Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Confessions of a genre hopper.

Hello, my name is Iain, and I write crime fiction. My short stories have been published in magazines full of crime fiction, and a novel was short-listed for the Crime Writers’ Debut Dagger. I even – for a while, long story, another time – had a very good agent, who specialised in crime fiction.

So I’m a crime writer.

Except, of course, for the stories that I’ve had published that aren’t crime fiction at all, but inhabit the blurry intersection between horror, weird fiction, ghost stories, dark fantasy, call it what you will. Some of those stories have been long-listed for BFS awards, reprinted in horror anthologies(bear with me, there is a point to the more self-aggrandising parts of this), so they must be not-crime.

So, I can’t just say I’m a crime writer. A writer of crime fiction and…ok, let’s use horror as shorthand, even though it doesn’t really fit (but that’s another post).

Except, of course, for the young adult novel that I wrote a while back which is kind of horror, in a YA adventure sort of way, but also kind of coming of age, and very different in tone to the short fiction. It’s a YA novel, is what it is.

So I’m a…

I’m a restless, feckless nomad, is what I am. And this bothers me, and doesn’t bother me. I doesn’t bother me because I like to read across genres, and I like to write across genres because it’s fun and the moment all of this stops being fun, I stop doing it. But it bothers me because as well as being fun, I want to be read and I want to be published and I want to sell books, and I do wonder how much I have sabotaged my own progress by hopping across genres because that’s what I fancy writing, rather than doggedly working away, concentrating my fire, building a reputation and a presence in one genre.

Hence the immodest short-listed for this and reprinted in that, up above. None of it means that anything is guaranteed, far from it. But the gap between where I’m at and where I want to be narrowed, with some of that, particularly the Debut Dagger nomination which resulted in a year working alongside an agent and the thought that man, actually this could really happen. Of course, it didn’t, not then, but that’s life. What it did give me was the nagging thought that much to my surprise, I could actually do this. But my worry is, that to get there maybe I should have the dedication to devote myself monastically, chastely, to one thing.

The trouble with that is, the ideas. They come creeping in, right when they aren’t wanted, whispering in my ear, seductive and shiny. I’m working on a crime novel. That’s the cue for all kinds of ideas to do the Tom and Jerry devil on the shoulder routine: unsettling dark weird fiction; more YA; satirical political fiction, hell, why stop at satire. Write a sitcom. Write a screenplay. Write a radio play. Come over here where the grass is greener. This is your genre, not that. This is where you’ll find your best ideas, not there.

So, what it comes down to is, pick one. I’m sure it’s not just me who gets this, so how do you do it? How do you decide? Do you decide, or do you just write what seems most fun at the time, the hell with growing a platform and doing sensible things.


  1. Hi Ian - thought I'd check out your blog...

    I actually love it in when writers try new things; I guess I'm slightly in awe of it, because I know from bitter experience I can't do so myself. But for me, I'm fans of good writers, not genres. So for example I'll follow Dan Simmons across horror, sci-fi and hard-boiled crime... I'd even give romance a go, if it was him.

    I guess the crucial question is, are there enough people like me to build an audience?

  2. Hi James, thanks for stopping by. A Dan Simmons romance? That would be something.

    As to your question, I dunno. Maybe not, or at least not from the start. More would follow an established author who branched out, I think. I do wonder if the answer to this might be changing though - I'm sure what a publisher wants (understandably) is a writer who is going to stick to a genre, build an audience, grow a backlist.

    Maybe the same is true when it comes to self-publishing for Kindle and the like...but maybe not quite as true. Or not true all the time.