Fiction: making real life up as you go

david-sornigWith Berlin as a backdrop, an encounter with a mysterious woman sounds like the stuff of fiction – and indeed it is.

For David Sornig, however, a real episode in his own life almost 20 years ago provided the starting point for the central character in his newly published novel, Spiel.

Dr Sornig, who teaches in the Creative Writing course at Flinders, said travelling to Berlin as a 21-year old was a defining moment.

“Coming to a place where history had happened, and to feel yourself stepping through a place where some of the most momentous events of the 20th century had occurred, was really powerful for me,” he said.

For the Melbourne architect who is the narrator of Spiel, the byzantine quest to trace the enigmatic woman also becomes a journey of self-discovery.

“He has to confront his own past: he has left behind something in Melbourne that he has to atone for as well,” Dr Sornig said.

Dr Sornig said his story was fed by notions of the fictionalised self, drawing on characters like Frankenstein and the folktale of the golem, the mud-man who wreaks revenge on the anti-Semites of Prague.

“The production of East German Stasi files produced fake, unauthorised biographies of people. These are kinds of golems, Frankensteins – people who exist in a way that they have no control over themselves,” he said.

“Fiction does the same thing – it looks at real experiences, at a real person, and changes them somehow: it turns them into words.”

Dr Sornig said that while many people come to creative writing with the experience that provides the necessary raw material, they still need to be led and inspired.

“It’s not just about teaching them to become writers, it’s about teaching them to become better readers, and to understand how fiction is made,” he said.

“Novels do not arrive fully formed – they arrive through a process, and through knowing the technical elements involved in their crafting.”

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