Wednesday, 7 July 2010

How important is realism?

Just back from a lovely holiday and returned to my reality with a bump. I went to visit Roundabout (the young people's homeless hostel where some of my book is set) and grilled one of the workers there about how things have changed since the time when I worked there. Fundamentally, sadly, homelessness affects people in just the same way now as it did ten years ago; however there were a few changes. One of the most interesting things that I learned is that they see much less heroin addiction these days and many more problems with the stronger versions of cannabis - including psychosis and mental health issues.

This has thrown me into turmoil slightly because Tag's heroin addiction is a fairly central aspect of the book. It makes me wonder if my book is less topical and less realistic as a result. Some of the things that happen in my story are certainly still plausible but they're not necessarily typical and it's got me questioning (again!) how important realism is and wondering why I've chosen to write such a difficult book in which accuracy feels important. Having worked with so many young people who have experienced homelessness and addiction, I feel quite a responsibility to tell their stories with sensitivity and truth, yet their experiences are very far removed from the life I've lived.

Sometimes when I've started going into detailed explanations of the benefit system or dealing with literacy issues, I've have feedback that it can sound a bit preachy and I can find myself moving away from telling the story but, on the other hand, readers need to understand the 'why' and 'how' of things in order to buy into the story and anything that's unrealistic will make them lose their faith in the narrative and the characters.

Basically it's made me realise that, even once I've got to the end of telling the story, I might need to do even more research to check for accuracy. Next time I think I'll write a fantasy book where I can invent the world in which my characters live.

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