Starting with Dirty Money
Updated: Aug 7
Do you read fiction and wonder how much of it is based on true events?
Or do you just immerse yourself in the story whatever it is?
At the writer’s festivals I’ve attended over the last few years, one of the most asked questions from readers has been ‘Is this real?’ or ‘Is this autobiographical?’
The answer often leaves it unclear. Identifying stories as fiction and nonfiction is not black and white. At the extremes are textbooks and fairy stories but in the middle, the stories can have varying degrees of truth embedded in them.
As a writer, I draw on my experience, knowledge base, and research from many sources, to give my stories and plots credibility. Why invent something when there are real-life examples I can draw on? But liking my stories to feel plausible or real doesn’t mean they are. I might borrow from reality, but my stories are fiction.
Does it matter?
Being a learner at heart, I love exploring topics I don’t know much about. I studied sciences (my first degree was in Chemistry) and I still have a sense of curiosity and wonder about the world. So it makes sense that one of my favourite reading genres is non-fiction. They open the door to a diverse range of topics like historical events, other times, other places, true crime, and corporate exposes - all things I can't possibly experience first-hand.
When I first started writing Deadly Secrets, my research for one of the plot threads led me to a very interesting nonfiction book. I need to be careful to not give away any spoilers, in case you haven’t read Deadly Secrets yet, but the different case studies in this book offered one that I drew on for the details of my plot line and now, I’m dipping back into its pages to help with a plot line in a new story.
Reality provoked plot ideas.
I read the 2011 edition of Dirty Money: The true cost of Australia’s mineral boom, by Matthew Benns, many years ago and it still resonates.
It reads like a thriller novel, with stories about greed, corporate corruption, environmental destruction, and even murder. The only problem is, these stories are true.
Dirty Money: The true cost of Australia’s mineral boom (Greed, Pollution, and Murder) is an example of superb investigative journalism. It details numerous scandals and examples of corruption, exposing incident after incident involving mostly Australian mining companies and their partners.
The back cover says:
“Mining is a dirty business.”
“Mining companies are digging faster to rip a dwindling resource from our land. Watercourses are polluted, children are poisoned and conned farmers watch helplessly as methane bubbles in their waterholes.
Overseas, Australian miners push people from their homes and recruit corrupt governments to ruthlessly suppress those who dare to complain.”
Matthew’s book provides case studies spanning years and locations, exposing a shameful element in Australia’s corporate history, but one that most of us have either forgotten or paid no attention to. With chapter headings like: Death in the Congo; What the Frack!; Toxic Seas; and Gone Fission, you can see it covers many different events/scenarios.
Dirty Money sparked my interest which then led me to research additional information from other sources for the specifics and to learn more. It was a fascinating learning experience – one of my favourite things about writing the kinds of stories that I write. Although, I have to be careful not to disappear down the virtual ‘rabbit hole’ and forget to write the book.
For Deadly Secrets, the specifics and impact of one of the case studies formed the basis of a plot thread that I embellished to create the fictional story. Without giving any spoilers, the very real scandal helped me to create this fictional one.
A quote from an Amnesty International report
“The sheer scale of the impact XXXX created headlines around the world. More than 100,000 people needed medical assistance. “
“This is the story of a company putting profit over people and a community still waiting for justice and remedy.”
The tales of how big corporations avoid responsibility and wave away legitimate concerns are a great component of thrillers.
For a fascinating read about corporate and specifically mining/oil/gas company scandals, I recommend reading this book.
Admittedly, it’s hard to read how these companies cause environmental destruction and injury and illness to their workers and the communities around their operations, and then try to shirk all responsibility.
You’ll be surprised (maybe) and dismayed (I hope so) especially when it is still so relevant today.
Fiction made plausible
I have a library of nonfiction books waiting for my attention. I dip into them either purposefully when researching a plot, or because an issue interests me at the time. Reading them sparks my curiosity and imagination. Those ‘what-if’ questions crowd my mind as I read, so even if I wasn’t initially researching a plot, I often end up with a plot idea at the end. Not only do I learn about and understand these sometimes complex issues, but I’m challenged to expand my perspective.
Of course, these books enable my story plot lines to feel authentic. They enrich the story, but I also tinker and adapt the ‘facts’ to fit the story I’m writing. I use the facts to add layers to a fictional scenario. Sometimes, those facts influence a word-choice, or a small scene, sometimes they determine the direction of a plot thread.
So are my stories fiction?
Yes. Most definitely. They may be enriched by links to real scenarios, but they are not a reproduction of real-life events.
My favourite books as a reader have a social justice element and provoke thought. I enjoy fiction authors: John le Carre; Scott Turow; Gerald Seymour; and Peter Temple; to name a few. Their stories are laced with real-life experience which adds depth, but they also raise questions in the reader’s mind. At least, they do in my reader’s mind.
That’s also what I try to write. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I certainly have lots of questions. The act of writing is a way of exploring issues, taking on different perspectives and sometimes challenging my opinions.
Reading nonfiction books like Dirty Money helps me to add credibility, authenticity, and even a sense of possibility to the story. It needs to be done carefully, because it's true that truth is often stranger than fiction.
I should add, the characters in Deadly Secrets are also fictional. I didn’t model them on the people involved in the scandal. As a general rule, I don’t use real people as the template for my characters. I may use individual personality traits or foibles I see around me, but they are cobbled together to create a character/personality that fits the story I'm writing.
Deadly Secrets is a stand-alone novel. It is a mystery suspense thriller with political intrigue, a dark conspiracy, and draws on several contemporary issues. Shelley is an ordinary person thrown into a situation that requires extraordinary courage. She is challenged to confront powerful forces to right a terrible wrong.
If a complex page-turner is your kind of read, then you might enjoy this book.
Click this link to purchase Deadly Secrets in eBook or paperback (or Hardcover) from your favourite online retailer: https://books2read.com/u/bzoZVZ
Available in audiobook soon.
If you enjoy, Deadly Secrets, then I’m sure you will also enjoy my latest stand-alone mystery suspense thriller, Lethal Legacy.
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If you’ve read Deadly Secrets and are interested in the background for the specific scandal then google Trafigura Scandal or Minton Report. They are eye-openers.