Moving from nonfic to fiction

Moving from nonfic to fiction

By Fred Vaughn

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After writing seven books over the years as a professor of Canadian constitutional law and political philosophy, on such arcane subjects as the Hegelian influences on the Supreme Court of Canada, I decided to write a novel. I had a subject that was tailor made for fiction and unsuited to non-fiction. I wanted to reach back in time more than half a century and give an account of my experience as a young Jesuit seminarian and how the once great Society of Jesus (Jesuits) had experienced a serious decline in its numbers: a great exodus in the numbers of those who were ordained and those who were still in formation occurred after 1965. I wanted to hide behind the wall so neatly provided by fiction; the thoughts of footnoting and getting every event in the Society’s history bang on over half a century, was too daunting.

Well, I soon discovered that the transition was more difficult than I had anticipated. For a long time I found myself lost in the tangles of the “p o v”….which I quickly learned was a critical part of writing a novel. As a seasoned non-fiction writer I spoke and moved the “characters” around as a marionette, restricted only by the historic time lines. In my latest non-fiction book, Viscount Haldane: ‘the Wicked Step-father of the Canadian Constitution,” I was free to roam widely in the family archives like a child who found his way into the attic of the old family home and discovered in the dark corners covered with years of dust a treasure trove of letters, photographs and diaries about the Haldane family. This exciting romp through attic dust allowed me to bring into centre stage Richard Haldane’s extraordinary mother, Elizabeth, and make her a major actor in the life of her son. As a result, I never enjoyed writing a book as much as I have this judicial biography of a philosophic Lord Chancellor. Imagine!

Finally, after a series of missteps through the uncharted fields of fiction, but with much gentle assistance from Thea Atkinson, my first work of fiction has appeared.  Thea, however, bears none of the blame for the failures that remain in the finished product. I invite viewers to take a look at Retreat from Manresa: a Jesuit Story. You can see it on complete with the Rubens cover depicting St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. And, of course, I welcome comments.

Frederick Vaughan, email:




Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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Posted in guest blogging, writerwednesday exercises
4 comments on “Moving from nonfic to fiction
  1. Diane Tibert says:

    I have also learnt fiction and non-fiction need to be approached with a different mindset. I write both, but I was in the other camp from Fred: I wrote fiction for years first. Then I decided to write non-fiction to see if I could get published while I slaved away at sending manuscripts to publishing houses. Voila! I got published in non-fiction and haven’t stopped. It is much easier to get non-fiction published, so if you write both, do so (and for the amount of hours/work that goes into a short newspaper/magazine article compared to the months or years spent writing a novel, the pay is much better).

    I sometimes find myself telling a story in my non-fiction, except the facts are true. Both writing is fun in a different way and as I mentioned, you can always make money at non-fiction while you’re waiting to get a manuscript accepted by a traditional publishing house if that’s the route you’re going.

  2. Oohh, Thea! “The Hegelian influences on the Supreme Court of Canada!” When you talk like that I can barely contain myself. Be still my heart. 🙂

    A belated Happy Valentine’s Day.

    • Peter:

      Not that i don’t get excited about making your heart pace, but alas, i must admit the post was written by Fred Vaughn.

      • Sorry. I didn’t notice. I’m tired. The writing of my latest book is going so well that I’ve been putting in a lot of hours. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, anyway. Not to Fred. It’s just not the same with him. 🙂

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