This week’s Guest Writer is the very talented Robbie Cheadle. As you’ll see from her biography, she’s a very versatile writer:
Robbie, short for Roberta, is an author with six published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about her mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with her mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of Robbie’s children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.
Robbie has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential her children’s books from her adult writing, these will be published under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Robbie has two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.
Robbie has also recently published a poetry collection, Open a new door, together with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.
Transitioning from a non-fiction to a fiction writer
In 2014, I wrote my first non-fiction publication called Listing in Africa which was sponsored by the firm where I worked. Investment into Africa was topical at the time and the document was well received with more than 29 on-line and physical newspapers featuring a story on my document. I had my first television and radio interviews and that, combined with the pleasure I had derived from doing all the research that went into the book, made the whole exercise seems hugely fulfilling and exciting.
Simultaneously with my plunged into the world of publication writing, I also started exercising my interest in writing poetry. This interest had lain dormant since I was 19 years old and made the decision to study towards becoming a chartered accountant. My early poems were triggered by the funny things my sons and their cousins did which, somehow, converted themselves into rhyming verse in my mind and all I had to do was write the poems down. The children and I had a lot of giggles over those poems.
Over the next few years I wrote a number of other publications, namely, Listing in Africa: Extractive Industries in 2015, What Influences Foreign Direct Investment into Africa and The African Debt Market, both in 2016, and my personal triumph, Africa In A Changing Global Environment in 2017. This last publication, which focused on Africa’s fourth industrial revolution readiness in comparison to its major competitors, did extremely well and I participated in a few successful television interviews. The document was also featured by some noteworthy newspapers and economics institutions.
In 2016, I published my first fiction middle grade children’s book, Silly Willy Goes to Cape Town. It is a fun tale about two siblings and their interactions and adventures while on holiday in the beautiful city of Cape Town aimed at early readers. This was my first attempt at writing a longer fiction book and when I received feedback on this book, I realized that there were differences between writing non-fiction and fiction which I would need to consider and work on if I wanted to transition into a better writer of fiction. The feedback was useful, but not so discouraging or critical that I throw my writer’s pen down in despair.
What is non-fiction?
Non-fiction is factual and reports on true events. It often includes graphs and analyses of figures and facts that support the findings in the document and the conclusion. Publications, biographies, autobiographies, journalism and medical and other scientific papers and essays are all non-fiction. In my opinion, the most important things about non-fiction are that it is based on fact, it loses its credibility if any part of it is fabricated or not supported by facts and analysis, it is objective and it is written from an authorial point of view.
Due to its nature, non-fiction does not lend itself to rich and vivid descriptions, dramatic scenes, personal points of views, characterization or thoughts and feelings.
What is fiction?
I smiled when I thought about this question. A regulatory of a stock exchange would state that fiction is the everything that does not fall into the category of non-fiction.
Fiction is a story that is often entirely fabricated and based on the author’s imagination. Fairy tales, myths, legends, novels of every genre and short stories are all fiction. Fiction is subjective, is written from the point of view/s of its characters and is often entirely imaginary although it may be based on facts.
My transitional process
The first step in my transition from a non-fiction to a fiction writer was to understand the different intentions of a non-fiction versus a fiction writer. Non-fiction is written to teach and share thoughts and findings that push the boundaries of current understandings on a specific topic. Fiction is written to entertain the reader.
This all made perfect sense to me, but what about fiction stories that are based on fact or fictional stories that share the philosophical views of the author. H.G. Wells immediately comes to mind with his far-reaching ideas about future societies as well of the works of famous writers like Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose books were based on her own childhood experiences.
When writing a book about someone’s early years, based on their memories of the time, it can never be purely factual as memory is not that perfect. It needs to be a fictionalized to a certain extent to fill in the blanks left by imperfect memory. The same is true of stories based on historical figures whose lives were not well publicized. Often, the bare bones of their lives are available as facts but there is no detail available.
I have found myself drawn to writing stories that have a strong historical base, but which can be fictionalized to make them more interesting and compelling. I strongly believe that history must be remembered so that future generations can avoid the mistakes of the past and this is one of the strong driving forces for my decision to write fictionalized historical stories. The fictionalized elements relate to reactions, thoughts and feelings of the characters and not to the settings and outcomes which must be carefully researched and accurately depicted, or the story will not achieve my purpose of keeping history alive.
Having gone through a process of understanding what I desired to achieve with my writing, I set about writing firstly, While the Bombs Fell, a fictionalized account of my mother’s early life, growing up as a child in East Anglia during world war II, and then Through the Nethergate, which includes a number of real historical figures who are believed to haunt my mother’s home town of Bungay. I also grabbed the opportunity, as the story developed and the characters led me on their journey, to introduce other famous historical figures like Amelia Dyer, the famous baby farmer and the most prolific female serial killer in English history as well as some notable Nazi’s, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who is suspected to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula and a few others.
What do I aim to have achieved?
I hope that with Through the Nethergate particularly, which is a fictional story that incorporates some real facts, to have created an enjoyable and compelling story.
I have attempted to include all the elements that make fiction so pleasurable to read such as thoughts, interesting descriptions, characterization and other learned elements of fiction writing.
I am setting out below some extracts from Through the Nethergate which incorporate the writing strategies I have mentioned above, and I hope readers will find enticing.
“From a distance the ghosts looked like delicate waifs, but as the occupants of the coach ventured closer, Margaret could see the evil and twisted expressions on their darkly beautiful faces and splatters of blackness down the fronts of their thin white gowns. The moonlight itself seemed to quiver at the horrible sight and take refuge behind a mass of clouds”.
“The girl began to writhe as soon as the light hit her. Moisture poured from her solid form and her skin began to curl like burning paper. Her eyes rolled wildly in her head and a horrible howling issued from her slackened mouth. A few moments later, she exploded into bright blue flames and disappeared”.
Can one girl banish evil?
Margaret, a girl born with second sight, has the unique ability to bring ghosts trapped between Heaven and Hell back to life. When her parents die suddenly, she goes to live with her beloved grandfather, but the cellar of her grandfather’s ancient inn is haunted by an evil spirit of its own.
In the town of Bungay, a black dog wanders the streets, enslaving the ghosts of those who have died unnatural deaths. When Margaret arrives, these phantoms congregate at the inn, hoping she can free them from the clutches of Hugh Bigod, the 12th century ghost who has drawn them away from Heaven’s White Light in his canine guise.
With the help of her grandfather and the spirits she has befriended, Margaret sets out to defeat Hugh Bigod, only to discover he wants to use her for his own ends – to take over Hell itself.
A clever melding of fiction and historical facts.
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