10. Writing about History and Truth

Welcome to my blog on Writing about History and Truth.

In RED SHOES I have written a couple of short stories based on true characters and / or true events. Each of these short stories required a certain amount of research; interpreting history, the truth of the event or the authenticity of characters. Once I’d researched these details I then applied artistic licence to my fictional stories.

Visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina almost ten years ago, after the siege of Sarajevo and finding out about the atrocities of the area, in particular Mostar, affected me deeply. Large graveyards in the city and on the hillsides are filled with headstones of all religions but what shocked me most was the ages of the young people who died. Generations were wiped out. There was mass genocide and terrible stories of rape and brutality were reported. Years later walking around the city of Mostar as a tourist, away from the main street, I discovered dilapidated buildings still riddled with bullet holes, a testament to the fierce battles and damage done to ordinary homes and people. I wondered what emotional terrors they must have suffered.
My short story, STARI MOST, is about the UNESCO Old Bridge in the city that links the new and old part of the town. It was destroyed during the war and later rebuilt. Now it is still a venue for boys to show off their prowess as they dive into the river below.

But my short story was based on my observations: watching shop keepers, cafe owners and ordinary people going about their daily business in a peaceful environment that many of us take for granted; shopping at the market, greeting a neighbour or playing with children in the sunshine on the terrace of a small cafe.

A deep seated core of sadness filled me that day and even though I tried to raise my spirits, the melancholic feeling has stayed with me. Like in Aleppo today. They all lost so much.
When neighbours turn on each other. There is sadness and heartache.

Fortunately, by comparison, writing T’AINT A BIRD was more fun. The concept of an America Flying Fortress with thirteen crew members and a monkey on board getting lost in fog and landing in County Cork, Ireland stimulated my imagination. So I wrote my story from the point of view of a young boy, imagining his excitement and how he saw the events of that remarkable day play out.
The airmen were taken to a local pub and I swapped emails with the owner’s daughter who was happy to talk about her father’s (now deceased) memory. There is even a plaque placed on the wall as a memorial to Tojo the monkey who didn’t survive the Irish cold weather. After my story was written I was lucky enough to visit the village of Clonakilty and go to the pub where the airmen were housed.
The facts of Kieran O’Sullivan’s story stayed true but he was a fictitious character that I created as my narrator.

The story of CONCHITA CINTRON was inspired by her obituary in the Irish Times. She was a Peruvian female bullfighter who’s last fight was in Spain during Franco’s reign. Although I’m not a fan of bullfighting, I recognised her heroism and bravery and how she defied Franco’s laws. She was arrested after dismounting from her horse in the bullring in her final corrida in 1949. Incredibly, women were banned from dismounting in case they were gored and showed their flesh to spectators. Conchita’s attitude inspired me to write about the events of her final fight. I wanted to show her determination and fiery disobedience.
I Googled most of my information and watched videos of her and tried to incorporate the grainy images with my own experience of having attended a bullfight, using the senses: the smell of death, the sight of blood, and the cheering crowds and heralding trumpets.

Using my first hand experiences, research, reading, Googling and watching uTube videos, I have been able to create some interesting and entertaining short stories.

This collection of short stories is all based on my research either of the places I’ve visited such as Mostar or the Algarve, or on characters from history such as Conchita Cintron or based on true facts and events such as T’aint a Bird.

REMEMBER: I didn’t have to be a bullfighter. I didn’t fight in the Croat-Bosniak War or land in an American B-17 to write these stories. I just had to apply my experiences to what I’d read and researched.


Next Blog Post: Interviewing and Sensitivity.

Facebook link to Clonakilty:
Conchita Cintron video

Janet Pywell

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