NNFN: Balancing Finding Facts with Telling Stories – A guest post by David Long

survivorscover Today’s guest post for National Non-Fiction November is brought to us by David Long, historian and author of Survivors: Extraordinary tales from the wild and beyond (illustrated by Kerry Hyndman). David has written more than twenty non-fiction books on a wide range of historical subjects, including the acclaimed Animals’ VC: For Gallantry and Devotion and Jet the Rescue Dog. He lives in Suffolk and has two teenage sons.

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“A few years ago I was asked to write the official history of the Dickin Medal. This is awarded only very rarely, to animals that have played an exceptional role in saving the lives of humans.

Their stories are true and exciting and more than anything they show that not all heroes are human. Not all of them have happy endings but they are warm and real and moving, and I felt that everyone could learn something good by reading them.

A second volume followed a couple of years later in which I picked out the stories I felt were most suitable for younger readers. I loved doing the research and retelling the tales of brave dogs and horses, a cat, a bear and even several pigeons was one of the most enjoyable experiences in more than thirty years of writing.

Giving talks around the country I could see how much children enjoyed these stories. Because of this I wanted to do something similar with Survivors, only this time by telling the stories of men, women and children who have faced the greatest possible dangers but somehow survived to tell of their adventures.

Deciding which stories to include was far from easy – there are so many. I wanted as much variety as possible, to find survivors who had beaten the odds on mountain tops, at the bottom of the sea, in scorched desert wastelands as well as in the remote, frozen north.

There were some I found that I just couldn’t think about. When a group of Chilean miners became trapped underground for nearly 10 weeks it proved too much for this claustrophobic writer. But after months of research I identified around thirty true stories I was happy to explore further.

Illustration by Kerry Hyndman, from 'Survivors' by David Long

Illustration by Kerry Hyndman, from ‘Survivors’ by David Long

Retelling them for children I felt it was important not to exaggerate – the adventures were exciting enough already. As a historian I wanted to remain true to the facts yet to maintain the suspense even though my title effectively gives away the ending before the book is even opened.

Reading the book now I feel confident that I have struck the right balance. All human life is here. Several of my subjects might have to blame their lack of planning and even their stupidity for the danger in which they found themselves. Others were innocent victims of circumstance, having found themselves on a sinking ship, an exploding airliner or running for their lives from an erupting volcano.

That each survived was down to luck in part but also their astonishing courage, resourcefulness, cunning and breathtaking determination. And I think that is the chief lesson of the book, the thing I would most like readers to take away with them. In life if you seek adventure you risk finding danger, but as these stories show it is possible to survive even the worst catastrophes – and many people do.”

Illustration by Kerry Hyndman, from 'Survivors' by David Long

Illustration by Kerry Hyndman, from ‘Survivors’ by David Long

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Our thanks go to David Long for today’s post. You can find out more about David Long on his website http://www.davidlong.info/ and you can also visit Kerry Hyndman’s website http://www.kerryhyndman.co.uk/

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