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Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Fictional in Pursuit of the Autobiographical

Now we've got the Oscar Wilde paraphrase out the way, I'll get down to the subject of this week's post. Something that many authors have said is that when creating their stories, they look to real life for inspiration as much as other stories. And having recently experienced (and still experiencing) several different autobiographies, I have to agree. The following post will contain minor spoilers.

The first one that struck me was Wings On My Sleeve, written by Eric Melrose "Winkle" Brown. He was a Royal Navy test pilot who flew in every type of Allied aircraft and a few Axis planes during WW2, and was one of the early jet fighter pioneers. Wings On My Sleeve begins in the 1930s, and goes into detail about his war career. I also remember watching a television documentary from 2014, two years before he died. In it, he went over his career and war memories, including a candid view of Air Marshal Goering from when he helped interview him as part of the Nuremberg trials. To read a description of the book, you might hardly believe it. But it is the real life of a remarkable and admirable man, whose exploits -- I think -- put many another war veteran's in the shade.

The second notable non-fiction work is Just Williams, a radio-exclusive autobiography written and read by famous British comedian Kenneth Williams. Like with "Winkle" Brown, my experience with Williams's life is drawn from both Just Williams and interview clips from the less sensational retrospective TV programs. It's enlightening and hilarious, and some of the stories seem lifted straight out of a sitcom or sketch show. From the antics he heard of or was part of during Army service post-WW2 in the Far East, tales from his work in radio and theatre and television. One of the highlights of his theatre stories is an incident during a performance of Chekhov's The Seagull when he was Richard Burton's understudy. It is eye-opening and hilarious by turns.

The third and final example is something unique. Spike Milligan's wartime memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall. Rather than a straight memoir, it mixes actual facts with anecdotes and the brand of surreal humour and asides Milligan became famous for through his work on The Goons and other shows. Once you get used to his pace and style, the actual facts are just as funny as his little interludes. While there are genuine dark moments (what else in a WW2 memoir), there are also descriptions of the hilarious life of a British soldier. From calamitous army exercises and setting up camps, to the nighttime athletics of soldiers with local lasses and necessary bouts of lunacy to preserve general sanity, you'd never believe things like this happened. But they did!

When listening to all these, I was being constantly inspired by create elements of these antics in my own stories. Whether an insertion into fantasy or sci-fi, or something realistic that's more along the lines of these memoirs, these stories show that nothing is beyond reality. It also shows that an author's undernourished imagination is nothing compared to life's infinite variety. This may be taken as an extension of the necessity of every author to read (or listen to) new and/or classic stories. But let me ask you; how many people really include non-fiction in that category of "things every author must read"?

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