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.
This 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.
When 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 …
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.
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.
My 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.
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!
Initially, 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.
I 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!
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…
I 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.
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!
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.
Before 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!
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 🙂