Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Keeping it real in fiction by Carol Cooper, author of Hampstead Fever

I am delighted to welcome Carol Cooper to my blog today talking about keeping it real in fiction.  Carol's book Hampstead Fever was published by Hardwick Press on 1 July 2016.

Keeping it real in fiction:
making the facts serve the story
By Carol Cooper

One of the wonderful things about writing novels is the freedom to make things up. I’m so relishing this after decades of writing non-fiction in the form of journalism and books. During all this time, I shackled myself to the facts, sticking to things that could be proven and checking everything, even those medical truths that should be self-evident after nearly forty years of being a doctor.

My debut novel One Night at the Jacaranda changed all that.

It’s a liberating experience. Now I literally make it up as I go along.  Yes, the whole shooting match - both novels so far, the two new works in progress, and, I can safely say, every novel I will ever write.

There’s a socking big disclaimer at the front of my books:

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events in this work, other than those clearly in the public domain, are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Oh, I admit it was tempting, just for a moment, to immortalise some of my most colourful patients, but I didn’t. I've made up every single character, which should reassure anyone who knows me.

Do people believe me? Do they, heck! After reading my books, friends and relatives still give me sly glances followed by “So which one am I?” or “Who is this person based on?”

Every novelist I know gets the same reactions.

But it’s fiction, people! What’s not to get?

With novels, the author makes things up, like impossibly handsome heroes who like animals and are as good in the kitchen as they are in the bedroom.

On a less breath-taking level, if I want giraffes and penguins in London Zoo to be visible from my heroine’s fictional window, that’s what I will write, even though in reality this might require knocking down a few buildings (and damn good eyesight).

But some truths should not be tampered with.  I am perfectly happy for my characters to jump into bed with the wrong people, but they’d better catch the right bus home in the morning.

All the other real stuff, the material in the public domain, is factually correct too. So my latest novel Hampstead Fever places Flask Walk right in its natural home in Hampstead, while the lovely branches of Daunt Books are just where they are in real life. Down Rosslyn Hill you’ll also find the not-at-all fictional Hampstead Butcher and Providore, along with the prices that make it out of reach for Harriet, the struggling freelance journalist of my novel.

When my up-and-coming chef Dan got a new job at a trendy restaurant, there was no shortage of Hampstead eateries from which to choose. But, since he complains of poor pay and conditions, and mentions colleagues by name, it was safer to invent a bistro for him. Hence Lolo’s in Flask Walk, which only exists in my imagination.

Anxious mother Laure takes her son to toddler group, hoping to find the support she doesn’t get from her family. Alas, there she finds über-competitive parents who only fuel her worries. Do I mention the location of this group? Of course not. I make it up.

Inventing stuff means the freedom to say what you want. So when Dan has a radio interview, hoping this is the first step on the way to becoming a celebrity chef (it isn’t), I created a fictional presenter as a stand-in for the real late-night broadcaster. By the time I’d finished writing this scene, I too was convinced that Big Zach worked for the BBC.

Novels may invent a whole world within their books, but their creations need to appear authentic. Being authentic, as the Oxford dictionary puts it, means “Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”

And that’s not at all the same thing as being real, even if readers (and writers) sometimes get the two confused.

About Carol Cooper

Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author. She practises medicine in London, teaches medical students at Imperial College, and writes for The Sun newspaper. After a string of parenting books and an award-winning medical textbook, she turned to fiction. Her novels are all about thirty-somethings looking for love, and they’re laced with inside medical knowledge. She is president of the Guild of Health Writers.

Find out more about Carol on her blog, on Facebook and also on Twitter - @DrCarolCooper

About Hampstead Fever

Hampstead Fever
By Carol Cooper
Published in paperback by Hardwick Press (1 July 2016)
ISBN: 978-0995451407

Publisher's description
A heatwave brings emotions to boiling point…

It is high summer in London and trouble is brewing.

Chef Dan should be blissfully happy. He has the woman of his dreams and a job in a trendy Hampstead bistro. But his over-anxious partner, engrossed in their baby, has no time for him.

Stressed doctor Geoff finds solace in the arms of a mercurial actress. Journalist Harriet’s long-term relationship with Sanjay hits the buffers, leaving each of them with serious questions to answer. Meanwhile single mother of four Karen lacks the appetite for a suitable relationship.

Passion and panic rise in the heatwave. Who can spot the danger signs?

Buy Hampstead Fever from Amazon here
Also available from iBooks, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and UK Bookshops

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