Fact and Fiction


Stories do not exist to tell fact, but to convey the truth – David Shenk

Lots of people ask me  how much is true in Above All Things – truth, fact, fiction, these are a novelist’s stock in trade and the answer is more difficult than people might expect.  There are the facts of the Mallory and Irvine story, there are the facts that I have borrowed from my own life and there are truths that to me are bigger than facts.

A novelist has a very different role than an historian – but when a novelist delves into the historical the roles begin to bleed and it becomes important to ask – how accurate does a novelist have to be? That’s a question I thought about long and hard while writing Above All Things, and continue to think on as I work on my next projects – both of which owe their inspiration to public figures and historical events.  It’s a tension that fascinates me, that blurry line between fact and fiction. A slippery line to hold on to even in recounting a “real” event from “real” life as we see the moment we ask two people to recount the same event.

There are writers like Hilary Mantel, who in her novels Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies, aim to stick with that facts that are known as much as possible. “I will make up the thoughts of a man’s heart,” she has said, “but I will not make up the colour of his wallpaper.” Or Margaret Atwood who when talking about her novel Alias Grace said “when there was a solid fact, I could not alter it…but in the gaps left unfilled, I was free to invent.”

These were their personal guidelines. But there are others.

Peter Carey insists that “we don’t go to Shakespeare to find out what really happens with Richard III. We accept that someone has taken historical figures for his own particular purposes, in his own particular time.” As perhaps it can be argued Aaron Sorkin did recently with Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network .  Wayne Johnston goes even further when asked about the blurring of fact and fiction. He doesn’t draw a line at all, but rather says “you can take whatever liberties you want.”

Kate Taylor in her novel Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen rearranges time and famous cemeteries, stating that what was important to her was that the reader believe in the world that she has created. That, for me, as well, has been my guiding principle.

I have taken the historical personage of George Mallory and his friends, family and fellow explorers and used them as a jumping off point. All the research, all the desire to have facts at the tips of my fingers is in an attempt to create a world coloured and detailed and rich that the reader can immerse themselves in. No doubt, some who are familiar with the Mallory story will notice inaccuracies, changes and fictions. I hope, that even for those, these distractions will not prove too grave and that the emotional experience that the story delivers will be worth it.

For more about the balance of fact and fiction read these excellent essays by Colm Toibin, Wayne Johnston, Peter Carey and Kate Taylor.


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George’s Route on Mt. Everest

While Ruth’s journey can be charted over a single day, George and the rest of the expedition cover thousands of miles over the course of months. The map below shows their route in the novel up the slopes of Everest.

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Ruth’s Day in Cambridge

One of the great pleasures of writing for me, is research. While writing Above All Things I spent a number of days wandering gorgeous Cambridge, the winding lanes, the market square.

Below is a map of the locations that Ruth visits during the day described in the novel. You can look at the map in street view, or if you have Google Earth, open it up in there and take a look at what Cambridge looked like over the years.

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Above All Things in Montreal and Kingston

Above All Things was reviewed this weekend in the Montreal Gazette and in my hometown paper, the Kingston Whig Standard.

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Globe and Mail

Above All Things was reviewed in the Globe and Mail this weekend where Clair Cameron called it “a must-read for Everest buffs with a sensitive side, and for those who want to understand the anatomy of climbing accidents. It is also the perfect summer read for anyone lured by the romance of adventure, as the story goes well beyond the vast summit of Everest into much trickier terrain: the unmapped topography of the heart”

For more reviews click here.

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I’ve Become Miss Chatelaine

Thanks to the lovely and talented Sofi Papamarko I’m this month’s Ms. Chatelaine. We talked about Above All Things, food, travel and boys.

It’s on newsstands now.

And the schedule for the Kingston Writer’s Festival is out! It’ll be a great one.

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Happy Canada Day!

One of the lovely things about Canada Day, aside from outdoor concerts, long bike rides and cold beer is that some of our Canadian institutions put together lists of Canadian books, Canadian writers and Canadian artists we should all be paying attention to.

I’m thrilled that this year CBC Books named me one of their Ten Canadian Writers to Watch.

They called Above All Things:  provocative, challenging, captivating and polished — quite possibly perfect.


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Enhanced iBook

Last week Above All Things was the book of the week at the iBookstore which was exciting, not just because of its placement, but because it’s an enhanced version of the novel.

My friend Jill Barber was kind enough to curate a playlist for the novel and write a fantastic introduction and liner notes to go with it. The songs are a great mix of period specific and contemporary songs that to me help capture some of the thoughts, ideas and emotions in the book.

You can buy the iBook by clicking here or on the widget on the right.

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Several reviews have come in so far about Above All Things and I couldn’t be happier with the response!

Thanks to the National Post, The Toronto Star and The Winnipeg Free Press.

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It’s Here!

What a crazy couple of days it’s been!

After an amazing launch party – of which my talented friend Nikki Mills was kind enough to take photos – Above All Things has finally hit Canadian book stores!

The window of Bookcity Danforth

I’m so happy to see it out there – in shop windows and on shelves, in massive piles and in people’s hands. It’s the Book of the Week over at the iBookstore – where you can download a special enhanced version of it that includes a gorgeous playlist and liner notes by friend and songstress Jill Barber.

Quill and Quire has posted an unbelievably glowing review as has Reeder Reads and the Indigo Blog. There’s an interview on the Quillcast and a new book trailer:

There’s lots to come on the website over the next little while, including an essay on fact vs. fiction and maps of Cambridge and Everest.

Next week I’ll be reading at the Niagara Literary Arts Festival at 7:30 pm at the MahTay Cafe, 241 St. Paul Street, St. Catherine’s.

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