Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Genre Wars: Literary Fiction Against Science Fiction

Writers, do you wonder why other writers/agents/editors/friends want to know what genre your writing falls into? It’s so they know which regiment you will fall into if there were ever a genre war. If you written a novel with bits of different genres and can’t work out which army you should fall into, well, you need to make a decision or you’ll be sent to a writing camp and made to write until you have a definite genre.

You would have thought the crumpling publishing industry would make authors join forces and live in harmony. Chicklit authors would be hugged by fantasy authors. YA authors would be welcomed into the inner circle. Literary authors would sit around the camp fire with science fiction authors, laughing at some lame publishing joke. But this is delusional.
The simmering friction between literary fiction versus science fiction is now national news. Science fiction / Horror / Fantasy authors have sent a letter to the BBC asking why their genre doesn’t get the same coverage as literary fiction. You can read some reports here, here and here. “When two tribes go to war” went around, in a loop, in my head as I jumped between articles.
A war is definitely going to happen.

The war will look strange to any one not familiar with genre clichés. Yes, clichés will be the main weapons of choice. No one wants to use new metaphors for a war. They want to save fresh prose for their epic novels.

Other genres will be involved, but will mainly watch from the sidelines. Chicklit authors will promise to run the refreshment tent but will either fall into a champagne coma or get bored and go shopping. The Lad-lit crowd will probably be running bets on who will win, who will get the first red card, which side will swallow a troll.
The location will need to be a huge empty space, maybe the pages of a blank book. The guttering of the pages will be no-man’s land.
No hand sake at the beginning – just in case the other side try to break those essential typing fingers.
The science fiction writers will fire first. They will send hundreds of trolls into enemy territory to bite the ankles of literary authors. After bandaging up the wounded, literary fiction authors will send over child narrators with squeaky voices, until the ear drums of the science fiction writers pop. Science fiction authors will send out an air-based strike. Battle star ships will use their cannons to fire out space opera books. Characters, whose names begin with X or Z, will parachute into enemy territory and try stealing plot lines about council estates. A mushroom shaped cloud of purple prose will silence both sides. No one will know who fired the weapon. Many will probably think it was the science fiction writers because they normally fight until they have a dystopian landscape, resembling the landscape of many novels.

Of course, like a playground game, no body will die. They will be made to suffer a course in their most detested genre, then made to read at least fifty books of that genre and finally, write a novel in that genre.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Books Still Exist and 'Bigging-Up' Writing Courses

Books still exist. I went to London Book Fair and there were books – and guess what – there were publisher stands – so I can’t see the publishing business becoming extinct just yet.

I went to a seminar about up and coming illustrators. This area has always fascinated me – I have actually have written two picture books but they are in that ‘bottom of the drawer’ and will never see the light of day – One of the panellists was saying now her illustration degree didn’t prepare for the picture books. I could relate to this with my writing degree. You can have a writing degree – but once you’re out in the real world, still writing, you realise that you need to set your own deadlines, there are more things to learn all the time. A writing apprenticeship doesn’t end once you have the certificate saying you have taken a writing course. I have learnt, about flash fiction, writing for the Internet, social networking, blogging, public performance, submission process, finishing a novel, and rejections. Nobody tells you that to be a writer you need motivation by the lorry-load, determination by the trainload and discipline by the boatload.

A few winners of the new illustrators prize gave ‘big-ups’ to art education. Which, with the rising costs of course fees, writing courses need to be ‘bigged-up’ too. Doing a writing degree allows you time to explore the rules (so you can break them), peer reviews, advice from established writers, time to write, deadlines, friends, guidance, hardening of creativity skin against the rejections.

I don’t think people come out of writing courses, all writing the same. I found on my writing course that we were specifically told to find our own style, tone and voice. We may of all have the same assignment but every piece of writing was different.

I didn’t come from a high-income family. In fact I had to delay my entrance to university to have a gap year and work, work, work just to pay for the accommodation. I had to even work 25 hours each week during term time (good for writing inspiration) just to feed my stationery habit. If you want to do something, then don’t let money stop you. It might delay you but don’t let it stop you from achieving
I might have a huge student loan (thanks to high inflation) but it comes out of my wages and doesn’t bother me. I would not have learnt about properly structuring a short story, of the principles of novel writing, or met like-minded people. I would not have this blog either or published pieces. 

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

I have just finished reading a great book. A really good four star type of book (Five being ‘top notch’. One being ‘send to the pulp machine immediately’). Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake was a birthday present from my parents, the other month. We were in the local bookshop and to tell you the truth, I let out a gasp. The bookshop doesn’t normally have books that I like in there (quirky, cult-ish, surrealist, etc.) The quote from Jodi Picoult didn’t put me off either. My Mum did say, are you sure, because I know you found Picoult same-y after two books?
I had heard about Aimee Bender through Nik Perring’s blog after he interviewed her. I loved the interview and went away and read some of her online short stories and checked out her website. Quiet Please is a great one. The Rememberer is a good one too.

Anyway, back to the book.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is about Rose Edelstein, who, on the verge of turning nine, bites into her Mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she can taste emotion. She can taste the emotions that people are trying to cover up. And her brother… but that would be a spoiler. This book is about growing up, relationships, facing the real world, fear. The way that the fantastic is told in a normal, everyday setting, as if having a ‘power’ was normal is brilliant. The story is told in a subtle way and convincing too.

I see, via Goodreads (On you on there? It’s a social network site for book lovers – I want to stalk your reading tastes – please join!), that a few people felt disappointed that there was no indication between dialogue and the story. It’s experimental, people, move with the times. I like a book that challenges me to take more time over the words and makes me sit up and pay attention.

Bender’s writing style is sharp. She tells the story in a beautiful way without getting sentimental. The descriptions of the food are mouth-watering and reminds me of Nigel Slater’s Toast.