The Facts Behind the Fiction – Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day
Today I am pleased to welcome Sandy Day on to the blog with a guest post about The Facts Behind the Fiction!
The Facts Behind the Fiction – Fred’s Funeral
I’m beginning to be asked a lot of questions about my novel, Fred’s Funeral and I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer them.
First and foremost, Fred’s Funeral is a work of fiction. It’s about a 90-year-old WWI soldier who attends his own funeral as a ghost. The idea for the story came to me after taking a novella-writing seminar. According to the seminar leader, most novellas contain a supernatural element. Think, The Metamorphosis, The Turn of the Screw, A Christmas Carol. For years, I had been trying to write a book inspired by my Great Uncle Fred’s life. When the notion of a supernatural element arose, I knew what I had to do. Poor, old, Uncle Fred had to become a ghost.
There are several characters in Fred’s Funeral that are inspired from real people but in most cases they are fictitious caricatures of these people, exaggerated or underplayed for dramatic purposes alone. The character, Viola, for example, is based on my Grandmother, but she is portrayed in a way to amplify the rivalry plot with her brother-in-law, Fred.
Research for Fred’s Funeral sprang from my Great Uncle’s own letters. During WWI, Uncle Fred sent home hundreds of letters to his parents and brother. Imagine the thrill I felt opening a box crammed full of the writings of my lead character. I was dizzy with excitement. I transcribed the letters and all the correspondence I found in an old suitcase of Uncle Fred’s. Before I started, I knew nothing about WWI so I had to quickly educate myself. A fantastic resource was For King and Empire on YouTube narrated by the military historian, Norm Christie. I knew, from public records, what military division Fred was in, and then I mapped out where Fred was and when, according to his letters, to piece together his probable movements through the battlefields of France and Belgium.
Other bits and pieces of history in the book are true. Fred really did know the world famous golf course architect, Stanley Thompson, and Stanley really did revamp my family’s 9-hole golf course in Jackson’s Point, Ontario in the early 1920s. My grandmother really was lifelong friends with Glenn Gould’s father, Bert; they grew up together in the little town of Uxbridge, Ontario. The history of Lakeview House Hotel is also true – it was built by my Great Great Grandfather in the late 1800s and was passed down through the generations until the late 1960s. As a writer, I took these bits of fact and imagined the story around them.
My Great Uncle Fred really did suffer the symptoms of PTSD that I describe in the book. My grandparents always said he had shell shock because he began behaving strangely after he returned from the war. Years later, when he was reluctantly institutionalized, he was denied a military disability pension because the doctors at the Whitby Hospital for the Insane diagnosed Fred with Dementia Praecox, (Schizophrenia). My ancestors did not agree with that diagnosis but poor, old Fred remained hospitalized for the remainder of his long life. Why would a family leave a member to waste away in an institution? Well, I try to convey my hypothesis in the book. Because of his mental illness, whatever it was, Fred was a nuisance, an embarrassment, and an inconvenience. Bottom line, people were afraid of him.
In the 20th century, and today, families struggled with mentally ill members. Let’s face it, mental illness makes for troublesome behaviour, and most of us feel powerless when dealing with it. I wrote Fred’s Funeral because of the compassion I feel for mentally ill people in our society. To be banished from one’s own family, to be neglected and forgotten is the worst fate a human being can suffer. I fear it and I think, deep down, we all do. I believe we need to look compassionately at this universal fear and find a way to comfort one another. I hope Fred’s Funeral accomplishes that in some small way.
About the Book
Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?
Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.