The Amber Heart and Made Up Truth

The Amber Heart, all 130,000 words of it, is now finished and with my agent. I have come to think of it as 'The Great Polish Novel'. Great is right in one sense, at least. I printed it out, last night, and it would make a pretty efficient doorstop. It is loosely based on my own family history, but - of course - very much fictionalised. I've been thinking about this project and researching it for years. In fact, I've made previous attempts to write it, but this is the first time I've achieved something I'm really happy with, and my agent seems to like it too. This is the first of two planned novels. The sequel, called The Winged Hussar, is already under way. The story is almost impossibly romantic (in the best sense of that word, I hope!) But as ever, when working with factual material, the trick is to give yourself permission to move away from those facts, and shape it into a work of fiction: what that fine writer Bernard MacLaverty calls 'made up truth.'
As a writer, when you are working with beginning writers, they will sometimes say 'but it really happened like that' - whenever you query some aspect of a piece of fiction that doesn't quite seem to be working.
It is, I think, one of the first and hardest lessons you have to learn. When you are writing fiction, you are aiming for 'made up truth.' It has to be believable in the sense of being self consistent, in the sense that your readers will say 'yes, life is like that' or 'yes, people are like that' or 'yes, I believe in this world you have created for me.'
But 'it really happened' is no guarantee that your readers will suspend their disbelief. You are wooing them and winning them and drawing them in. Therefore, if you are writing fiction, and not biography, you have to give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to achieve that!

Firebrand by Gillian Philip

I've been reading the new novel by Gillian Philip - Firebrand. This is the first book in the Rebel Angels series of novels.  It is also the best and most exciting read you will have this year. Or - quite likely - next year as well. Go out and buy it now! This is, nominally, young adult fiction, but I suspect anyone from teens onwards will be captivated by it. I remember talking to Gillian about this book, the first of a series, some time ago, and thinking 'I'd buy that. I'd read it.' Well, here it is, and it surpasses all expectations. This is fantasy, but a world so fully and vividly realised, so self consistent, that you immediately enter it, believe in it, become involved with it. This is, of course, down to the quality of the writing, which is exceptional.
Firebrand is the tale of Seth, the young Sithe warrior, through whose eyes the story is visualised - flawed, deeply attractive, deeply likeable, utterly real. It is also a tale of two worlds, running side by side, and of what happens when the border between those two worlds begins to be compromised. Gillian has based the setting of this tale on old Celtic legends of the Sithe, the People of Peace, the fairy folk of old Scottish stories, with the result that there is an essential familiarity about all this. It doesn't feel 'made up' at all. It feels entirely and disturbingly real.
Coupled with that, of course, we are in the hands of a superb storyteller and a fine writer. The pace of this is mind blowing. Once you start reading, you won't want to stop. Once you get to the end, you'll want to read the next book in the series. Personally, I can't wait. And I'm more than honoured that Gillian used a quote from my play, The Secret Commonwealth, at the start of the novel.
Firebrand is published by Strident, one of the most exciting and innovative publishing houses in Scotland and is available from major bookshops including Waterstones, and online from Amazon.