Yesterday, I was reading this article by Aminatta Forna entitled ‘don’t judge a book by its author’ and I found it absolutely captivating. It got me thinking about something which has been brewing at the back of my mind for a long time. It’s all caught up in that messy understanding of what I write.
When I get the opportunity to meet and mingle with other writers, the question often pops up. What do you write? I always hesitate and the word seems to get stuck at the back of my throat because it’s so obvious, surely: stories. The confusion and uncertainty comes from knowing the question that is really being asked is ‘which genre do you write?’
Which section of which bookshelf would you like to sit on?
But my honest answer is always in that one word. I generally waffle a bit about writing anything and everything, passing myself off as a Jack of all trades. Yet very few authors actually make it down that route. We all know that Neil Gaiman is the notable exception, even forgiven for that mild transgression regarding Duran Duran. All others must not pass without first declaring their pigeonhole.
I’ve never written science fiction. I don’t care enough about getting the science part right to make it an enjoyable experience for me or anyone else who might then get to read it. Fantasy, with much more leeway to veer around, I’ve tried. Horror. Romance. Short stories. YA. So called general fiction. I find a story rattling around in my brain and I write it down. It never crosses my mind to think in terms of genre first. A character whispers in my ear that they have something interesting to tell me and if they happen to be a teenager, a seventeenth century serving wench or a werehamster* then so be it.
I’m not a single characteristic. I’m a messy, complex human being. Likewise, I can’t see myself ever getting joy from being trapped in a single genre. But there is one thing I’m starting to realise:
I really don’t mind.
You can keep your labels to yourself.
*Never actually written a thing with a werehamster