Writer in Residence

Stranger than Fiction: discussion with Steven Beattie and Dr. Laurence Scott

By Bianca Lakoseljac

By Bianca Lakoseljac: OB Writer in Residence.

As a fiction writer, I often find myself wondering how the world we live in is reflected in the world we create in our stories, and how the stories we create influence our lives. I also find myself using the expression, “stranger than fiction,” to mean simply that at times real life can be more bewildering than the imagined one.

Commonly, we think of fiction as the stories we invent. A Handbook to Literature defines fiction as “Narrative writing drawn from the imagination rather than from history or fact. … Sometimes authors weave fictional episodes around historical characters, epochs, and settings and thus make historical fiction. Sometimes authors use imaginative elaborations of incidents and qualities of a real person, resulting in a type of writing popular in recent years, the fictional biography. Sometimes the actual events of the author’s life are presented under the guise of imaginative creations, resulting in autobiographical fiction. Sometimes actual persons and events are presented under the guise of fiction, resulting in the ro·man à clef.” (Holman. 195)

We use terms such as creative nonfiction—also known as narrative nonfiction, or literary nonfiction—for writing that uses literary devices, or figurative language, to compose factually accurate narratives. All these mutations of fiction have led to heated discussions on whether the author had imagined certain scenes or lived them.

The debate on what is fiction and what is non-fiction is ongoing. All stories come from somewhere. How can we assess what is purely imagined and what stems from some spark of memory—from our experiences of the events we have lived through, from the books we read, the television programs we watch, the movies, the news, talks with our family and friends and acquaintances; sometimes people with whom we have a casual conversation on the street? And sometimes perhaps from the reservoirs in our own self Carl Jung referred to as the “collective unconscious." (Holman, 93) Could we suppose that only this type of writing—that comes from our deep unconscious—is purely imaginative?

During my studies at York University, I was drawn to literature that combines history and psychology with fiction, and was fascinated to discover how this merging has led to literary works that are timeless. During my graduate studies, I pursued courses that explored Jungian approaches to literature, which led me to the notion of the possible presence of “primordial images,” (see “Archetype,” Holman, 35) that is the type of memory derived from our existence as primordial forms of life—memories that have formed through our evolution, and may be imbedded in our subconscious. Over the years, on and off, I have been a member of the C. G. Jung Foundation of Ontario, and have continued to cultivate an interest in the theories and concepts of Carl Jung and his followers —among them the power of dreams and visions and  “archetypal images” (Holman, 35) of the subconscious mind. In other words, I am drawn to what is beyond our visible world.

Many of us live in an age unimagined by our grandparents. Some of us who had functioned efficiently and happily before the Internet became an integral part of our life are awed by the technological advancements in the last few decades. All the while, the generations who only know the “age of the Internet” may not be able to conceive everyday life without Facebook and Twitter—not to mention email.

When I saw the series of sessions entitled “Stranger than Fiction” at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA), I was instantly drawn to it. The sessions were engaging, informative, and fascinating, and I have not been able to put them out of my thoughts.


“If we wish to function within our business, academic, and social communities, is it realistic to believe that our disengagement from social media is possible?” 

At the risk of misquoting Dr. Laurence Scott, this is how the presentation, The Four-Dimensional Human, began—which is also the title of Dr. Scott's book. Or at least this is the point where the presentation grabbed my attention.

What I found intriguing was Dr. Scott’s so called “fourth dimension”—a type of a ghostly existence or non-existence, which results from our interaction with social media.

Dr. Scott read an excerpt about a friend, a pianist, he lost touch with and decided to look up on Facebook some years later, only to discover that his friend had died. No explanation for the death was offered, and Dr. Scott was drawn in by the messages of condolences and the deceased man’s music which remained posted. He also came across the man’s mother’s expression of sorrow, which ceased eventually—for she had also died shortly after her son. (Scott, 163-167)

What Dr. Scott found intriguing was the notion of the man’s posthumous existence in social media—that included photos, his music, the messages of condolences from his friends and his mother—still continuing in this bizarre cyberspace, as a type of ghostly existence.  Now as I read the same excerpt, I am transported to that abyss —to that one ghost mourning another Dr. Scott talked about—and I am saddened by it. I am also fascinated by the concept.

When I came to the sessions, I had no intention of writing about Dr. Scott’s presentation. I was interested in the new perspectives the presentations offered on our interaction with not only other people, but also with the natural world; with the technology that has invaded our workplace and our home—social media in particular; with the war machines; and the environmentally hazardous substances we are accosted by sometimes when we least expect it.

Although I was unable to attend all the sessions, I came away from the last day of IFOA with my brain buzzing about the ones I did make. On my way home, I was enthusing about Jeff VanderMeer’s discussion on storytelling and climate change. As a life-long environmentalist, I seem to have a “sensor” for subjects dealing with environmental issues. As a lecturer at Humber College and Ryerson University, I was compelled to assign topics which would entice my students to research certain environmental issues. I felt that this experience would provide a fresh view and raise awareness of our surroundings.  However, as I contemplated VanderMeer’s presentation, Dr. Scott’s concept of the “fourth dimension” kept haunting me.

With the International Festival of Authors behind us, I find myself, as other years at this time, regretting that I overlooked certain readings, workshops, and roundtable discussions. Regardless how many sessions I attended, it is those I could not make that cause me to wonder what I have missed: perhaps a talk that would provide a renewed impetus to my novel-in-progress; or to the one that lays dormant in my subconscious waiting for that insight to prod it.

Here are the five “Stranger than Fiction” presentations IFOA offered.

  1. Deborah Campbell. A Disappearance in Damascus: A Story of Friendship and Survival in the Shadow of War.
  2. Alexandra Risen. Root Therapy: Re-imagining the Family Tree.
  3. Laurence Scott. The Four-Dimensional Human.
  4. Jeff VanderMeer. Moving Beyond the Human Era: Storytelling and Climate Change.
  5. Catriona Crowe. Ireland’s Violent Revolution: How do we commemorate it.

In a subsequent email exchange, Steven Beattie, Review Editor at Quill & Quire, who hosted the presentations, graciously agreed to share some of his impressions on these thought-provoking sessions. 

   1.  Bianca Lakoseljac: IFOA's presentations grouped under "Stranger than Fiction" are described as, "inspired by new ideas about our humanity and our relation to the world around us." What was the most rewarding aspect of hosting this event?

Steven Beattie: I think the most rewarding aspect of hosting the entire afternoon was being exposed to such a wide array of approaches for engaging with our modern world. Deborah Campbell's talk on being an investigative journalist in Syria following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 seemed worlds apart from Alexandra Risen's focus on communing with nature as a means of reconnecting with her family, but both women were really talking about how to be human in our current situation. As was Scott in grappling with the notion of retaining our humanity in the face of technological change.
It was fascinating to hear Catriona Crowe talk about Ireland in the early 20th century, because its history has resonance for what we're going through in 2016, and particularly when seen through the lens of Brexit. And Jeff VanderMeer spoke about how fiction can be used as a catalyst for effecting real-world change in the area of global warming. What united all five presenters was this investigation of how to live in the world; what was most invigorating was the range of approaches and attitudes they espoused.

2.      BL. What would you hope the audience took away from these sessions?

SB: As for what I hope the audiences took away, I would like to think that they were provided access to a range of different voices and perspectives on the world and our place in it. So much about our current situation gives rise to feelings of unease or even despair; the people who spoke in the IFOA series all provided a hopeful counterbalance to this, even when the subjects they were addressing – war, climate change, technological malaise – seemed enormous and intransigent.

I also contacted Dr. Laurence Scott, author of The Four-Dimensional Human, and posed a few questions. His insightful answers have been a useful guide and have enriched my reading experience of his exciting new book:

1.      Bianca Lakoseljac: What is The Four-Dimensional Human about?

 Dr. Laurence Scott: The Four-Dimensional Human asks a series of questions about the major implications of the digital revolution on our sense of self. How have the limits and coherence of our bodies changed with the arrival of the Internet in our pockets? How do we experience time differently in a networked world? How has the commercialization of social media brought new pressures and expectations? What demands are placed on us as digital citizens and, most crucially, what does it feel like to be digitized? How are the rhythms of our inner lives and emotions being subtly recoded? The book explores these questions using a range of cultural references, from Homer to Seinfeld and Tina Fey to Virginia Woolf, bringing Twitter into conversation with Macbeth.   

2.      BL: What advice would you give your readers before they begin reading your book? Is there a certain approach you would like them to take? Is there something you would like them to keep in mind?

Dr. LS: This book is not a ‘how-to’ guide for using digital technologies, nor does it have any other practical purpose. My aim is to show the weird poetry of the early days of the online revolution, to find striking images for the new experiences and emotions that digital technologies provoke. I want to situate the changes we are all experiencing in our daily lives in the larger context and history of Western culture, to show how our ideas of personhood are being rewired as we head deeper into the network. The book’s ideal reader will enjoy its treatment of the wonderful, terrifying paradoxes and ironies particular to our digital times.  

3.      BL: What would you hope your readers take away from your book? 

Dr. LS: I hope that my readers will recognize some of the everyday phenomena I describe, and that the book will offer some unlikely ways of thinking about our increasingly digitized lives.  


The Four Dimensional Human by Laurence Scott  IMG_6161


Since the presentations, the notion of “how to live in the world” has been ruminating in my mind: how reality and fiction intersect; how our existence—or nonexistence—in cyberspace can be seen as a type of a fictional existence; how our subconscious mind interacts with it; how our public and private lives have changed. And I wonder what Carl Jung would have said about all this.

For me, this concept of a ghostly existence in cyberspace—that interconnects people without regard to physical geography—resonates on various levels. In a way, it makes me think of my characters who, while I am writing a story, are vivid in my mind’s eye. I can “see” them. I know what they look like—the colour of their eyes and that sparkle when they laugh, and how their lips move when they speak. I know what they wear, how they walk and talk and what type of music they listen to. And I know what they think. When I transcend into my characters, I am omniscient. I know their strengths and failings, and their innermost longings and sorrows.  Although they are fictional, in my mind they exist in another dimension. And when the book is published, and I am no longer part of their "lives", in some way—as strange as it may seem—my characters are not unlike the people whose virtual existence continues in cyberspace after they die. In a way, I miss them, as they continue their ghostly existence—nonexistence in the pages of my book and in my mind.

The notion that our Facebook postings and our tweets and all the rest goes on and on somewhere in cyberspace after we are gone—after they have lost their meaning and usefulness—is  surreal.  It prods me to continue reading The Four-Dimensional Human—every page revealing yet another fascinating way of looking at our interaction with our workplace, our family and friends, our environment—our moment in history. And I think the IFOA sessions “Stranger than Fiction” certainly accomplished what they set out to do—make us think about the world we live in.


  • Steven W. Beattie is Review Editor at Quill & Quire in Toronto.
  • Dr. Laurence Scott is a Lecturer in English & Creative Writing at Arcadia University in
    Holborn, London.

Holman, Hugh C. and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. 6th ed., Maxwell MacMillan Canada. Toronto, 1992.

Scott, Laurence. The Four-Dimensional Human, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

References for further study about C. G. Jung’s theories:

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, 1968.

Hannah, Barbara. Encounters with the Soul: Active Imagination, as developed by C. G. Jung. SIGO Press, 1981.

Jung, C. G. Symbols of Transformation. 2nd ed., volume 1-5, translated by R. F. C. Hull, Princeton University Press, 1967.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Bianca Lakoseljac second novel, Stone Woman, which relives Toronto’s 1967 “summer of love”, has just been released by Guernica Editions. Bianca is the author of a novel, Summer of the Dancing Bear; a collection of stories, Bridge in the Rain (Guernica, 2012, 2010); and a book of poetry, Memoirs of a Praying Mantis (Turtle Moons Press, 2009). She is TWUC liaison for the National Reading Campaign, past president of the Canadian Authors Association, Toronto, has judged various national literary competitions, and has served on a number of literary contest panels. Bianca taught at Ryerson University and Humber College.

You can write to Bianca throughout the month of November at writer@open-book.ca