Friday, April 22, 2022

Resurrecting the Dead

by Abir

 “But I really want to use that quote.” Where do you go for legal and copyright advice? Do you ever use public or historical figures in stories? A song lyric? A meme you saw (after fact checking I hope)?



One of the things about being ‘the Friday guy’ on this blog is that all the clever, pertinent answers to the week’s questions have been provided by my illustrious colleagues already, leaving me, in the graveyard shift, to either come up with a new, not so good way of phrasing pretty much the same thing, or else going off on a tangent and talking about something else.


So let’s dispense with the bits that I have little more to add:


Song lyrics and quotes – listen to my colleagues. They know what they’re talking about. To be honest, Terry’s suggestion on Tuesday that you make up your own song lyrics is brilliant. I’d never thought of that before, but I might try it in future.


Memes – I’ve never used them in my books, possibly because I’m old and un-cool and have no idea what ‘the youth’ are talking about at the best of times. Putting a meme in a book would just highlight my ignorance of pretty much everything that has occurred in popular culture since the turn of the millennium.


That brings us to historical figures. Now on that part of the question, I do have a few things to say. 


Firstly, if you’re dealing with past events, especially if it’s around crime: say you’re fictionalising an account which might have featured a real-life criminal, it’s important to remember that victims or relatives might still be alive today. Even if your account is fictional, it’s important to tread carefully and respectfully. I know authors who’ve fictionalised true stories and changed details that they'd have preferred to have kept unaltered simply to protect the relatives of victims. I think that is the right approach.


As for me, to date I’ve never dealt with such subject matter, but I have included real people in my books. My Wyndham and Banerjee series is set in 1920s India, when the British were in charge, and I’ve introduced a number of real-life historical figures into the plots, people such as the Indian freedom fighters Chittaranjan Das and Subhash Chandra Bose, as well as Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, who’d later go on to be a rubbish king and would abdicate and run off to France with Mrs Wallis Simpson.


History is generally written in broad strokes. We know the big details, we hardly ever know the smaller, more intimate stuff. For me, one of the joys of writing historical fiction is that you get to play in these dark, forgotten spaces between the recorded facts. I like to place my heroes, Sam Wyndham and Suren Banerjee in the slipstream of big historical events, interacting with real people. 


But like Starfleet officers, I obey the temporal prime directive. I don’t alter the past. I’m not interested in changing the outcome of World War 2 or of helping JFK get out of Dallas without a scratch. My job, or the job of Sam and Suren, is to help highlight forgotten history to readers who might not know much about the period of British rule in India. I’ll never change recorded facts, only show another side to the story.


And, if by chance, I write something controversial, it does help that you can’t libel the dead.


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