A few months ago I was talking about my reading to a friend who’d just published his first e-book. I thought he might enjoy Belonging which, I said, features aspects of recent Indian history that appear in fiction less often than Partition, the backdrop to Where the River Parts. Oh, I was there, said my friend – or more eloquent words to that effect. You were there during Partition? quoth I. You should write about it!
I’m not someone who goes out armed with a notebook and pencil, ready to snatch snippets of dialogue from an innocent public. It’s not so much, that like Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, I’ve had people challenge the real-life stuff as unbelievable, or that I’d draw the line at stealing for the sake of my art.
It’s not even that, with repetitive strain injury, I’m one of those writers who (physically) doesn’t write if she can help it. It’s more that, as my head’s already crammed with other people’s stories, I tend not to go searching for more. But sometimes a story is offered to me on a plate (if you read the story, you’ll see how apt is the cliché), and I feel I’ve no choice but to take it, which is exactly what’s happened with Peace-and-Quiet Pancake, just published on the website Flash Fiction Online.
I'm always pleased when my work finds a good home, but this feels extra special because I’m actually being paid for it (very rare for short stories on the web). Now, this post is about ethics, but I'm not asking you to advise me on whether to declare this small amount of income on my tax return. (I'm not at all ambivalent about paying tax, just what it's spent on.) My discomfort relates to whether the story is genuinely mine to sell.
Don't get me wrong. I wrote the words and assembled them in the right order. I devised the plot and structure, such as it is. But the content, the central event isn't entirely fictional and, what's more, while I was present as it happened, it didn't happen to me. So in a sense, it's the little girl's story not mine.
Do other writers worry about things like this?
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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