Writing can be a lonely pastime, especially non-fiction. Long hours at the library playing reference chase aren’t exactly highlights on anyone’s social calendar. There’s only so much interest your friends and partner can feign in your next great revelation, gleaned after a particularly gruelling round of reference chase. Also, if like me you’re writing for a general audience, it can be tricky to get the balance between sufficient background detail and too much. When immersed in a subject, it can be difficult to estimate the knowledge a non-specialist can reasonably be expected to have.
I know a lot of fiction writers and poets. The Edinburgh literary scene is full of individuals, groups and opportunities for them to meet others in the same field or genre. There are several regular spoken word nights and especially poetry nights and slams that they can perform their work at if they choose. There are lots of creative writing classes which cater for them. There are critique groups which accept newcomers, or at least applications.
Non-fiction writers, though, were noticeable by their absence. This surprised me, as there is more non-fiction published annually than fiction and poetry. Poetry especially often decries its lack of commercial publishing opportunities. If there are more non-fiction books published, it stands to reason that there are more non-fiction writers.
This, combined with my increasing awareness that attempting to write a book in a vacuum was not the greatest plan, lead me to propose an idea to my friend Sharon, who is also working on a non-fiction book. We both knew that having some deadlines in place, in the form of submissions to the group for critique, would help us move from the potentially never ending research “phase” into writing. Getting critique from a variety of people, not necessarily historians, would also be beneficial.
Since there didn’t seem to be any dedicated non-fiction writers’ groups in Edinburgh (or the world, as far as we could see!) we decided to set up our own.
Stranger Than Fiction held its first meeting on 19 May 2010 and has been going strong ever since. We have a core group of regulars who have varying non-fiction experience and who write on everything from natural history to pop culture to science. The variety has proved to be a great strength rather than a weakness.
More information about the group is here.