Perhaps the most important thing in any writer’s arsenal is a sense of imagination; but how much creative license can we take when trying to convey facts? Four writers of different backgrounds got together to launch the first all-Australian edition of the Creative Nonfiction magazine and discuss this important question.
Lee Gutkind, Editor of Creative Nonfiction, is in a lot of ways an important mediator for the growing genre. A self-professed traditionalist, Gutkind emphasised the importance of being accurate in covering news-items and historical events, citing a range of disaster stories in which writers of journalism or memoirs have landed themselves in hot water due to fabrication, including Jonah Lehrer, who published fake Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine.
Israeli-Australian author Lee Kofman raised the postmodern notion of truth as infinitely contestable, relative to our own interpretations, and the tendency for “emotional truth” to resonate more in our minds than “factual truth”.
Robin Hemley, teacher of Non-fiction writing at the University of Iowa, argued that we are psychologically prone to delusion when relying on memory and imagination to create an account of something. However, he said, this shouldn’t be thought to undermine powerful and engaging writing. Whatever your beliefs on fact, fiction and truth, one message seemed clear: “if you want to be published,” said Gutkind, “you need to pay more attention to the facts”.