What is Truth in Fiction?

Assia Gutmann Wevill, the subject of my novel, 'Capriccio'image

Assia Gutmann Wevill, the subject of my novel, Capriccio: the Haunting of Sylvia Plath

What do readers look for from historical or biographical fiction? Is it the ‘truth’ in the form of accurately researched facts, or are they seeking  a deeper truth behind those facts? There are facts a-plenty in ‘Capriccio’, the result of ten years’ extensive research of the characters’ lives and works.However,   I have dug deeper into the realm of possibilities to create a story which, although largely following known truths, adds drama and colour to the lives of these real people.

The question of truth in fiction has been constantly in my mind throughout this novel’s long gestation. I first heard of Assia Wevill in the year 2000, when a newspaper article ‘Haunted by the Ghosts of Love’ came to my notice. It was written by Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren. Something about Assia’s story resonated with me, and for the next few years I read and researched everything I could about her role in the famous story of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath.

When Negev and Koren’s biography, ‘Lover of Unreason’, came out in 2006, I was at first devastated to know that others had got there before me, and abandoned all thought of writing my own book about Assia. Then I realised that what I wanted to write was not a ‘straight’ biography, but a re-creation of the lives of Assia, Ted and Sylvia during the turbulent years of their tragic triangle. This is not to say that Negev and Koren gave us only the bare bones of Assia’s story – far from it; they left no stone unturned, and I’m forever in their debt for revealing the many facts which have formed the ‘scafffolding’ for my novel.

As author of historical fiction,  Sulari Gentill, suggests,” bringing a  historical figure to life is often about juxtaposing the contradictions to reveal the small details and allow the reader to see to them as human beings. The “holes” in history, the blank spaces, are  where we spin our tales and create. We fill in those spaces with imaginative hypotheses, with stories that link separate historical facts with a fictional narrative.

By filling in the ‘holes’ left in the documented events of those years 1961 to 1969, using imagination to create dialogue, thoughts, dreams, journal entries and letters by the main characters, I hope to make their story live again.


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