Sunday, 11 August 2013

Genres? Or not

Here's a good question: as a writer, is it important to stick to one genre?

At school I was taught a variety of subjects with a view to giving me an all-round education. From this I was meant to whittle it down into one subject I liked above all others and go to university to study it. I chose art. It was an easy choice. I was terrible at everything else.

On my art course I was continually being told to narrow my choices still further by finding one area of interest and one medium that I like above all others and stick to it. I didn't do that. I was good at drawing but didn't want to be pigeonholed. I liked photograph, but didn't want to be a photographer. I liked painting but what to paint when it was all so interesting. I wanted to explore everything about art. No boundaries, no rules. Even the avant garde comes with rules. Poo.

In the event, I left art school and began my 'real life'. That means I had to earn a living. Stuff happens.

Much later, I realised I wasn't an artist at all - I was a writer - but here's where that problem once more reared it's ugly head. Write about one thing, in one genre. Publishers don't like it when they can't pigeonhole you. Agents don't like it when they can't pigeonhole you. They tell you no one will buy what you've written because readers want to read the same kind of book from the same author, time and time again. Well in that case there's no need to spend any money, just read the same damned book over and over!

Okay, so I know what they are saying. You read Stephen King, you come to expect horror. If he gives you romance you don't like it. You might even stop buying Stephen King books.

But this approach is a problem for writers (and in fact for anyone with a creative bent) because your mind doesn't work like that. At least, mine doesn't. Ideas come from who knows where, and sometimes there's no telling whether it's going to be a ghost story, a crime story, a family story, a love story... you catch my drift. And often these genres have cross overs, so it makes it really difficult to pin a genre down.

The other thing is this: I learned to write by working for TV. I wrote on documentaries. I would research a subject (any subject), find experts on it, mine their expertise and come up with a proposal for a TV programme. If I was lucky that programme would get made, if not then onto the next project. Working like that you learn to be an instant expert on something, only to drop it a couple of days later when the next idea comes along. It means that now I've a head full of random information - nothing connected, nothing focussed. That said, it's all grist for the storymill.

So... I write crime stories that are ghost stories, that are literary stories, that are family stories, that are just stories about life. Can we have another genre please? Life. That's my new genre.

I thank you

www.angelaelliottbooks.com