Nonfiction is defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. Fiction is not called “nonfact.” Is this because we regard fiction as the essence, or ideal, of literature? Does it resonate more with us because we innately understand it as more “real” than “true stories”?
Authors are, with few exceptions, worthless scum. But, knowing that, even I was flaggergasted recently when I picked up a collection of stories by Chekhov, with an introduction by Richard Ford, and found the book had a biography of Ford... but not of Chekhov.
One of the few exceptions to the rule of authorial narcissism is the Icelandic novelist and poet Sjon, who, as editor of the Nordic writing anthology Dark Blue Winter Overcoat, didn't include any of his own work.
I first read this novel two years ago, and thought it one of the best I'd read in the last decade. Last year, I went to Reykjavik, where it's set, to get married, and it turned out to be my favourite city I've ever visited. That love of Iceland, and the awfulness of COVID-19, made me decide to reread it recently, and I liked it even better the second time.
It's set in 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic. The protagonist is an orphaned teenage boy who lives with an elderly relative, sells sex to local men and visiting sailors, and has two obsessions: cinema, and a local girl. Then the virus arrives and spreads through the cinema crowds.
This is a short novel that tells a huge story of loneliness, class, secrets, love and friendship. It's grim and beautiful, and a book for the present time.
Holding Back the Dawn is a short film from 2001, from a script by me based on a short story in my 1992 collection Get Out As Early As You Can. Shot in Phoenix, Arizona, it was directed by MV Moorhead, who also plays Tom. It depicts the last night of a relationship, and the game of psychological cat-and-mouse between Tom and Kate, who plans to leave him in the morning.
“Write what you know” is a maxim preached to aspiring writers.
I get emails from single fathers who tell me The Book of Man captured their experience. I have no children. I get emails from people who’ve been hospitalised for depression saying the same thing about the same book. I have never been depressed, and when I wrote that book I had never been hospitalised.