March 6th 2015
Remember that scene in Pixar's Toy Story, in which Buzz Lightyear and Woody fall into a Claw Vending Machine? Lightyear asks the green alien soft toys inside who's in charge, and they all in unison point up to "the Claw" their god who chooses who will go and who will stay. This scene haunts me, as well it should, because as the creators intended it begs the question if each one of us in our own way isn't living inside a bubble like this with a random god of our own making.
To those living in Christian cultures, this god is the one between the pages of their bible. But there is the one in the Torah, the one in the Qu'ran, the one in the Vedas, and of course the one of science. The god of science is "absolute fact," and we are all supposed to bow down before it. Science has its uses, of course, and mainly in the face of other sources claiming "absolute fact." You can measure "actual fact" against "actual fact" and science is the benchmark for that measure. But the world is full of a number of things, and facts are only one of them. The kind of enquiry into truth going on between the pages of sacred texts has nothing to do with "actual fact." The claim that it is, if Karen Armstrong is right in her book on Fundamentalism, is a relatively recent development.
So, what's my point?
I keep coming up against this notion of "fact" in my writing. I put a story in a setting and then feel bound by the actual geology of the place. I keep feeling hemmed in by "actual fact" when as a matter of fact, it plays almost as little role in literature as it does in religion. I have to keep reminding myself that the word fiction derives from the Latin verb fingere, to fashion or form out of clay.
Readers always want to know how much "fact" there is in an author's stories. They approach the question of epilepsy in mine with embarrassment, but they really want to know if I wrote about it because I suffer from it. No, I don't. Just for the record - I shaped it out of clay. And I haven't travelled back in time either. In my third book in the Veil of Time series, the action takes place in a parallel universe, which I have also not visited (though it doesn't sit uneasily with science as it departs these days from its narrative to propose Many Worlds Theory, looking more and more like the religious truth it loves to denigrate!)
We are all telling stories, creating our gods. So when you pick up your guitar, paint brush or pen, leave the facts of the matter behind. For this moment you get to play God. And if you're good at your art, you get to take the rest of us with you.