA event listings, visit readings.org.
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