The book 'Come to Grief' by Dick Francis is a personal and very real story for the Corby family. By way of this example, the effects of using real life situations in fiction may be a subject to discuss with learners to ensure an understanding and appreciation of the responsibilities attached to their own storytelling.
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Dick Francis is well-known as a novelist and best-selling writer with many crime stories to his name. Prior to writing, Dick Francis was a jockey who, after retiring from horse racing, started writing for a newspaper and, ultimately, with his wife's help, wrote his books, all within the horse racing fraternity. Some of his characters, albeit fictional, were based on real people with real tragedy in their lives. Come To Grief is one such novel where Francis uses elements of, amongst others, a little girl's life to create one of his characters, Rachel Ferns. Rachel is sick, dying from leukemia. It is noted that the main character, Sid Halley, usually a loner, forms a bond with Rachel which deeply affects him and completes his characterization. "I would dream your nightmares for you if I could," Sid explains to Rachel who is tormented after the mutilation of her horse.
Using real life characters in a fictional way can create its own kind of grief and hence, the title of this book, has far-reaching consequences far beyond the reader's scope. Grief is such a personal experience and affects everyone so uniquely that the grief in itself can destroy people. Ginnie Quint, the mother of accused murderer, Ellis, in Come To Grief, has committed suicide rather than contemplate her son's actions and Halley notes that, "Grief can be dangerous." Her husband, Gordon, a very respectable man and "not your average murderer," almost kills Halley to protect his son, despite his son's terrible deeds.
Real life characters in a novel also allow readers to experience aspects of a life they are far-removed from and will, perhaps never experience themselves. This then can even serve a purpose in preparing readers for their own grief, taking strength from these characters in trying to cope with their own tragedy. The human mind is so complicated that trying to feel the grief of others can be cathartic and a kind of release. Readers become engrossed and feel their own special bond with characters who become real for them. The problem may arise because the person on whom the character is based, and the family of that person, do not get the same emotional release because they live the reality, not the characterization. They cannot put the book down and take relief in their own circumstances and so their grief is intensified.
Using real people or circumstances in fiction is compounded when authors do not acknowledge the source of any particular character. In Come To Grief, there is contention that he used not only the title of Mrs Linda Corby's intended play of the same name but that Francis's character, Rachel, is based on Mrs Corby's late daughter Natasha and many of the family's personal experiences. Mrs Corby has worked tirelessly to obtain acknowledgement so that her family can also benefit from a release from their reality - the tragic loss of a precious daughter and family member and some very real distressing incidents.
In realizing that Rachel represents a real person, Mrs Corby hopes that others will understand the depth of love and loss and also how easy it is to manipulate others for personal gain. Francis reveals this in his book, as Halley is so taken in by his life-long friend Ellis Quint. There is hopefully a cryptic message from which to take some solace as Halley admits his shock at his own misguided friendship and how "facts (that) surprised and appalled and smashed peaceful lives for ever."
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