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'Care needed' when basing fiction on history

23rd June 2010

Writers should not be afraid of using real-life characters in their works - so long as they 'do it well', an author has claimed.

Earlier this week, Sharon Dogar's forthcoming book Annexed was thrust into the headlines for its fictionalised account of the romance between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Frank's cousin Buddy Elias criticised Dogar for misrepresenting the girl and said he does not believe her 'terrible destiny' should be used as the basis for fiction.

However, writing in the Guardian, What I Was author Meg Rosoff argued that it is acceptable to use real-life characters in fiction, if the resultant story is worthwhile.

'The question of whether authors have the right to write about living or real people is not one that should be answered by the caretakers of historical reputation,' she commented.

Rosoff claimed that Shakespeare's plays would have been weaker if he had been unable to reinterpret the historical figures they are based on. She also cited Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag as works that have effectively combined fiction with real-life characters.

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