Telling lives: Penelope Lively leads a conversation about biographical fiction

Filed under: Fiction

A recording of Julia Blackburn, Penelope Lively and Allan Massie, chaired by Anne Chisholm

If the twentieth century was a golden age for biography, the early years of this century have seen a growing enthusiasm for ‘bio-fiction’: novels, and films, based on real lives. Does this enthusiasm spring from dissatisfaction with conventional biography? Is it possible to get closer to a subject’s thought and spirit through fiction than through fact? And what is a writer’s responsibility to the truth when offering a fictionalised account of a real life? Julia Blackburn has tackled a number of biographical subjects in an innovative way, most recently in the critically acclaimed With Billie, a portrait of the life of Billie Holiday. In Making It Up, published in the summer, Penelope Lively takes moments from her own life and imagines what might have happened had she made different choices. Allan Massie has written novels based on the lives of the Roman emperors Augustus, Caesar amd Tiberius. Together, they discuss the vogue for bio-fiction, and read from their work.

Recorded on Monday 12 December 2005.

Related RSL Fellows

Julia Blackburn 2002
Allan Massie 1982
Dame Penelope Lively 1985