Fact and Fiction by Kate Hewitt
Fiction may be made up of imaginary events and people, but for Kate Hewitt, the personal often finds its way into the plotline.
Five years ago I left the bright lights of Manhattan for the pastoral, if rainy, climes of Cumbria, in the northwest corner of England. The move was precipitated by my husband accepting a position at a boarding school and church in the area, and as a family of six we looked forward to living in a small community as well as enjoying the enormous Georgian house instead of a poky apartment. For the first time all my children had their own bedroom! We were a quarter of a mile from the sea and there were horses in the field next door. Paradise. There was also, I discovered to my dismay, no Starbucks within 50 miles.
Many people commented on how strange and unsettling this move must have been, and it certainly was at first. I remember lying in bed thinking how silent it was. I wrote in one of my novels about silence ‘ringing’ in your ears, and my editor questioned the word choice, since silence can’t, by definition, make noise. But trust me, it can. Lying there in complete and eerie silence, I certainly felt as if my ears were ringing with it; they practically hurt. I longed for just a little bit of noise—and I got it the next night when the wind picked up, as it would on a regular basis, and howled outside, making me wonder quite legitimately if the windows would blow in.
A couple of months into our move, I thought of an idea for a book—the premise being a New Yorker moving to Cumbria. Art imitating life, of course—it happens all the time. And while that novel, The Vicar’s Wife, was fiction, the details, from the wind rattling the windowpanes to a stilted conversation with someone who had an incomprehensible local accent—were grounded in reality. The main character in the book is exceedingly homesick for New York—for the buzz of the city, the importance she felt as a career woman, and yes, Starbucks. After reading it, locals asked me if I’d been that homesick at first, and I could emphatically say no. It took me awhile to realize why—because Jane, the character, was. In a sense I transferred a lot of my feelings, my homesickness and my uncertainty about this huge move, onto her. Writing as therapy! Trust me, it works—and it adds a depth of emotion and realism to your writing. (At least I think so!)
I think it is almost impossible for writers not to do this. Whatever I’m feeling, struggling with, wondering about—it somehow finds its way into my writing. Sometimes in very subtle ways, sometimes not so subtle. I recently completed my third book in the Hartley-by-the-Sea series, also set in Cumbria, and in it a character grieves the death of her father that happened many years ago in childhood. I wasn’t expecting that to be part of the book, but as it happened my beloved father died in December, and I found I couldn’t keep from writing about it as it was so present in my heart and mind. And I do think it adds to the book, and gives that particular character a lot more depth and emotional resonance.
Fiction is fiction and not autobiography, so while these emotional truths (hopefully!) shine through my writing, the plot points and character development are completely up for grabs. Many people have trouble understanding that—while I relate to Jane of The Vicar’s Wife, for example, I am not Jane, and all her experiences and feelings are not mine. But even I can have trouble separating fact from fiction—sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been feeling something until I’ve written about it!
Kate Hewitt was born in Pennsylvania, went to college in Vermont, and has spent summers in the Canadian wilderness. After several years as a diehard New Yorker, she now lives in the lovely Cotswolds in England with her husband, five young children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever. You can follow her musings on village life at her blog, http://www.acumbrianlife.blogspot.co.uk.
Now and Then Friends, the second book in Kate’s Hartley-by-the-Sea series, is available now. You can learn more about it here.
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