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First novel - legal worries! (Libel in historical fiction)

(6 Posts)
Umlauf Fri 12-Apr-13 11:10:25

Hi, I'm starting to research for my first attempt at a novel, and I'm really excited about the plot!

It's historical fiction but set in an 80s dictatorship and so the problem is that the main villain (state sponsored terrorist you could say) is still alive. I want to base some of the events on true events and I want to use his name. I don't know anything about the legal issues surrounding libel and historical fiction if the person on question is still alive, and googling doesn't help as all the advice is contradictory!

Can anyone with experience offer some advice? Thank you.

EldritchCleavage Fri 12-Apr-13 11:20:05

Is he well known as a terrorist?
Because if, for example, you had been doing this a few years ago and your main villain had been Osama Bin Laden, then the risk of being sued would be nil (hardly likely to turn up in the UK, nor even to do it from abroad). Also, he had no reputation to defend. So if your villain is notorious enough, then the risk is low to non-existent.

If he isn't, you may have issues. But I would say write it how you want, don't censor yourself. If you get a publisher, they will have your book 'libel-read' by a lawyer before publication and at that stage you could consider making changes to avoid getting sued.

Umlauf Fri 12-Apr-13 11:31:36

Thanks! It's a complicated one, what he did was very black and white but how you see it depends what side you were on really (ETA related) So he's not Bin-Laden style notorious. In fact the man at the tops identity was always kept secret and still unknown today, so its highly likely he is still in a position of power!

I don't want to make embellishments though, as the events are powerful enough to speak for themselves and are not directly woven into the main plot line, so I wouldn't be trying to influence or manipulate a readers opinion of him iykwim. It's more to provide motivation for the fictional/very loosely based on a real person character's actions.

Ill do what you suggest and write it my way. I plan to pay to have it read and judged (maybe edited) as its my first try, and then go from there. If they think its a legal minefield ill just keep it to read to my children (when they grow up!)

ImperialBlether Sun 14-Apr-13 14:31:28

It's not historical fiction if it's an account of what happened in the 80s though, is it?

Could it be set is some sort of fictional country so that it's not too specific?

Umlauf Mon 22-Apr-13 09:00:02

Hi, sorry I've only just seen this reply. It's not so much an account though as the main plot is made up, but using real events as motivation for characters' actions. I could compare it to say, Dave Bolling's Guernica where he has a fictional family going through the events that happened there.

I'm not sure about using the fictional country, only as the sense of regional identity is the driving force and the region is almost a character in itself iyswim. I live in this country too and am revelling in digging into its recent and unspoken history!

I've done a little more research and there are some local authors that have published novels (not english language) about the region, just different time setting, and there is a film about one of the events I've been inspired by, so I think I should be ok. In any case the worst that can happen is I have fun writing, so ill give it a go!

SolidGoldBrass Sat 25-May-13 03:55:18

There have been plenty of novels which have featured real, still-living people in cameo roles. I think it depends on what you are doing with your not-fictional character - are you using him as a kind of remote figure that the other characters discuss or do you have bits depicting what you imagine his thoughts/feelings/small actions might be? Most importantly, are you portraying him in a way that's actually libellous (eg depicting him dancing round his bedroom with glee at having successfully murdered someone when there is no proof that the real 'hiim' murdered anyone)?

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