Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why fiction?

If you read yesterday's post you'll be aware of the amount of historical research that's gone in to writing The Glorious Dead - the story of the men who served King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel.

Several people have asked me why I didn't simply write the book as an historical record - pulling together the facts I'd uncovered and telling the 'real' story.

The answer is simple. First, and most remarkably, so much of what happened - in spite of happening just 100 years ago - is unclear. Even the facts of the Unknown Warrior are disputed. Some sources say six, some say four bodies were exhumed and transferred to St Pol for Brigadier General Wyatt to choose from. (You can read more about what happened here.)

Second, I wanted to really try to understand the lives of the men - the ordinary men, not the decision makers - who did this work, the work of finding and burying the dead, tending the graves, building the iconic war cemeteries. I wanted to explore their reasons, speculate on their emotions and get under their skin.

I also wanted to present these 'ordinary' men (doing an extraordinary thing) with all the psychological depth and insight traditionally given (in fiction) to the officer class. There are precious few examples of that in Great War literature. Plenty of Officers (Stephen Wraysford in Birdsong; George Sherston in Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man; even Billy Prior in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy is - though working class - an officer). Not so many men.

There’s an awful lot about the past we simply don’t know. There are an awful lot of stories - histories - hidden. So if we want to fully understand what happened, part of that understanding has to come from fiction. To engage with what these men did, we must use our imagination.

That's what I hope I have done in The Glorious Dead. To the memory of the men who served their King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel...

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