From fact to fiction

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Fact is often stranger than fiction. This may be a cliche, but what is true is that fact is often the basis for good fiction. 
The challenges of long-term space travel formed the basis of The Martian - an amazing book and film. 
C.J. Sansom's Shardlake series is so mired in historic detail of the day we can smell the horse dung. And Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, well, we know how deep she loves to dig when it comes to fact.
And so it goes on.
For me, The Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that began with testimony from those shipped as children to Australia is harrowing. And while their story is real, I feel it more because I edited the fictional account of children shipped to Canada in the 1870s. The author Elizabeth Howard showed me her background work, reports written by those who thought it a wonderful notion to take poor children to new nations in need of labour. But only four years after the first children were sent from London, rumours of abuse were rife and UK charity governors sent Andrew Doyle to find out the truth. Doyle found many cases of abuse and criticised the charities for not checking up on the children. "The homes in which the children are placed in Canada are not so selected, and it is certain that great abuses do ensue." 
That was written in 1874. Yet, child immigration from the UK continued. Between 1870 and 1930, more than 80,000 children were sent to Canada alone. Australia is said to have received 130,000. The numbers are all beautifully rounded and cannot possibly represent each vulnerable child sent so far from home with no one to fight their corner. The mother in me fumes. And no one can correct this - no hearings can give a grown man a happy childhood free from abuse.
But we can educate ourselves and ensure we step up when someone defends the practise.
Two books to read:
Fiction - Listen to the Child by Elizabeth Howard
Non-fiction - The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada by Kenneth Bagnell 


Tags: "child sex abuse enquiry" "child immigration" "andrew doyle" canada  australia  "the martian" "wolf hall" shardlake 

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Yvonne Barlow Editor and people watcher. I love non-fiction and the ex-journalist in me believes a good novel can never match the human story.

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