To create the literature of fact, we have to work like novelists in many ways. We select. We cast light on this object, shadow on that. We imagine. We imagine what it is like to be that old Albanian woman weeping over the body of her murdered son, or what it was like to be a 14th-century French serf. No good history or reportage was ever written without a large imaginative sympathy with the people you are writing about. Our characters are real people; but we shape them like characters, using our own interpretation of their personalities. Then we talk of “Michelet’s Napoleon”, “Taine’s Napoleon”, and “Carlyle’s Napoleon”, for each Napoleon is in some important sense the author’s creation.
The property of deliberate imagining is certainly not confined to the Tanzania of fiction. Imagination is the sun that illuminates both countries. But this leads us into temptation. A voice in your ear whispers, “You know that Kenyan in the slouch hat really did say that awfully funny thing you think he almost said. Just write it down. No one will ever know. And look, just across the frontier there is that gorgeous flower – the one missing novelistic detail that will bring the whole story alive. Pop across and pick it. No one will notice.” I know this voice. I have heard it. But if we claim to write the literature of fact, it must be resisted.