Sylvia’s Last Letter

  What do you think Sylvia might have written in that last letter? Sylvia Plath’s last days have been well documented, again and again giving us the same facts in the various non-fiction biographies. We know she wrote a letter just before she died, and asked her downstairs neighbour for stamps.. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. […]

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What is Truth in Fiction?

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 […]

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FACT OR FICTION?

 The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes Teresa, writing about Janet Malcolm’s masterly non-fiction biography, ‘The Silent Woman,’ in the Blog ‘Shelf Love’, says: ‘It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience. How can one be sure of the truth?’ Janet Malcolm goes on to discuss the near impossibility of truth in biography–or in any nonfiction. Malcolm writes:  In a work of nonfiction we almost never know the truth of what happened. The ideal of unmediated reporting is regularly achieved only in fiction, where the writer faithfully reports on what is going on in his imagination….We must always take the novelist’s and the playwright’s and the poet’s word, just as we are almost always free to doubt the biographer’s or the autobiographer’s or the historian’s or the journalist’s. In imaginative literature we are constrained from considering alternative scenarios—there are none. This is the way it is  But is there a single, whole truth to tell? That’s the question that undergirds The Silent Woman, Malcolm’s book about the Plath legacy.The book is structured as a sort of memoir of Malcolm’s own journey as she […]

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Fact and Fiction Re-visited

Janet Malcolm, in her masterly work on the biographies of Plath, makes an interesting point about fiction having more ‘truth’ than non-fiction. It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience, each interpreting the facts differently or choosing which facts to reveal, with some having a stake in how the story is presented and understood. How can one be sure of the truth? What’s Fact, what’s Fiction? In ‘Capriccio’ I use the facts of Assia’s life as  a scaffolding on which to build the deeper truth of emotions, thoughts and conversations, using fiction. For example,  in my chapter entitled ‘Edge’, we know the facts are that Sylvia wrote a letter, and asked for stamps, on the night she took her life. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. My excerpt from that letter is invented, an imagined version of what she might have written on that last day. The fictional letter from Sylvia contains the things Assia might have read about herself. We also know that Assia was shocked to read the vituperative language Sylvia wrote about Assia and David in the […]

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