Wednesday Wondering – All About Genre

Hello and welcome to March’s Wednesday Wondering. Last month, I attended a one-day script writing workshop at a local theatre. We were given some prompt images pasted from the Internet and asked to develop our characters and plot from these images. I found myself selecting an elderly couple and developing a plot that stepped back in time to WWII. I was actually really proud of the plot I developed, but came away with the overriding feeling that it was a novel rather than a play, and that I wanted to develop it further.

bookshelves1This isn’t the first time I’ve outlined a plot that takes me back to WWII. I attended a creative writing workshop several years ago and developed a story of two friends who became nurses during the war who both fell in love with the same man. It arrived in my head as a fully-formed story and it’s begging to be written one day.

The problem is, it’s not what I normally write.

When I started writing, I’d have classed myself as a writer of romcoms. I write female-led romance stories with characters in their late twenties to early thirties. However, as the trilogy developed, I realised that my storylines were a bit deeper than that and, although there are some funny moments, they’re less comedy and more about character development. If I have to put a label on them, I’d probably say contemporary women’s romance.

They’re not history, though. They’re not set in WWII. So why do I keep going back to WWII and setting stories then? It’s an era I have some awareness of from history lessons in school and watching films or TV programmes set at that time but I wouldn’t have ever said I was particularly drawn to that era. Or am I? I’m in my early forties so wasn’t alive during the war, my parents were born in 1944 and 1945 so they don’t have any recall either, and my grandparents on both sides of the family are no longer with us so I’m not surrounded by insights into this time. Yet I can’t stop thinking about it.

Karen cocking2When I was younger, I devoured Catherine Cookson books. My mum is a huge fan so I borrowed them all off her. Maybe this is where the history interest spans from, although most of Catherine’s books were set much earlier than WWII so, again, I don’t know where the pull of that era comes from. All I know is that there is a pull. So, after I’ve written the trilogy and book four, maybe I’ll address it.

My WW this week is therefore all about genre. I asked the Write Romantics:

What genre do you typically write and why?

Have you every ‘dabbled’ in a different genre. What was it? Why? How was the experience?

Would you try writing in a different genre? What and why?

What genre(s) do you mainly read?
Have you tried reading outside genre?

For me personally, contemporary women’s romance is my favoured genre for reading, but I do dabble in history, thrillers, contemporary non-romance and also children’s books. I’ve toyed with writing a thriller and a YA book and may still do so. After the historic ones. Or perhaps number five of the romance ones …

Jessica xx

Helen R says…

I typically write a cross between women’s fiction and romantic fiction. Usually there is a romantic thread in my story but there are other themes too such as family and friendship so a few subplots running at the same time.

I’ve never ‘dabbled’ in a different genre and I’m not sure whether I ever will or not, but if I had to choose another genre it would be teen fiction. I loved Judy Blume books as I was growing up – I couldn’t get enough of them  – and I’d love to be talented enough to write for the same type of audience.

I’ve recently read a couple of books outside my genre, both historical fiction. I enjoyed both although they were definitely more heavy going than what I’m used to. It was refreshing to read something different though and you start to learn a bit about different techniques used in different genres.

Deirdre says…

I find it difficult to say what genre I write in, firstly because there are such widely differing opinions on genre definition, and secondly, I don’t set out to write in a particular genre. I get an idea and run with it, and it will be what it will be.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy first novel I labelled as contemporary women’s fiction for the purposes of submitting but when I self-published it, I felt that needed qualifying so it became rom-com, although I wasn’t sure there was enough humour for that. With my next, Remarkable Things, the first to find a publisher, I fought against pinning a label on it and it morphed into something slightly different each time I submitted. The closest I can get is contemporary women’s fiction with a romantic thread. My male reader enjoyed it, though, and said the ending brought a tear to his eye, so maybe it’s not exclusively for the women’s market, who knows?

When I set out to write Dirty Weekend, also to be published, I’d signed up to NaNoWriMo so had write much faster than I normally do. This led me to the fast-moving plot peppered with plenty of comedy. The best I can do with this one is general fiction; I can’t call it contemporary as it’s set in the 1960s and that is now classed as historical by some. It’s strong on romance (actually more sex than romance!) but I don’t feel it fits with the romantic fiction genre as it’s normally understood.

The book I’m writing now, The Promise of Roses, is easier to classify; I’d call it contemporary romance. It has a stronger romantic thread than my previous ones so although there’s a lot else going on besides, including themes of bereavement, guilt and entrapment, I feel more confident of the genre.

I don’t see my genre confusion as a problem. I just want to write good books that people will want to read and don’t rule out any particular types of books for the future. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d like one day to write something that could be classed as literary fiction. There is a slight passing nod to that in Remarkable Things – it has some of the tropes you’d find in lit-fic – but I’m not deluding myself that I could write a full-on lit-fic.

My reading, as you might expect from the meanderings above, is not tied down to particular genres either. I don’t tend to read crime or fantasy but otherwise I’m happy with romance (as long as it’s edgy and has more going besides), sagas, recent historicals, literary fiction and the odd thriller, like Gone Girl and Appletree Yard. At the moment I’m particularly drawn to male authors who write about love and relationships as you get a different perspective. Some of my favourites are William Nicholson, Danny Wallace, David Nicholls and a recent discovery, Douglas Kennedy.

Jo says…

In my writing so far, at least as far as my submissions to the New Writer’s Scheme went, I’ve been a bit of a genre hopper.  I suppose my natural style is contemporary women’s fiction, which is also what I usually read.  That said, there is always a romance, although I can’t write *pure* romance.  I tried once and failed miserably, so really admire those who can do that and do it really well, like our very own Rachael Thomas and others whose books I’ve enjoyed, like Liz Fielding.  My novella and the novel due out in June, are both women’s fiction with emotional themes and a romantic angle.  However, I have also written a YA fantasy, which is awaiting an edit, and I’ve got several ideas for younger children’s books.

I’ve been thinking recently about establishing myself as a writer and getting involved with a really recognisable brand as part of that, which might also help me stand out from the crowd in the competitive short story market.  If I want writing to be my career, I think it’s a route I need to take and I have seen other writers I really admire take that path – having made a name for themselves with an established brand. Lots of writers subsequently settle on one genre, but others also write under other pen names across a range of genres or sub-genres and different lengths of stories, which I suspect is the way to make a living from writing. I had an idea that I thought might work for an established series and sent off three chapters, hearing almost immediately, to my delight, that they wanted to see a full.  I’m now working very hard to get that polished and off to the publisher by next week.  If they like the rest of the story as much as the partial, I’ll also be able to see something I’ve written being sold in shops like WHSmiths, Sainsburys and Tescos.  If it comes off, I’ll be taking selfies everywhere I go! If not, I’ll keep plugging away, writing the stories I want to write, whichever genre or sub-genre they happen to cross into.

As for my reading, like my writing, I love emotional women’s fiction by authors such as Jo Jo Moyes and Julie Cohen, but I also read a lot of children’s fiction too – generally following my son’s latest obsession.  We worked our way through all the Dick King Smith books and we’re now on to Michael Morpurgo.  One genre I’m not madly keen on in adult fiction is pre-war historical, although I love war-time novels like Lena Kennedy’s books and post-war stories like Jennifer Worth’s trilogy of memoirs, which inspired Call the Midwife.  I don’t think I’d ever attempt to write a historical novel though  – far too much research required to get it right!

Sharon says…

m878-5l52zcfFb_a7bo5pqwInitially, I thought I wrote romantic comedy, but then my books seemed to have some deeper issues in them, too, and they weren’t really as laugh-out-loud as true romantic comedy should be. There are definitely some very funny moments in them, if I say so myself, but I would hesitate to market them as romcoms. I think I write contemporary women’s fiction with romance and a good sprinkling of humour! Try categorizing that on Amazon!

I’ve never written in another genre as an adult, though as a child and teenager I used to write pony books aimed at my own age group at the time. They were strictly for my eyes only, thank goodness. I still love to read pony books, though. I have a huge collection of them, although I had a horrible “accident” and sent the wrong boxes to a charity shop a couple of years ago and lost loads of my favourite books during a house move.

the chaliceI mainly read the genre I write in, which is romantic fiction with humour. However, I also read the occasional saga — especially the ones written by Catherine Cookson and Valerie Wood — and I often still read children’s and YA books. I still love Enid Blyton and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. I have quite a few historical novels on my bookshelves which I really want to read, and I enjoyed Dan Brown’s books, too. I studied the nineteenth century novel for a course some years ago and I really enjoyed the classics such as Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd, Northanger Abbey and, my favourite book, Jane Eyre. I love Daphne Du Maurier’s books and I’ve read all the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. I love the naughtiness and fun of writers like Jilly Cooper and Fiona Walker, and I am a huge fan of supernatural crime stories. Our own Helen Phifer is very good at writing those! I love Phil Rickman’s books. They’re steeped in mystery, fairly bloody, often have myth and legend interwoven throughout, a strong sense of place, great characters, tight plots, and are terribly scary!

download (3)I love writing the kind of books that I write now, but I do have an idea for a saga, based on my own family history. I don’t know if I’ll ever get round to writing it, though. I would love to have a go at writing romantic suspense with a supernatural twist. I think it would take so much careful plotting and a lot of time and research. Maybe one day I’ll do it, though. I’d never say never!

Helen P says…

bookcaketopperI love to write crime/horror novels because I love to read them myself and I can’t find enough of them to satisfy the ghoul in me.

Yes I had to write a romantic story for the fabulous Write Romantics anthology Winter Tales and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I find it so easy to murder and scare people so being nice was a whole new experience 😉

I love to write. In fact I think I live to write so I’d try anything and any genre although I have no idea if I’d be any good at it. I read horror, crime and ghost stories. I have read a few books outside of my genre, mainly by my fellow Write Romantics. I’ve just finished Helen Rolfe’s The Friendship Tree and loved it.

Jackie says…

I can’t imagine writing a novel that doesn’t revolve around a romance, I just wouldn’t know how to fill all of that white space. I have written short stories that don’t have romance at its core but even then, I think there is a relationship of some sort at the heart of the story. However I have dabbled in different strands of the romantic genre and become clearer over time about what I enjoy the most. I started off writing stories that were very much chic-lit: vast quantities of booze being drunk with shopping and sex and bitchy put-downs (the characters were doing that, not me – much!) But as I’ve mellowed and no longer mix with the type of people who fuelled that particular fire, I don’t feel it’s ‘me’ anymore and consequently my writing has become less frenetic and more deliberate and thoughtful. I am overall relieved that I never tried too hard to get them published as I know I wouldn’t be able to write them today.

I write in a very haphazard way which probably wouldn’t suit many writers, but I find I become bored quite quickly when writing a particular story, so if I swap over to another one, while the last one ‘stews’ for a while, I come back to it with fresh eyes. I currently have five novels in various stages of unreadiness, but two of them are all but finished.

I will read most types of books apart from erotica (read one once to see if I could write it – that’ll be a ’no’ then!) but find I have less patience than I used to have if a story doesn’t grab me immediately. A feel good romance will always win me over. I do love a happy ever after!

Rachael says…

I’ve always loved reading Mills and Boon. As a teenager I would often be in the library getting my latest fix. When I decided to write, aiming at Mills and Boon seemed a natural progression from having spent many years reading them.

Anthology coverBefore I completed my first book, I had written short stories, even submitted them to magazines, but to no avail. I still enjoy writing short stories now, especially Meet Me at Midnight which featured in Winter Tales, our charity anthology.

Another genre I always thought I’d love to write for was for children, particularly boys about eight years of age. I read to both of my daughter and son as they grew up and felt there was definitely a gap in the market for boys of that age. There are of course, only so many hours in the day, but you never know!

As for reading, not only do I still enjoy a good love story, but I am fascinated by history and enjoy a good historical read. I have also been known to scare myself with a good horror story too!

Alys says…

I’ll read pretty much anything with print on it except for horror.  That’s about the only genre I can’t get to grips with.  But I regularly read fantasy, romance, crime, steampunk and very occasionally these days, something more literary too.

As to what I write, well, I call it urban fantasy with a spot of romance but you could just as well describe it as supernatural romantic suspense.  It’s starting to become clear that the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre is a bit of an issue when submitting to publishers. I’ve had rejections that say ‘there’s too much romance in it’ and others which imply that the fantasy bits are getting in the way of the love story. But even if I’d known that when I started it wouldn’t have stopped me (or not for very long anyway).  It’s the book that I wanted to write. And if they’re struggling with this one then just wait until I get round to writing my steampunkesque murder mysteries!

What about you? If you’re a reader, what genres do you read and, if you cross-genre read, tell us more about this. If you’re a writer, do you write in other genres or are you tempted to do so ?

Happy Wednesday 🙂

Jessica xx

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The Wednesday Wondering: World Book Day brings a touch of nostalgia

Hello everyone.  Having been handed the baton I thought I’d look to the month of March itself to inspire the next four weeks’ Wonderings – quite appropriate, I thought, since anyone venturing into the precarious world of writing must be as mad as a March hare…  Writers, of course, are readers too; a love of books and reading is something we all want to hand down to the next generation, which is why I decided that our first port of call should be World Book Day which falls tomorrow, March 6th.

World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators and books, when children of all ages will come together to explore the pleasures of reading.  One of WBD’s aims is to give as many children as possible the opportunity to own a book, something that sadly not all can take for granted, and millions of book tokens will be distributed to schools and groups in the UK to make this happen.  Let’s hope lots of new readers are ‘born’ tomorrow – we wish World Book Day every success!

So, on to this week’s question.  Imagine you have in front of you all the books you read as a child and teenager.  Which one would you choose to pass on to a child or teenager today, and why?  Then, if you want to, tell us more about the books you loved the most.

The Write Romantics had this to say:

LYNNE:

My favourite book as a child was ‘Meet Stroller,’ by Marion Coakes as she then was before she married Mr Mould. I loved horses as a child, I still do. Goodness knows how I got to love them living on a densely populated council estate in south London. I used to dream I was out in the country riding horses in the fresh air. But it was a lot more than that. Stroller was small for a top class showjumper and Marion, his owner and rider, was a girl, and a young, small girl at that. That worked to their advantage, because they could take shortcuts in the course and save vital seconds pipping the others to the post. As soon as I was old enough I moved to Bristol to work as a nurse. You could see fields in Bristol and still be in the centre of town, so I could see how it felt living close to the country. It didn’t take me long to decide I loved it, and forty odd years on I still love it and never go to London if I can help it.

JULIE:

As a child, I was inspired by Enid Blyton. I particularly adored The Faraway Tree Series, Famous Five and MaloryTowers. When I started writing, I toyed with writing for children. My copies of these books had all been sold at jumble sales years previously so I bought a fat book that encompassed all the Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree books in one as well as a MaloryTowers box set with the intention of re-immersing myself in my youth. I never quite got round to it. My daughter is now 7 and has started to dip into the MaloryTowers ones but the Faraway Tree is too fat for her to hold so I keep promising her I’ll read it to her. Really must do something about fulfilling that promise before she becomes a teenager and bypasses the Enid Blyton thing!

HELEN P:

I wish I did have all my childhood books in front of me, there were so many amazing stories I read that inspired me to write my own stories when I was a child. I started off reading the wonderful Enid Blyton – Naughty Amelia Jane, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, MalloryTowers. I was hooked and would spend my £1 pocket money on a brand new book every week. The Famous Five were my favourite because of the adventures they managed to get caught up in and each one would have me intrigued and desperate to read more.

I then moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie series which I enjoyed immensely. My love of reading as a child and a teenager meant I could escape my not so exciting life and live in a whole different world for a time. Reading is the most effective way of living someone else’s life without leaving the comfort of your own home and I’m so glad that I was able to read so many wonderful books as a child.

JACKIE:

ImageI can’t remember any particular books that I read as a child apart from The Famous Five and Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton. They were hardbacks in Red and I think The Secret Seven were blue. I don’t think I was bought many books, although my dad was an English teacher, as there were five children and not a lot of spare money. I did use the library a lot but can’t remember any particular book standing out, just a fear that they would get lost in our rambling house and I would be in trouble for not returning them! I do still have a precious book that I was given for Christmas, The Swan Princes, illustrated by Raymond Briggs. It’s in fairly bad condition so I think I must have read it a lot. I remember being really pleased that it was JUST FOR ME and I was determined that it would stay mine and not be shared!  

JO:

Oh, even though I do love these sorts of questions, they do reveal me to be very low-end in my reading tastes. I wish I could name one of the classics or say that War and Peace changed my life as a teenager, but I’d be lying!  As a child, it would probably be the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  My dad used to read it to me on Sunday mornings and do different voices for all the characters.  He died fourteen years ago, so it’s a memory I’ll always treasure. 

As a teenager, it would have to be The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.  I have mentioned the Adrian Mole series of books on the blog before but, like Adrian, I was a wannabe writer even aged thirteen and three quarters and shared a lot of the same teenage angst that he went through.  I still love the books now and think Sue Townsend is a genius for creating him!  In fact, I think I’ll get my daughter started on the series soon, since she’s only six months off her own thirteenth birthday, and I hope she’ll love them as much as I do.

HELEN R:

I don’t have just one book in mind but I would pass on all the Judy Blume books that I read: Blubber, Superfudge, Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret and many others. I think that they’re really honest books and tap into young teens’ psyche in a way that not everyone can. Even though the books were around when I was a teen, they are still popular today – my daughter just read Superfudge at school as a class reader and the kids discussed the issues within the text which made for a good learning experience. 

DEIRDRE:

It’s so hard to choose – but I did set the question so here goes…  For a child I’ve picked ‘The Family from One End Street’, by Eve Garnett. She wrote it in 1937 and won an award for it.  It’s about the Ruggles family who live in a tiny terrace in the East End.  Father is a dustman, Mother a washerwoman and they have seven children – as an only child myself that was a big part of the appeal. Nothing particularly extraordinary or adventurous happens – it’s all about life’s little dramas like catching measles and setting fire to a petticoat – but I remember taking it out of the library time and time again and poring over the exquisite little pencil drawings.  There’s a sequel, too, with the family’s ‘further adventures’.  You can buy them today as Puffin Classics.  I might treat myself.

For a teenager, I’ve chosen ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith.  This was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I remember being entranced by the romantic setting and sharing the heartache of the heroine’s first love.  It came out as a film a few years ago and I enjoyed it, though not as much as the book.  But perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking…

ALEX:

It would have to be Swallows and Amazons. I was a bit of a tom boy when I was growing up and I adored these stories of adventure and sailing.  Looking back I think I one of the reasons that I loved them was because the girls were really strong characters and didn’t sit quietly in camp waiting for the boys to come home.  I read the copies that my Dad had from the late forties and they’re just lovely with the original (somewhat tattered) dustcovers and the illustrations by Arthur Ransome.  I’m really hoping my nephew grows up to love reading because I’m looking forward to handing them on to him.

The other book that I have a real soft spot for is Anne of Green Gables.  Obviously I had no problem relating to a red headed heroine even though she was a lot more outspoken and got into a lot more trouble than I ever did!

RACHAEL:

I was given a copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty when I was about seven. I’ve read it and read it and it now lives safely tucked away in my bedroom. Although it’s one of my most treasured books, it is in a somewhat battered condition. It was this book which started my love affair with reading and subsequently, writing.

Obviously I would like to pass that book on to a younger child. The story evokes so much emotion as well as teaching that life can be tough. But first I’d love to be able to give a gift of books to a very young child, to allow them to sample the delights of turning the pages, looking at the pictures and very importantly having quiet time with adults.

Have we inspired you with our choices?  Do stay around and let us know your favourites too – we’d love to hear from you.

Deirdre

The Wednesday Wondering – Walking in Whose Shoes?

Another great Wednesday Wondering from our lovely Write Romantic in Australia, Helen R:

 If you could walk in the shoes of one author for the day, who would it be and why?

Ooh, how exciting! Would our Write Romantics go for someone with a wad of earnings, living a celebrity lifestyle? Would they select the person who first inspired them to read? Perhaps someone who develops brilliant characters or is the master of the twist in the tail to explore how they do this (and hope some of the magic rubs off!) Let’s see, shall we …

JULIE:

I would want to turn back time a bit and step into the shoes of someone I’ve not mentioned on this blog before but who was a prolific writer whose books I have loved … the wonderful Catherine Cookson. My mum used to read her novels and was a great fan and I borrowed most of them. I would love to understand how she wrote so many, how she kept them all different and how many ideas she still had ready to be formed into books. I’d also be fascinated to see her research. I’m no historian but I believe her books are historically accurate and she didn’t just write from within her own lifetime so she must have been quite a research demon … in the days before you could Google it! RIP Catherine J

 

HELEN R:

I would love to walk in the shoes of Judy Blume. Looking back I realise just how much her books helped me in my teenage years. They helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone in the everyday challenges that I faced, from adolescence and discovering boys to friendships and family relationships. 

I would love to witness Judy Blume’s research journey from developing a strong idea and themes for a book, to the development of characters, and how she got the dialogue of those characters just right. She is an amazing, strong writer and I am also curious about how she coped and how she defended her writing when she faced hate mail and arguments that her books should be banned from school and library shelves.

Judy Blume is an incredible, strong writer who has stood up for what she believed was right. I will always admire her honesty in her books and her willingness to discuss real issues faced by so many of us growing up.

Secretly I hope that if I was walking in Judy Blume’s shoes, then it was during the time she rented an office above a bakery…

 

DEIRDRE:

Good question…  I would turn back the clock, bring Barbara Cartland down from the great blue yonder and be her for a day. Why? Because she gets to lounge about wearing a lot of pink whilst dictating her books to some other poor soul who then has to hit the keys on her behalf and make it all into something presentable. AND – a big ‘and’ – it looks very much to me as if she also gets to eat a lot of cake 😉

 

ALEX:

When I first read this week’s Wondering I couldn’t think of any authors that I admired who had the kind of interesting lifestyle that I’d like to experience for a day. Then I thought there is someone and he’s a screenwriter so does he qualify? So I did some Googling and discovered that he’s written comic books so he is actually an author as well. 

The person whose shoes I’d like to walk in for a day is Joss Whedon. I think he’s a genius. I loved Buffy and more recently Firefly. I don’t know anyone who can write dialogue that’s as fresh and quirky and yet realistic. He’s also good at the big concepts too. Some of them don’t work too well and he admits that and moves on and I admire that about him. I’d love the chance to experience his working life and I’m sure I’d learn a huge amount about character development and how to tell stories.

 

HELEN P:

Another great question. I think it would be Stephen King, I would love to walk in his writing shoes for a day and if he didn’t want to share then I’d love to have spent the day as Jane Austen to see where her inspiration came from and to meet the original Mr Darcy although he’d have a tough time beating Colin Firth.

 

So, that’s what some of the Write Romantics have to say? What do you think? Is there anyone who you’d like to stalk be around for a day or swap lives with for a day? We’d love to hear about it. Please post a comment. If you’re new to the blog and don’t know how to do this, click on the heart to the right of the title and that will bring up a comments section at the end of the posting. Thanks in advance for joining in.

Julie

xx