Change: as good as a rest

Well, Iceland is beautiful.The landscapes you find there just by driving down the main roads is amazing. It’s not even something you have to hunt for off the beaten track. I mean, look at it…


We decided that this year we’d do something different for a holiday. Rather than find somewhere hot and read by a pool for a week, we would go for an adventure. Iceland is one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit. Partly for the scenery, and largely for the Northern Lights. Seeing the Northern Lights is one of my bucket list items. I can only imagine what it must be like to see them in person, dancing in the sky like ribbons of light. So flights and a hotel were booked, warm clothing was purchased, and off we went!

And did I see the lights?

Of course not.

Every single website and travel magazine on visiting Iceland repeatedly takes pains to point out there is no guarantee of seeing them when you visit. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t lucky this time. The weather wasn’t too bad, we had clear nights, it was just that the Lights didn’t show up for our week there.

Am I bummed? A little. How could I call the trip wasted when it consisted of views like this…img_0028

Or this…img_0070

Or this…img_8122
The entire country, at least the bits we saw, is breathtaking. We at least got snow, which covered the landscape in pure, white brilliance that didn’t melt for the entire week. It froze instead, which make walking an endurance test in most places, but that was a small prize to pay for the crystalline beauty that covered the world.

But my god, the wind! We were getting 46km/h gusts at points. We traveled down to Vik on the south coast on the Thursday and nearly lost one of the car doors to a gust. Literally. It almost came off the hinges and wouldn’t close. We had to call our emergency breakdown service and then drive to a garage whilst holding the door shut so they could fix it.

(Let this be a lesson in getting full insurance when renting a car, as doing so saved us over £1000 in repair fees for that one.)

But one thing this holiday lacked, in comparison to a beach holiday, was  reading/writing time. Normally I take a bag full of books with me, along with the Kindle App loaded onto my iPad. And I also fit in a large chunk of writing as well. This time the only reading I had time for was a little before bed. It felt odd. I don’t think I’ve ever had a holiday where I didn’t spend a large amount of my time reading. At least since I’ve been a teenager. One of the main points of a holiday has always been to relax and read.

The other thing way this differed from a traditional “summer” holiday is that by the end of it I was exhausted. By the time I got home I could literally barely think. I actually got quite worried that this trip wouldn’t have given me the rest I’d been needing, and would go back to the day job even more drained than I had been before, which in turn would lead to no energy for writing in my free time. Before I’d left I’d hit a wall with my new book and simply couldn’t see a way past, and was hoping the holiday would allow me to break through.

But it looks like I worried in vain. Yesterday lunchtime I sat down, and while I didn’t write any new words I was able to open up my notebook and start spilling out plot summaries and ideas, breaking down the first half of my new book in a way which seems to be allowing me to begin seeing past the block and into the second half!

So it looks like a change is as good as a rest. And even if you’re exhausted after your holiday, a week of sunrises like this really will refresh you mind.


Writer problems; unexpected inspiration

Last night I had a flash of inspiration, which now has developed into a full concept for a new fantasy/horror novel.

Now I just have to deal with the struggle of fighting down the urge to start developing this new idea further, as I’m already well into my next novel and have at least two more already on the shortlist for the one after this.

So, notes have been made and stored, with each idea written down safely. Now to let it percolate in my subconscious while I get working on the next one in line.

I guess I can’t complain that I have too many ideas for novels. It’s still a pain, though.

Rowling unnamed

By now everyone has heard about J.K. Rowling’s latest book. In as much as that it wasn’t originally known to be written by her. For anyone who hasn’t seen this news piece yet, Rowling recently wrote and published a novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Only the top executives at the publishing agency knew who the author really was. The book got published. It received good reviews, but got very low sales.

That is of course until it was revealed who the real author was. At this point it rocketed to the top of sale charts everywhere as Rowling’s fans rushed to get her latest work because it was written by their favourite author. It’s been argued whether it was ever meant to be known that Galbraith was Rowling; whether it was just a marketing ploy. Personally I don’t think so. Rowling is such a big name she doesn’t need a gimmick like this to sell books. I’m inclined to believe her argument that it was simply to see whether her books would be successful without her name attached. According to Rowling; “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

But somehow this is even worse. I find this really quite insulting to unknown authors.

Part of being an aspiring writer is the quest to make a name for yourself. To do this we need to get published and earn enough money through it to live by. But we all know that even if we’ve written the best novel in the world there is a chance we won’t get published. Our futures lay in the hands of fate, and a slushpile reader. A thousand barriers stand in the way; are they in the right mood, are they looking for your genre at the moment, do they think it will sell, have they signed someone similar recently?

But when you’ve made it, please don’t rub it in the faces of all of us who haven’t. What Rowling’s stunt highlights is that even excellent writers won’t necessarily find success just through the quality of their work.

Reading about this I came across this article discussing the case of Chuck Ross. It highlights this whole concept nicely. In the 1970s Ross decided to test the industry. He wanted to know whether his getting turned down by publishers was simply down to the quality of his work, or other factors. Did quality work always make it through the system?

To test this idea, he retyped the entirety of the award winning novel Steps by Jerzy Kosinski, the best selling novel of 1969. He then changed the title and sent it in to agents and publishers. So did quality writing get instantly recognised?

The answer, of course, was no. Ross was turned down over and over again. Publishers and agents sent his rejection letters telling him that having read the novel that there was no chance of it making a commercial or critical success. Even the publishers that had originally published Steps turned him down. With a form letter.

Wannabe authors live with this. I’m not being sour about it, it’s a part of the industry. We might not like it but we keep writing, keep improving and hope that one day we will make it. If I didn’t want to write even if I never sell a book then I shouldn’t want to be a writer anyway. I know that getting a publishing deal going to take an amount of luck but once I find that luck I’m not going to want to rub it in anyone else’s face. That’s what Rowling has done. She’s reminding us that even successful, established authors can’t rely simply on the quality of their work.

So it Seemed…

In the past week I think I have deleted the phrase “It seemed…” about a thousand times!

I firmly believe in the idea that the first draft of any work has to be pushed out without worrying about its literary quality. Whether you’ve planned the whole piece in advance or are writing through discovery, that first draft just needs to be thrown out into the page. If you focus on the minutiae at the start you lose the vision of the whole. Once it’s all there on the page, then it’s time for the second draft. That’s when you can focus on the little things. With the foundations and scaffold in place you can form on the details.

It’s this point that you start to see all the bad habits you have as a writer. I’m not just talking about spelling mistakes or badly structured paragraphs. Rather I mean those odd little habits you don’t realise you have; repeated phrases, redundant words, pointless description. The idiosyncrasies of your writing style. Things that seem so obvious when you go back over them that you can’t imagine why you didn’t see them as you wrote them.

I’m halfway through the second draft of my novella, and if I had a pound for every time I’ve deleted the words “It Seemed…” I’d be rich. For some reason I’ve been putting it at the start of almost every description. Those two words are totally redundant if you are using a literal description, and yet I have put it in over and over again.

When I had a friend give an Alpha read for The Breaking Land he came back with a list of words I used over and over again. This was simply a need for me to use more varied descriptions. My use of “It Seemed…” is a similar but different issue. I do have a tendency toward redundancy when I first write. My second drafts always do involve a lot of trimming.

I always imagine writing with this glorious image of the author sitting down at the keyboard and the words flowing from their fingers straight from their mind in the form that they’ll be published. You never picture how much work actually goes into it. How much sculpting of the language it takes to make the basic ideas in that first draft become readable. Hopefully, over time, I will get better and better at making the first drafts readable. Somehow I get the impression they will always need just as much work.

Jealousy and the success of others

I’ve written here before about the pains you have to go through if you want to be a writer. I spoke about rejections, and how the fact that they are something we must all endure does not make them any less painful. There are also other things that are part of an aspiring author’s life that are just as hard to deal with. I want to discuss one of them with you; jealousy.

One of the things that I have discovered about myself now I am trying to get published is that I find it very hard, for a short time at least, to be happy for those who manage it. I’m not proud of this. In fact I hate the way it makes me feel, but the fact is that every time I see an announcement about a first time author getting a publishing deal, or that an agency has signed somebody new, I get an angry stab of jealousy. It’s not pretty and it’s unfair. But it’s part of life.

It’s an understandable feeling. I’ll give myself that at least. As much as I don’t like it I am going to have to see other people succeeding where I have not. And I should be happy for them. I know only too well the pain of rejection and the desire to make it and get an agent/publisher. It’s almost certain that this other author went through the same things. Deep down I’m happy that someone has the things I want, but the overriding thought is that I’d rather it had happened to me.

And it’s not just strangers. A friend of mine recently won a writing competition. He’s a very talented writer and well deserved the win. Yet when I saw his name on the list of winners my first thought wasn’t happiness at a friend’s success, but jealousy at it. I didn’t even enter the competition and so can’t even claim to have been competing with him. The only thought that went through my mind was that he had achieved a measure of success that I had not.

I hate it when I feel like this. It’s a petty and mean part of me that I don’t like seeing. I was about to write that “it’s not who I am”, but clearly it is who I am. Is part of who all of us are when we want something badly. But I have to accept it and not let it make me bitter. It really doesn’t bother me more than a little while. I don’t dwell on it. People will make it, and hopefully someday so will I and then some other hopeful writer can feel the dark, angry stab of jealousy.

Like direct rejection, jealousy is something we all have to go through. As aspiring authors you have to keep an eye on social media and trade announcements to see what opportunities are out there, and so you are going to see the people who are getting ahead of us. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but you can’t let it become you.

I guess it’s all down to the same fear that rejection taps into; the fear that it will never be our turn. We all know that there are hundreds of people who want to be authors but who just don’t have the talent. We all have the fear that we are one of those. One of those people who just isn’t good enough. And every time somebody makes it it’s just another example of how other people are good enough to get published.

So all I can do is work on my thick skin and carry on. I don’t begrudge other authors finding the success that I want. I really don’t. I just really want some of it for myself.

Art Over the Artist (Update)

Back in March I posted a few comments about Orson Scott Card and the reaction to his proposed contribution to a Superman anthology. Due to Card’s strong opinions on and public campaigning against gay marriage. (His opinions on the matter are made clear here in this piece he wrote for the Mormon Times). There followed a very public backlash against these views being associated with Superman, and now an online campaign is building up steam to boycott the upcoming release of the movie adaptation of Card’s 1984 novel Ender’s Game.

This week Card released a statement through Entertainment Weekly about the situation. Here it is in full:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Orson Scott Card

I’m torn by this, as there is a part of me wants to agree with him. As he says the book, and film, are not pieces promoting his opinions. His written work and his political and religious views are separate. Shouldn’t we be able to enjoy them? And I also feel I should be happy with his comment that essentially says “You won, I accept this, let’s move on.”

But if you read the whole article he wrote for the Mormon Times back in 2008 you see that this opinion cannot be his. Here is a direct quote from that article regarding any government that passes laws that equalise gay marriage:

I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Does that sound like the opinion of someone who considers the matter “moot”? Have a read of that article. It is the perfect summation of how an intelligent person can look at facts through personal opinions and filter out a desired answer. It’s an exacting example of how homophobia, or any prejudice, can exists in an intelligent society.

I’m especially impressed by the last paragraph. You’ve always got to enjoy the old ‘If you’re so tolerant why are you judging me’ argument. It shows up the misguided viewpoint of people who can’t tell the difference between judging someone for promoting an unfounded and archaic opinion rather than something they are born as.

Card’s statement reeks of the studio and publishers PR Departments. While I understand and believe that a man can change his opinions, I’m going to need to see a lot more evidence than this. Especially as it’s in response to something that could lose the studios a lot of money. Any other time I might have been swayed, but this is all about lost ticket sales.

In my previous article I did not attempt to make a final decision whether we can enjoy Art despite the views or personality of the Artist. I said that it was always going to be something we must judge on a case by case basis. I was personally just not going to bother seeing the film adaptation of Ender’s Game. I might have, but I was leaning against it. But now having read this studio written, slightly bitter plea to forget about it, I find it’s actually pushed me towards a more hardline stance again Card’s work.

Where before I was mildly interested, now I find I do want there to be a successful boycott of this film. It’s not going to affect Card’s talent or success, and I doubt it will change his misguided and 50 years out of date views on homosexuality and marriage. But it will be a wonderfully grand statement that society as a whole does not condone the views that Card seeks to promote.

Woman in Fantasy

The portrayal of women in the media has been a very prominent topic recently. These discussions are taking place across many fields and topics, but due to my sphere of interests I’ve found a lot being said when it comes to women in ‘geek’ culture.

When it comes to what are traditionally considered the “geekier”’ genres of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, woman have traditionally had a hard time of it. While there are definitely stand outs within these mediums, women have never been fairly catered to, being shown as only stereotypes and/or sex objects. Both genres understandably suffered from the era in which they grew. I’m not looking to make excuses for or dissect the social opinions of the times, but the early to mid 20th century was a time in which women were not seen as having the prominent role that they do today, and media and literature reflected this.

Media reflects its creators, and those creators were of their time. Tolkien famously created no interesting female characters in his work. Half of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books are unfilmable today due to the casual but specific racism they contain. Stan Lee may well have helped revive the comic book industry in the ’60s, but if you can find a single woman in any of his writing that isn’t a two dimensional stereotype then I’m impressed. EE ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman series specifically had male Lensmen, as only male minds had the complexity to cope with the technology.

It became a self replicating cycle. You aim a genre at boys, so only boys read them, so you only aim them at boys, so only boys read them, and on and on ad infinitum.

Now with this new thrust of feminism back into our social conscious, it is slowly become less and less acceptable to let this cycle continue. The whole point about Fantasy and Science-Fiction is that you can create any world you want. Sometimes based on earth or a pseudo-earth, and sometimes complete original worlds in which the only social norms are what the author creates.

But while Science-Fiction has it slightly easier – the whole futurist aspect allows you to move away from traditional gender roles – I feel that Fantasy has it slightly harder. While it is true that Fantasy is often set in a fictional world, it looks back in a way other genres don’t. While not a sweeping truth, as a rule Fantasy worlds tend to be more primitive, harking back to medieval or at least pre-industrial times. While not direct analogues of the real world, these historical influences must inevitably bring to mind times when women were not equal.

I’m not saying you can’t write strong, interesting female characters in Fantasy. That would be a massive falsehood considering how many have done so. But in the same way many have not, and recently enough.

David Gemmell’s Legend was written in 1984, and yet has only one female character. And while starting off seemingly strong and independent, she quickly falls in love and marries the protagonist. From this point in the book she simply becomes motivation for the male protagonist, as well as a reason for him to rise to authority (by inheriting her father’s titles).

You can see where the author was coming from with this character. He set the story in a primitive earth analogue when women would not have been warriors or held their own titles, and this story focuses on war and battle. And yet that is no excuse for such lazy writing. She seems to have some character in the beginning, but them quickly becomes a vapid piece of motivation for the male protagonist. Even in the mid ’80s I would have expected better.

A better example of the themes Gemmell used would be George R. R. Martins’ Song of Ice and Fire series. Again this is a real world analogue setting with a culture where women are expected to be demure and have their own socially defined roles. But he then created interesting, strong female characters within that culture. He didn’t break the culture, or simply stick in females who were ‘different’ for the sake of it, but worked within what he had created and simply used those characters to show different aspects of that world. And this was only 7 years after the publication of Legend. That’s not a whole lot of time.

I’m not saying that you cannot write a society where the genders are imbalanced, but you cannot simply do that to avoid female characters. There is plenty of good Fantasy fiction out there using the ‘traditional’ cultural roles for the genders as a basis, but good writers will use that. It is a great way to create conflict within the story.

Much of the discussion about the lack of female characters in literature and television is that fact that there really needs to be no difference between the genders unless the story requires it. A famous example of this is Ripley from the Alien movie franchise. The character is often cited as a great example of a strong female role model character, but the fact is all of the characters in that movie were written with no gender in mind. It was later decided to cast the role as female, but the creation of the character had already been done. They made more of the gender/mother aspects in the sequels, but in the original the gender did not matter, and we have a classic character who just happens to be female.

So like everything else when it comes to writing, the answer behind it all is do not become lazy. In society today there is no excuse or reason for poorly written, or omitted, female characters. If you want to write in a world with clearly defined social roles, play with that and create interesting characters within that world. And if in your world a character’s gender doesn’t matter, don’t just make them all male by default. That’s just rubbish.

But remember this rule affects male characters just as much. If you’re lazy in any aspect of your work, it will reflect on the overall quality. Think about it, and write interesting characters that drive the story forward.

This our summary of Jeremy Hunt’s contempt

While some people might argue that we already have all of the evidence that we need to make a judgement, recently Jeremy Hunt, through the use of Twitter, has summarised in 140 characters or less exactly why he is utterly ill-suited to the posts of MP and Minister that he holds.

Last month, the website released a survey that listed a number of questions to its members about the future of the health service. At the end of this was a list of self admitted ‘controversial’ topics which members were asked to rate. Among these was the idea that there should be a cap on the number of times you should be allowed to visit your GP in any given year. (Go here to find the original report. The section in question is right at the end).

In their own word, the ideas this was included with were “controversial food for thought”. It is clearly a way of measuring the Conservative Party membership’s level of interest. However, when this news got out many people were understandably worried. I’m sure that at various points in the past this whole thing would have quickly been dismissed by both the media and public, but under our current Health Secretary it rang all too true as something that he might well attempt.

I was first made aware of this by a 38 Degree online petition. This was set up to make a firm and rapid statement to Mr. Hunt that the general public would not support such a direction in his policy. In 48 hours it reached nearly 200,000 signatures, and was sent off to the Ministry.

This was where Hunt displayed to the world what sort of man he is. Soon after receiving the petition, he posted the following on his Twitter feed.


This highlights the utter contempt that Jeremy Hunt holds all those who wish to engage with him. This ideas was when out by an official, public Conservative Party think tank, and those of us who were concerned made a statement of their displeasure, as was our right. All the Minister had to do was make a brief statement reassuring people that this was not being considered as policy.

The public raises a concern, the government listens and replies. Democracy in action.

Or not. Because of course Jeremy Hunt does not consider the concerns of the People to be of importance. Why was there the need to make a dig at a group of people who expressed concern? A basic tenant of democracy is that the elected representatives are answerable to the people, and yet Mr. Hunt decided to make a passive aggressive attack on those people who seek to promote that accountability.

A cannot imagine that this situation took any significant time out of his day. He would have been shown the petition by his office, seen that the idea highlighted was not planned to be policy, and told one of his staff to clearly refute it on Twitter. End of story. What’s that? About two minutes of his day at most? It would have been a wonderful example of him engaging with the electorate and done nothing but help his reputation as a politician. But instead he feels compelled to make his snide remark about 38 Degrees. I mean, how dare the public place him under scrutiny? Don’t they know who he is? He’s Jeremy Hunt!

Online petitions are a new phenomenon, and one a lot of the political establishment is still trying coming to terms with. The internet has made it so simple for the public to come together an express opinions on matters of national interest. In the past Ministers might have been able to do the majority of their work with little or no response until policies were enacted, but those days are over. Mr. Hunt, with his involvement in the Ministry’s of both Media and Heath, has been the focus of a number of these petitions since coming to office, and I can understand why he might be frustrated by them, but there is no sympathy.

What this is an example of is a man who is getting fed up with the public outcry at all of his policies. Jeremy Hunt is an example of a certain type of politician; those who feel that the authority they are given is their god given right, rather than something granted to him by the choices of others. This Tweet has encapsulated all of this. He doesn’t see the public as an entity that should be paying attention to what he does, with the right to know his plans and express their opinion. To him the public should settle down and leave him to it, allowing him to do what he want without having to worry about what the common folk want.

I am not trying to make a party political. While I do not support the Tory party or many of their policies, I accept that they were voted in and the current government was fairly elected under our current political system. What I’m criticising here is the man himself. This is a entitled member of the Oxford Old Boys Club. He holds a great deal of power and yet holds nothing but scorn for an open, informed electorate that doesn’t treat him with the deference he feels he deserves. He does not care about what any of us want or need. He has his own views, and as soon as anyone disagrees with him they are a target for his scorn and derision.

This situation offered Mr. Hunt a chance to engage with the electorate. What he gave back was a precisely summarised display of what a privileged, entitled bully he really is. In 140 characters or less.

Letting The Plot-holes Wash Over You

When writing you have a lot to think about, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it is easy to get lost in working out the plot and the characters.

A good story and engaging characters are vital to a good book if you want readers to be able to get invested. It is a constant struggle to work out original and compelling ways of telling your story that will make you stand out from the rest. We think and we plan and we sweat over this, desperately trying to make sure the plot makes sense and isn’t too predictable, and that our characters are not flat and two dimensional.

But as important all all this is, it is vital that you don’t forget that it is the writing style that makes your book great.

I recently went to see the latest Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness. It was amazing. Exciting, fast-paced, everything you wanted in a science-fiction action movie. All the way through it I was enjoying myself, and while watching I did not pick up a bum note in the storytelling.

But afterwards, once I had time to think it over, certain holes in the plot become glaringly obvious. There are points in the film that just don’t make sense when looked at in the cold light of day. I noticed a few, and then others have pointed out still more. All in all, it cannot be denied that Star Trek Into Darkness is a movie that is riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies.

But that doesn’t take anything away from how good the movie is. It is constructed in such a way that when you are actually watching it, at least for the first time, you don’t notice these flaws. They are enough to further the story that the filmmakers what to tell, and so caught up are the viewers that they suspend their disbelief enough to accept it. And if I watch it again in the future, I’ll know they are there but I’ll still be able to ignore the plot holes and enjoy the ride.

If you did this the other way around, and had a story that made perfect sense every step of the way but wasn’t fun to watch it would just be a bad, unentertaining movie. Plot holes in a well made movie can be ignored as our attention is caught. A bad movie with no plot holes is just that. A bad movie.

There is a slight difference when applying this idea to novels, as we do pay more attention to the written word as it requires our imaginations to process more than simply watching a screen, but the principle is exactly the same. What makes a writer successful is the style of their writing. If we enjoy reading the words themselves for their own sake, we will be willing to forgive the odd mistake and plot hole. We are enjoying the act of reading rather than what we are reading. (Well, as well as what we’re reading, but I’m making a point here).

I’m going to offer up as an example the author Dan Brown. For all the criticism levelled at him, his plots are intricate and complex. He clear puts a lot of thought and knowledge into the story and has made sure everything works well enough to keep the story going. The problem is that his actual writing is terrible. Truly terrible. If it wasn’t for the fact that the Catholic Church gave him all the free publicity it did over the religious subjects he choses he should never have been as successful as he was. But he remains a prime example of story over style.

On the other hand, if you take someone such as Stephen Fry; a man who could write a page on the art of tying his shoelaces and make it a pleasure to read. His style is simply a love of words and a talent for arranging them in a way that is readable simply for their own sake.

I’m not saying that story is not just as important and style, just that it is very easy for writers to forget it is not all that makes up a good novel. Readers have to enjoy reading, and also you have to enjoy the writing. If all you are doing is putting one plot-point after another then your work is not going to be fun to read.

Put thought into you story. Make it interesting and compelling and original. Just do not allow yourself to forget that it is your own unique voice coming through that will make or break your work. Let the story and characters drive your writing, but let your love of words lead it.

In defence of Genre Fiction

When it comes to reading, I like all sorts of genres. I’ve read historical books, romantic books, crime books, thrillers, literary fiction. There are good and bad samples in all of these, but I like to think that that is always down to the writer, not the genre. My personally favourite genre is Fantasy; from the high fantasy world of Tolkien, to grittier realistic styles of George R.R. Martin. Leaving the real world and going into one of pure imagination is far more satisfying to me than simply and story from the real world. But when you are a fan of this genre, when you visit bookstores you notice that it is so often relegated to a single, out of the way bookshelf. It’s the same with others, such as Sci-Fi or Crime. For some reason people decided that the shelves labeled as simply “Fiction” were too good, and the genres had to be kept away.

When you compare the concepts of “Genre Fiction” and “Literary Fiction”, it seems to me that ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Literary’ sit at the very opposite ends of the spectrum. Where most Literary Fiction is about the poetry of the writing and depth of character, Genre fiction often require far more world building and plot development. Fantasy often has this more than others, as it requires a whole other world to be created and made believable before you can invest in the characters and plot.

But that doesn’t mean that it does not require the same skill in writing. In my opinion, an excellent Fantasy novel would be a lot harder to write than an excellent Literary novel, for as well as the prose style and the insights into the psychology of the characters the author needs to also have created an interesting world and plot to support them.

Personally, I feel that Literary fiction often has a lot of very snobby champions. It seems to me that the definition simply came about to cover novels that could not be put into a ‘simple’ genre. It is often these unique, wonderful books that gain much literary acclaim, but then other writers create work with no obvious genre and so get bundled into the same group despite their lack of notable attributes. And then for some reason genre fiction is seen as ‘lesser’ writing.

And this often leads people to pigeonhole genre fiction, refusing to believe it can offer anything original and interesting. It amazes me, but there really does seem to be a mindset of people out there who believe that if you can put something into a ‘genre’ it means that it cannot offer anything new.

I am a member of the online writing community The site allows to you upload your work for other members to review and comment on. Most people are free and open minded in their opinions of my work, but occasionally I will get comments such as these:

“This is not the sort of book I will usually read…”

“This follows the Tolkien pattern of dwarves and elves. Nothing new here.”

The first of those is an honest opinion. Everybody has their own tastes. I dislike certain genres, but recognise that there are excellent works within them. It’s the second really makes me angry. These people are not judging the work on its own merits, but on the tropes of the genre. If they wanted to comment on how I had used those tropes in my work then that would be fully justified and I would accept that, but this is simply a judgement of their inclusion.

While a writer always has to be careful of being derivative of others work, that’s the skill of the author we are questioning. Katherine Kerr, Raymond E. Feist, and J.R.R. Tolkien have all written long running Fantasy series’ including elves. Their works are completely different. It is as if someone read the first chapters of Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy and thought “Ah, this book has spies. It’s just a James Bond rip off.”

Now I’m not trying to say there isn’t derivative Genre Fiction out there. I’ve read plenty of it. Every genre will have a mix of the excellent, the so so, and the terrible. Believe me, I could list a number of Fantasy authors who I cannot believe ever managed to get published. And I am sure that I could do the same from every other genre. But that just means there are terrible authors who can get published. It’s a shame, but we all have to put up with it. But some people need to remember that Literary Fiction is just another genre, not somehow separate and a step above.