One of the things that always impressed me about the greatest novels of the past is how they crossed genres. They are not based on set characters or stereotypical behaviour but avoid genre tropes in favour of writing that is true to life. This is done whatever the nature of the story. They may be difficult books for the reader. Books like this are sometimes hard to get into but well worth the effort. They do not focus on one aspect which is easy to market to a particular type of reader. They are hard to classify.

When my English teacher assigned me to a group read of Lady Chatterley’s Lover back in the 1970s, I can remember my mother being quite horrified that he asked us to read what she considered to be porn. This was because the book had once been labelled obscene and was banned until the 1960s. I asked my mother if she would please read the book and then, if she felt I shouldn’t, tell my teacher why. My mother’s curiosity was aroused and she went on an enthusiastic search for “the rude bits”. Soon she was engrossed in the novel itself and found it gripping because of the social commentary, the history, the moving story line and D.H.Lawrence’s great writing. Yes, Mum found that the sex scenes were explicit and used what she considered crude words, but she loved the story, descriptions and settings and told me to go ahead and read the book with her blessing. This ignited my love for books that do not conform; a love for historical novels that contain explicit love scenes, for science fiction or horror with elements of philosophy or poetry, for adventure books with lyrical descriptions and for literary fiction with a humorous slant.

Whatever we read affects our writing. There is no way around this as writers. We are all affected in unconscious as well as conscious ways by the authors we read and they affect our own writing in direct proportion to the emotional impact they have on us. We are not just affected by books, but also by plays and films we have seen as well as our own life experiences. This is something I find in my own work. I am influenced by all this including the cross-genre writing of the past that I have enjoyed but I am also influenced as a musician and poet. To throw all of this off in an attempt to write commercially is something I find difficult. I plead guilty as charged, Your Honour, I write the sort of stories I would like to read.

One opinion I hear all the time is that writers should self-censor and conform to genre and tropes in order to succeed. From a sales point of view this might make sense. Authors should not cross genres, they should use different pen names if they do and they should definitely not upset people who buy their books. In life though, just as in the best fiction, good people have bad things happen to them and they cope with those bad things in many ways. As a writer I am guilty of being more interested in how my character is moulded and changed by experience than how I can water things down. For example, I may have a lesbian character who enjoys her first experience of sex with a boy but then goes on to realise it was purely physical and that her true romantic feelings are for a woman. There will be those straight readers who are upset by having a lesbian leading lady and there will be those lesbian readers who wish the straight sex just hadn’t happened. This sort of thing is a very real dilemma for a writer.

Another character might experience rough sex and be turned on by the experience whereas for the sensitive reader, or a victim of rape, this can be a horrible trigger. I know there is no way these things are going to pass a “sensitivity reader” without a deep edit and, quite possibly, a brutal emasculation. To be truthful, I don’t feel this is the main criteria for good writing though. Brutal honesty might upset some readers but it is more realistic and respectful of individual differences in the long term. In my opinion, and I admit it is only my opinion, characters should not always be cardboard cut-outs who experience love and emotions in safe ways or speak in acceptable language at times of crisis. This is why I would not attempt the traditional publishing route and why I will never be mainstream in my reading choice either.

Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims has been viewed by many as an insane proposition. By some it will be seen as an answer. As I write this post in the run up to Christmas I need to express an opinion that we no longer live in such a simplistic world – if we ever did. To me, it seems that we use religion as a reason to beat people up, verbally, even if not physically.

I come from a culture in Britain that has grown more and more inclusive over my lifetime and yet I am not sure if it has ever become more tolerant. We are fast become polarized over many issues and many of these are about “belonging”. We “belong” to an ethnic group, a gender, a set of sexual preferences, a religion, a sports club, a group of music fans and many more. These groups have the potential to support and lift each other, even to greatness, but they also have the ability to exclude others, to be judgemental about them and to compete for attention, territory or material wealth against different groups.

I was brought up as a Christian and my own personal struggle to maintain that faith against the intolerance of others is something I don’t want to deal with here today; however I coped with intolerance on a personal level and I retained my own belief. What my struggle is actually about is those people who use “belonging” as an excuse to do evil. This might, for example, be an attack on others, using them as political pawns, and this is not the sole prerogative of terrorists, is it? Now, be honest…

As I sit here I am aware of a constant stream of intolerance of non-believers towards believers. Those rants might be banter in the pub, 140 dismissive characters on Twitter, or even furious condemnation of one politician or another in homes across every country in the world. Atheists will be mocking all those who believe in God, different religious groups will be calling other believers apostates and enemies, reactionaries will be cheering arson against mosques, temples, synagogues, churches; wherever difference is found you will find conflict.

There is ONE group to which we all belong, though sadly not many adhere to it. That group is humanity and beyond that we all belong to an even larger group of terrestrial organisms. The one undoubted fact is that every human being on this planet is ruled by hormones including testosterone – yes, even girls have testosterone – and testosterone not being put to sensible use is, in my humble opinion, the main reason that shit happens. It is the hormone responsible for dominance, anger, sexual potency, aggression and energy and it is this hormone raging uncontrolled that causes basic territorial aggression; not God, not people of different colour, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, not even different types of “belonging”.

So this Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali, Yule, Kwanzaa, Samhain, Winterval – whatever you wish to call it – why not put your testosterone to better use boys and girls? Why not do something energetic; play sport rather than watch it, shop for an elderly neighbour, take the dog for a long walk, run along a beach out of season, make passionate love to your partner, fix up the house, build a garden shed or a cat tower, become an outreach worker for the homeless, go out singing Christmas carols and collect for charity… Do something energetic and constructive rather than pontificate about something “other” that you personally disagree with. Do something that benefits the community. Accept that your neighbour is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Pagan, Agnostic, Hindu, Buddhist – whatever – and smile at him.

Lend a hand to those around you and stop carping about God and religion. We are all human in humanity’s rich diversity. That is both our supreme strength and our cardinal weakness. Accepting responsibility for our own actions instead of trying to shift the blame on to other social or religious groups is the only way forward. God is not to blame, religion is not to blame, humanity is to blame and humankind needs to grow up, face up and shape up if we are all to survive and be happy.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year – and may your God go with you.