Guest post: The Truth About Fiction by sff author Shirley Golden

Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of how believable our writing should be, is brought to you by sci-fi fantasy author Shirley Golden.

The Truth about Fiction

shirley-goldenThe first novel I ever wrote fell into the genre of historical fiction. I have to confess, it was driven by my characters and the excitement that I had embarked upon a book-length story. Later, I calmed down, and began to research, adding details and removing sections in a bid to make it more authentic. I worried it wasn’t “real” enough. But I needn’t have worried because after about fifty rejections from agents and a handful of publishers, it became clear that no one else was going to read it. Interestingly, an evaluation from a paid critique was more concerned that my protagonist was not likeable enough, rather than finding fault with the details of time and place.

As I continued to write, I read lots of advice about sticking to your preferred genre. I studied my book shelves. Yes, I certainly had a fair few historical fiction titles. But I loved the Otherworldly and fantasy in all of its forms, regardless of if it was set in the past, present or future. I experimented with other genres. I joined writers’ groups but became a little frustrated with the current trend of sticking to realism in fiction. Of course, I understand the need to suspend disbelief, and that in certain genres (e.g. mis lit, crime fiction) realism is expected. However, from my perspective, so long as I’m invested in psychologically believable characters, and the story has its own internal consistency, I’m prepared to stretch that disbelief far, far away.

When I embarked upon writing my novel, Skyjacked, a space fantasy, I began to research such things as how long it would take to travel to various planets, time-travel and teleportation. I realised my story fell beyond the parameters of what’s currently deemed theoretically possible.

I reminded myself that one of my favourite novels is set during the Napoleonic wars, the protagonist has webbed feet, can walk on water, and her heart is kept in a jar by an ex-lover. Not once during reading Jeanette Winterson’s, The Passion, did I question the credibility of these things. And why should I? I was reading fiction and loving it. Not that I’m comparing my work to hers, or indeed to any “literary” work. But I can’t help feeling that stories are often more fun when we’re prepared to loosen our hold on reality.

After watching the TV series, Sleepy Hollow, I went back to the original short story by Washington Irving. I remembered that some of the underlying themes related to veracity in storytelling. The narrator is unreliable, not privy to the defining moment of the piece, and some of what he relates cannot be known to him, unless one of the other characters told him or, horror of horrors, he made it up! In the postscript, one man says he doesn’t enjoy the story because he can’t believe it, and perhaps serves as a reminder that the joy of reading fiction can be lost if we become too critical.

I’d love to know what others think – do you prefer fiction that conforms to reality, or stories that leap into the fantastical?


Thank you, Shirley. I think that as long as something is believable and doesn’t jar with the reader then anything goes. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction” and there are often things that happen in real life that you couldn’t write about because no one would believe it… which is a real shame.

Shirley Golden spent ten years working in factories, where making up stories in her head saved her from terminal boredom. She returned to education in her late twenties, gained a degree in psychology, and worked in research for a few years before deciding to dedicate herself to writing fiction full time.

Many of her stories have found homes in the pages or websites of various magazines and anthologies; some have found their way on to competition long and short lists. She won the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition in 2013. She loves flash-fiction and is one of the editors for the FlashFlood Journal, created by Calum Kerr, to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day.

She is door person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can sometimes be found on Twitter when she should be writing. She likes to bake jumbo chocolate and pecan cookies and goes for long bike rides to burn off the calories. You can find out more about Shirley from her website ( and her sci-fi/fantasy novel, Skyjacked, was published by Urbane Publications in May, 2016.

skyjackedcover1Separated from his son, only a galaxy stands between him and home …

The year is 2154, and Corvus Ranger, space pilot and captain of the Soliton, embarks on a penal run to Jupiter’s prison moon, Europa. It should be another routine drop, but a motley band of escaped convicts have other ideas. When Soliton is hijacked, Corvus is forced to set a new destination, one which is far from Earth and his son.

Unable to fight – or smooth talk – his way to freedom, Corvus finds himself tied to the plans of the escapees, including their leader Isidore and a gifted young boy who seems to possess strange abilities.

Desperate to return to Earth and the son he left behind, Corvus is thrown into the ultimate adventure, a star-strewn odyssey where the greatest enemy in the universe may very well be himself.

You can purchase Shirley’s book from…


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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. Guidelines on guest-blogs. There are other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.


hitman-sam-cover-front-smallI wrote a crime lad lit novella (48,000 words) called Hitman Sam in 2008 and over the years, edited it, left it to marinate, re-edited it, put it back, then finally this year (2016), I edited it again and sent it to my beta readers who were kind enough to give me their feedback which led to more alterations and finally, on November 2nd, it was published!

It is available for 99c / 99p (or the equivalent in your country) via (links to Amazon in your country) or directly via etc. but before you rush over to purchase this quirky novella, do read on to find out more about it…

Blurb: Newly-redundant software designer Sam Simpson is looking for a new adventure – a cryptic advert in his local paper gives him that, and more. With two women vying for his affection, going behind their backs isn’t the smartest things he’s ever done.


This follows on just a month after my crime mystery novella, After Jessica, was published. Yay! Details below…

after-jessica-cover-front-smallThe second book I wrote, back in 2009, was After Jessica, a crime mystery novella published in October 2016. You can download this novella for just 99c / 99p via (which links to the Amazon page in your country) or directly from or etc.

Tagline: Wind up his late sister’s affairs, Simon gets more than he bargains for.

Blurb: Jessica is an ordinary girl who comes across extraordinary circumstances and pays for them with her life. As well as identifying her body, her brother Simon then has to wind up her affairs but gets more than he bargains for. Who is Alexis, and why are Veronica and Daniel searching for her? Why is there a roll of cash in Jessica’s house, and what’s the connection between Simon’s sister and Alexis?

Jim Webster’s cunning (marketing) plan

Jim WebsterEvery writer has a problem. It’s not writing books or even publishing books. It’s getting the books seen. I have thought about this a lot. Some people crave ‘reviews’ on Amazon. They’re nice, I’m always grateful if people leave a review. But to see the review the potential purchaser has to find the Amazon page. How do you get people talking about you and get them to look at the page in the first place?

Frankly I don’t know. So I decided to try something. One day, when thinking about it, it struck me that my genres of choice, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, are the ones which exploded in the days of pulp fiction. Published in magazines so cheap the paper never even had its edges trimmed. Sold for pennies in the midst of the Great Depression, they were here today and gone tomorrow. A lot of what they published was rubbish, a lot they never paid for, but out of that system emerged some of the greats.

I’ve also noticed that when I release a new book, I often get a boost in the sales of other books. So the more releases, the more boosts? So rather than just releasing something every year, how about releasing something more often, but on a regular schedule so that people are waiting for the next one? That too harkened back to the magazine model. It also set a size limit on the ‘book’ because there is a limit to how much I could write in that period.

Another way I’d go back to the ‘pulp model’ was to keep the price low. In Sterling terms I wanted to hit that 99p price tag. Again this limited the size of the book I was willing to sell for 99p.

Now I had my idea, but how to develop it? One successful model from the past was the serial. Each episode ended with a cliff-hanger. The cinema used that for many years with children’s cinema clubs. Yet reading discussions on Goodreads and elsewhere I don’t think that is a model that works now. I’ve known people give 1 star reviews to books, purely because they end in a cliff-hanger and you have to buy the next book to find out what happens next. I suspect that in the world of the boxed set where you no longer need to wait for next weeks exciting episode, the day of that sort of serial has passed.

I also felt the more conventional series wasn’t for me. Listen to the comments made about Game of Thrones where the author is chastised for not extracting the digit and getting the work finished. Again I’ve come across a lot of people saying that they’ll never buy a book in a series until the entire series is published. They don’t want to commit to reading a series that might never end.

So I looked backwards once more and borrowed the model used in the Sherlock Holmes stories. These stories were written and published in a certain order, but you as a reader can read them in any order without losing anything.

So there was the plan. Now for the execution, I had to write them. Eventually I wrote six stories. I had them edited and proofread and they were all ready to go. Next I made arrangements for them to be released at four monthly intervals. That was the next two years organised. I’ll fit in the releases of anything else I write around them and hopefully this will build interest and even better sales.

Flotsam coverOh, and the stories themselves? Each is a ‘detective’ investigation set in the city of Port Naain. Yes there are fantasy elements but the stories do not need magic to prop up the plot.

So far so good, but then the project grew beyond my control. The first story in this project has been published. ‘Flotsam or Jetsam’, it is available from Amazon (the second of the stories will be out on the 1st December). But one of the characters in the book, Tallis Steelyard, is a poet. Being a poet he is prone to dropping lines of verse into his conversation. My editor, Mike Rose-Steel, is also a poet and emailed me asking if he could borrow Tallis and proceeded to write ten poems.

I then had one character write the background to these poems, and Mike had another character write a literary criticism of the work. We looked at it and published it as Lambent Dreams.

Well, once you’ve got a published poet, he needs a blog. So Tallis Steelyard now writes a blog at There’s even a Facebook page!

So will the project work? I don’t know. I’ve tried to provide it with depth, enough room for people to ‘lose themselves’ in it and still want to spread out to trying my other books. These you can find on my Amazon page.

If that’s not enough Tallis has even produced more of his poetry…

The bottles sprawl unheeded
The discarded valiant dead
Their sacrifice accepted
Sobriety has fled
The truth it surfaced briefly
But shrugged and went to bed.
Will you walk again beside me?
Will you tread the path I tread?
The wine it made me wordy
The truth when poured was red
I didn’t mean to speak them
But I meant the words I said.


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Morgen Bailey Cover montage 2I now run online courses – details on Courses – and for anyone looking for an editor, do take a look at Editing and Critique.

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