I must confess, I never thought about genre as a simple reader. I just looked at the cover and the subject matter of a book in a store and I bought it if I thought I might enjoy it. This is something I have done thoughout my book buying life and it also applies to books I now buy on kindle. I have a leaning towards the scientific, the bizarre, the unusual and the historic so things like generic romance or chick lit were never really on my radar until I joined Goodreads.

At that point I discovered two things, the existence of something called genre fiction which dominates publishing and the Goodreads Giveaway which allowed me to explore new writers at no cost. I won and subsequently read and reviewed several books that I admit would not have jumped off the shelves into my shopping basket. I also participated in discussions about genre fiction versus literary fiction and some of these were very heated. I learned about sensitivity readers and tropes. These were things I had never known about before, despite having studied English Literature.

Now at this point I must declare an interest as a writer and also that I am the victim of a British Grammar School education that was steeped in classics from Chaucer to the 1960s. My interests may have been a little different, but the standards I was held to had very little to do with genres or tropes. Times change, standards change and people change; I now read books that are certainly not classic literature and I read for reasons other than either study or pure pleasure. I still enjoy books that are different though.

My attitude towards books is similar to my attitude towards food and music. I will try it once and, if I like it, I may well add it to my list of things I must do again. Having said that, I am not a fan of the safe or the predictable and this is why I find genre fiction difficult to cope with. I want to be surprised and delighted and tropes do neither for me. In films the prevalence of tropes is something that is a real turn off for me. I no longer enjoy sci-fi or horror for example. I used to, and I still relish old films when they come on the television – especially 1950s sci-fi and Hammer horror – but the problem remains that I absolutely KNOW what modern “heroes” will look like, behave like, talk like and often it is not at all to my taste. I also know who will die horribly, in what order and that we are all in a real mess if this is how people would behave in real life. I guess I am just an old-fashioned girl, right? For me as a potential film goer, the ability to shock and amaze has now disappeared from an industry that now just believes in gore, swear words, more gore, camera shake, fast cuts, more gore, more camera shake and those over-riding stereotypes.

I am not advocating any return to “the good old days”, but I am starting to feel like a “missing link” between the 18th century and the 1990s. Bear that in mind if you read any of my books. They will contain ideas that are not safe, sexuality is neither censored nor packaged to appeal to only one type of reader, my people do not conform to tropes and their behaviour is not easily pigeon-holed. By today’s standards, this is bad writing. By my standards it is honesty. I write badly because in my experience life is usually lived badly, without censorship, without a safety net and without a label.

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I wrote last week about the pigeon holes we assign to ourselves as readers and as writers and how these make it difficult to assign genre at times. Since then, I put out a new LGBT story I had been working on for some time. Coming Home for Christmas is a sweet lesbian romance on the surface but it is also story about wasted years, old attitudes and a time that is probably better consigned to history. Its heroine, Rebel, is ironically far from being a rebel in real life. I can see young women getting quite angry about her behaviour towards Laura and I am not sure how sympathetic she will be to anyone under a certain age. I thought the best thing to do is let Rebel speak for herself:

“Hi Rebel, or shall I call you Jill?”
“Jill is a pseudonym, only Laura calls me Rebel. Perhaps it might be better to call me Eleanor. It feels more relaxing.”
“Well, I am not sure I want you to relax too much, Eleanor. I have a few difficult questions to ask you.”
“I’ll survive!” She laughs. “Fire away!”
“OK! I’ll start with a tough one then. Why didn’t you pull the trigger?”
“What? I can’t believe you’d ask me that right off the bat.” She looks shocked.
“Well? Why didn’t you? You were obviously suicidal.”
“Because the gun only fired blanks of course. What would be the point, Lisa?”
“Sorry, Rebel, but I have to ask. I was told only yesterday by somebody in the know that Bruce Lee’s son was killed with a gun that fired blanks.”
“Really? Wow! You really do believe in putting a girl at ease, don’t you?”
“I’m a writer, it’s my job to get to the point quickly.”
“That’s not just quick. That’s brutal.” She is visibly shaking. “I always knew I was lucky to get through my teenage years but I didn’t know just how close I actually came…”
“Well, I am sure your readers will be glad you didn’t shoot yourself. What they would probably like to know is why you very nearly did.”
“That’s not hard. It was tough in the 1970s. Tougher than you might think. People always go on about the 1960s and the permissive society and all the new freedoms young people had but for people like me it wasn’t so rosy. Folks always talk about rock stars – glam rock, Queen and Bowie – being gay, lesbian or bisexual was a fashion with celebrities. There was a lot of parody on TV too, some of it quite cruel, but in ordinary life there was gay bashing, name calling, inequality under the law, you name it and then there was this whole thing of coming from a religious background.”
“Did you have many gay and lesbian friends back then?”
“Not that I knew of. It wasn’t something you shouted about. When I went to College I met a few students who were “out”. I thought they were incredibly brave at the time.There was discrimination going on in so many fields; the armed forces, teaching, anything with responsibility it seemed. It was tough to get a job. Despite the outrageous show biz stuff we were just ordinary kids.”
“Any element of being provincial in that?”
“Oh, I am sure you’re right. The more insignificant your hometown, the more likely these things are to be driven underground. It’s different if you live in a big city; sheer volume of numbers I suppose and with that comes bravery. I was never brave.”
“But you got through what was in effect a nervous breakdown…”
“Yes, and without treatment. I was in denial of course and I went through a phase where I would go with men just to convince myself I was straight.”
“I got that. You were married twice I see. But no kids?”
“It never happened although we did try. It’s just one of those things I suppose. I’m not too worried about being child-free though. I don’t think children should be compulsory you know.” She laughs again.
“So what brought you to tell your story now?”
“Meeting Laura again. The way I behaved towards her was cowardly and unforgivable. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how she forgave me to be honest and all that is largely personal but I look around and see Christians, many of whom are otherwise lovely people, calling us every name under the sun and trying to take away our freedom. I wasn’t brave enough to fight for it but so many were. If I was sixteen now I don’t think anyone other than my parents would bat an eyelid. They loved me and I am sure they would have accepted me in time but the fact is that so many kids still need to be brave. They shouldn’t have to be. There are too many to this day who are thrown out or forced to conform and there are countries where love still carries the death penalty. To me, that is the real abomination in the sight of God.”
“Thank you for your time, Rebel, and thank you for your honesty.”
“No, thank you for giving me the chance to explain how it was for me back then and how it still is for some young people today.”
“So we might say you are now a Rebel with a cause?”
“Yes, I think I probably am,” she laughs.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Possibly (very likely) more than I should and that is possibly counterproductive in terms of time management, but I have grown my following by being real and interactive. Occasionally I am tempted to schedule tweets and I do find they can be effective for reaching people in the middle of the night. If I do, I always respond to follows and retweets as soon as I can.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of relatively small accounts growing their own followers by offering random retweets and telling you this is the way to go. It is almost like a follow train (another thing I won’t do) and while still within the rules it is only a matter of time before Twitter reacts to it and makes it harder to do. Already it is impossible to access your own likes for pinning to your profile later, you used to be able to keep them for years, now the limit is days. Favourites have been replaced by “moments” and I am not even sure what “moments” are. (Perhaps someone who is a real person can tell me in the comments?) That has been done for a reason, most likely to stop automation of this sort. It is very annoying when measures taken to discourage automation stop the user from sending real messages that quote your own old tweets… but there you go… It is the price we pay for these cheating Autotweet apps.

I know lots of people who used to interact personally and reciprocate RTs are now using random apps instead of spending time on Twitter. They no longer respond or reciprocate so I no longer retweet them. In my limited time I want to interact with real people, not be overlooked by third party apps. So, that is my curmudgeonly musing for the day. If you ARE a new retweet app user you are losing the impressions my RTs would have given you. I prefer the real deal!

I haven’t written much this year. In fact I am saddened to confess that I haven’t even read very much. In the month of NaNoWriMo I suppose any writer worth their salt should have produced the outline of at least one great novel but quantity was never my forte, least of all when blocked by a combination of family bereavement and seasonal affective disorder. However I gave myself a kick in the butt and managed another short story this week.

The Nefarious Deeds of Flautobel: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 3 is a very British story. You won’t find Webster’s spellings here and you may be easily offended by the “ing” words in the writing, but it is a little piece of English humour, with a “U”.

The Nefarious Deeds of Flautobel: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 3 is firmly set in the East Midlands, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire to be specific, and it deals with the surprises that real people can often spring on you. There is no magical realism, no vampires, evil empires, talking spiders or spaceships just a growing relationship between a young forensic science student and a blind baglady who turns out to have a few little tricks up her frayed sleeve. Is it literary fiction? Who knows, “literary”, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder. All I know is that Flautobel spoke to me early one morning when she could have chosen a myriad of far more highly regarded authors. God bless Flautobel for dragging me out of my lethargy and I hope I have done her character justice.

Yes, I admit it I am a bit of a curmudgeon. I should have been born in the days of Queen Victoria. Despite my mental youth I belong firmly to that school of “children should be seen and not heard” and I don’t like having my routine disturbed by other people’s precious dears. So yesterday when we fancied a late Sunday lunch I was disappointed to see a car park filled to the brim at my local hostelry. Apparently everyone in the world had gathered there to rush out and watch the Magna Carta being taken past unseen in a convoy of dignitaries and security guards.
Noting our usual table was free, we went to sit down. Now I have a bit of a thing about sitting in the “pub end” where the chairs are wide and cosy as opposed to the “restaurant end”. The manager on the other hand has recently decided that food belongs in the restaurant where modern reproduction tables and carvers designed for skinny minnies and children dig their cruel sharp side posts into my muscular back and shoulders. In our usual comfy spot we would happily have waited our turn for a menu (the pub recently having acquired table service) but no, we were to go to the far end out of everyone’s way and wait to be seated at a table.
I remonstrated with the staff. Nobody was actually sitting there and we wouldn’t mind the wait in our usual spot (in fact we would have happily had an extra pint while waiting) but no… the landlord has decided these tables will not be used for serving food. As we were not allowed to sit down where we wanted for a drink, we left hungry and disappointed. You see, we knew the plan. When our local is busy, people who arrive in pairs are squeezed into the uncomfortable end near the toilets where peace is shattered by small children (and not so small children too) who rush around showing off to an audience much bigger than usual.
We were not going to comply with their evil plan. Now our local pub probably will not miss the several meals a week we purchase there (because, as a writer, I find cooking distracts me from my work). Nevertheless I refuse to be shoe horned into an unsuitable environment that has pretensions. We left and will not return while they have their busy June period. The Chinese takeaway we ordered instead was cheaper, home booze was available if required, and there were no toilet smells, sharp seats to poke your back or screaming kids to hurt your head.
When my local pub gets its first Michelin star I won’t mind waiting to be seated even though I see free tables, in the meantime, like Matilda, I just say F.U. Unlike Matilda, I doubt the dragon will scorch my fairy dress and eat me up. I was brought up to be seen and not heard!

Of Matilda Who Told Lies: Tales from the Edge of Darkness – 2 is the latest short story in the collection Tales From The Edge Of Darkness and is available to borrow free with Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime.