Truth and Fiction in Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood
A lot of people ask me how autobiographical Infinite Sky is, and the truth is, it’s hard to say. The story begins a few weeks after thirteen-year-old Iris Dancy’s mother leaves the family to go travelling around North Africa. Iris’s home life quickly falls into a state of chaos, with her dad struggling to cope, and her older brother angry about being left behind. When a family of Irish Travellers set up camp in the Dancy’s paddock overnight, these already high levels of tension increase. Iris finds the Travellers fascinating, especially their teenaged son, but her dad and brother want the Travellers gone, and fast. Over the course of a summer, events unfold that change these two families lives forever.
I started writing Infinite Sky four years ago, the summer before I started a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. It began as a sort of mystery story, with Iris uncovering clues about the whereabouts of her mother, and the type of person she was. For some reason, it didn’t work. In workshop, my fellow students said it lacked dimension. I’m not sure why, but on arriving at my first creative writing course, I seemed to have forgotten how to write.
After a particularly harsh workshop, my tutor asked what I was trying to say with my novel. I came out with a strange jumble of things – still unsure what I wanted to say. One of them was that I wanted to write about the effects of a divorce on children. My tutor recommended I go back to writing what I knew, and I began mining my experience as an adolescent. I wrote scenes about my parents’ separation and my relationships with my brother and parents. My classmates liked these scenes, and gradually, I began working the two ideas together. Using the truth of my experience of a separation, but jazzing it up with exaggeration and intrigue whenever I fancied.
The resulting novel has a lot of truth in it. The setting is the house I grew up in, exactly, and the father character looks and sounds an awful lot like my dad, though he says and does things that my dad wouldn’t dream of. There’s so much of my dad in Thomas’s characterisation that I was nervous of him reading it. My dad collected towers of five pees when I was a kid and had pockets full of sawdust. He still smells like wool and sweat and grass when he’s finished work. Thomas, like my dad, is a landscape gardener. I stole so much! (Luckily my dad loved the book, and hasn’t disowned me). The mum characterisation was a bit different. I had to use my imagination to create Anna and her reasons for leaving her kids. (My mum moved up the road during my parents’ separation, whilst Iris’s mum moves to Tunisia.) As such, Anna quite naturally evolved into someone apart from my mum, though she has the same strength and positivity, and a kind of glamour about her, too. Iris’s brother, Sam, started out as based on my older brother, but he quickly became his own person. Being very close with his mum in the story, he takes her absence especially hard. He falls in with local troublemakers, and takes up fighting. All very unlike the peace-loving, long-haired skater brother of my teens.
The most fictional element of the novel is the family of Travellers. I did a lot of research to create them, though in the end, they are just people. Trick, Iris’s friend/love interest takes a lot of traits from the boys I have loved thus far in my life. So you see, the question of how autobiographical Infinite Sky is, is a difficult one! Truth and fiction are so tightly woven together that it is an intense read for family and friends, and from what I hear from reviewers and readers, for strangers too.