Nicola Monaghan is the author of Dead Flowers which was published by Verve Books in ebook on 5 September 2019.
Today Nicola has written about the truth and her fiction.
Truth and My Fiction
Early in my writing career, I showed my mum a short story I’d written and, as a person who knows me very well, she smiled (knowingly) and said ‘well, you didn’t really make any of that up!’ And, in a way, this is true about all of my stories. Which is worrying, when I write about drug dealers and murderers!
For me, there’s a complicated and interesting interface between truth and fiction. There is something about really good fiction – the type that breaks your heart and changes you forever – that is truer than any fact you could write down. (Because, let’s face it, if you watch QI you are probably aware that most ‘facts’ are not that factual!)
In my first novel, I wrote about the streets I grew up on. I also wrote about things that were happening, genuinely, on those streets, even though I used completely made up characters and scenarios. There were also some moments of pure memoir, as I think there are in most first novels. A bird I once saw, in a hedge, dead with a bright red berry in its beak. A primary school production of Romeo and Juliet in a playground. Families walking in long lines to the shops on giro day, and children trudging through brown leaves, in brown uniforms, down a Nottingham suburban street. All of these scenes came directly from my own life.
In Dead Flowers, there’s less of this direct kind of memoir, but there’s a lot of truth hiding beneath the fiction. My main character, Dr Sian Love, has a dog called Elvis, who bears more than a passing resemblance to my own dog, Elvis. The police officers put in place and controlled by gangsters is inspired by real events in Nottingham in the late 90’s and early 00’s.
The Loggerheads, the closed down pub that Sian inherits just before the story starts, is a real place, sitting at the bottom of the real cliff where I’ve located it in the book. I never visited the pub whilst it was open so, at the same time, it’s a truly fictional setting. There are other aspects that thread through the book that have been concerns of mine for a long time. Family stories about babies abandoned, or passed from one set of parents to another, the child themselves never knowing a thing about it. These tales gave me a strong sense of a history that was out of your control, that you couldn’t reach because you weren’t there, and I wanted to write about that.
There are two stories, though, that have haunted me for a while in a way that made me consciously want to write about them, and both were on my mind when I started planning Dead Flowers.
The first is the tragic story of Joyce Vincent, a British woman who died in 2003, but whose body lay undiscovered for three years. When she was found, she was still on the sofa, the TV droning in the background, the presents she’d been wrapping sitting around her on the floor. There’s something almost unbearably sad about Joyce’s story. She was a beautiful woman, a high achiever in the City of London, her image captured at a concert where she met and shook hands with Nelson Mandela. Somehow, this captivating woman, travelled from that moment to being dead and having no one come to look for her, in just over ten years. It seemed unthinkable.
The other is a more personal, family story. Night Linger were my father-in-law’s band, who were almost famous. Charlie, my father-in-law, was a very charismatic Glaswegian. He was the kind of man who liked a drink, knew how to handle himself and could always put his hand to cash when he needed to. He’d had to leave Glasgow in a hurry for ‘reasons’, and moved down to the midlands with his family. He was also ‘an entertainer’, and he toured the pubs and clubs of Coventry, then Nottingham, with his band, Night Linger.
Charlie is a small part of my inspiration for Harry, a big character in the 70’s story, although Harry is far more manipulative and dark hearted than Charlie was ever capable of being. My Midnight Roses are a homage to Charlie’s band. Like Night Linger, they enter the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks, although my fictional band members also recruit local ‘influencers’ to help them get through. The rest of what happens to the Midnight Roses in their search for fame is exactly what happened to Charlie’s band. Interestingly, this is one of the few parts of the book that my first readers and editors came back suggesting might not be quite believable. You’d be surprised how often that happens when you write something directly inspired by life.
About the book
She doesn’t trust the police. She used to be one of them.
Hardened by ten years on the murder squad, DNA analyst Doctor Sian Love has seen it all. So when she finds human remains in the basement of her new home, she knows the drill.
Except this time it’s different. This time, it’s personal…
*I was asked to host this guest post to help promote Dead Flowers. I did not receive a copy of the book or any other payment for doing so.*