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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

When Fact Meets Fiction

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As soon as I read about the life of Prunella Stack I knew she had to be in my novel. If you haven’t heard of Prunella, she was the daughter of the founder of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, which was a movement in the 1930s that introduced keep fit classes into the UK. Prunella was very young at the time that her pioneering mother died, and she stepped up to carry on the work of the League and deliver her mother’s vision of bringing health and happiness through movement. In doing so she changed many women’s lives for the better.

The power of female friendship is a strong theme in The Lido Girls, along with what women can achieve when they work together, and Prunella embodies all of these things. I realised it would be a challenge to bring her to life; I’d only ever invented my own characters before, so fictionalising a real person was a new challenge. I tried to capture her voice, mannerisms and charisma from footage I found online and from reading her autobiography, but what ended up on the page was how I imagined her to be.

A major concern was that I didn’t misrepresent Prunella in any way. I stuck as closely as I could to the facts as I had them and there is only a limited amount of information about her in the public domain, but I was aiming to capture her essence. She appeared to me to have an abundance of enthusiasm and determination, along with charm and a knack for relating to people, whatever their background.

I also thought there was a lot that my main character, Natalie, could learn from Prunella and I wanted Natalie to grow as a result of meeting her. At the start of the story, Natalie is too afraid to cast aside the established ways of teaching and living, whereas Prunella’s unconventional childhood seemed to give her an open mind that enabled her to move with the changing times. In the end, I found that both characters learned from one another, which was an unexpected bonus.

I have read lots of novels that blend fact and fiction together and I enjoy seeing real people reimagined and brought to life by authors. There’s a fine balance between filling in the gaps of research and creating a complete fabrication. It’s hard to say whether my creation is actually anything like the real Prunella Stack, but she’s certainly my interpretation of her. Whether it’s accurate or not, I’m really glad that I challenged myself to bring Prunella to life on the page. I hope you are as taken with her as I am.

allie-burns, author
Image: Allie Burns
Allie Burns lives in Kent with her family and two tortoises. When she's not writing for business or penning her Women's Historical Fiction, Allie enjoys swimming and yoga. She has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and The Lido Girls is her debut novel. She is currently working on a second interwar years novel, which is due for publication in the summer of 2018. The Lido Girls is available to buy now. For more information about Allie and her work, check out her website or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Where do you think the line between fact and fiction should be drawn in historical fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

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