Genre: What is it Exactly?

On  2nd September on the second day of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 blogger Jenny in Neverland hosted a guest post from me on her blog.

This is part of a series when I shall be re-blogging those articles from that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Jenny first published, called:

Genre: what is it exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to us as readers too. I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.

I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. I did have quite a bit of trouble trying to work out what genre I was writing in myself. Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?

Another piece of advice we find floating around the internet (perhaps propagated by the commercial publishing fraternity) is that an author should, when writing a pitch to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?” Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.

All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.

So now, for the benefit of the readers of this article, I shall say that Mystical Circles is psychological suspense with a flavour of paranormal.

An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo, as one of five writers on the Authors Stand; and for a while, we were alongside a bestselling author and his legion of fans queuing up for signed copies: Ian Livingstone, the successful creator of the fighting Fantasy gamebooks series. So what do fighting fantasy and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?

I admit I knew nothing of the UK Games Expo until I was invited by the organiser, author Richard Denning, through his father John (a friend of mine) to come and exhibit/sell my books on the Authors Stall all weekend last June at the Birmingham NEC. It was a fabulous opportunity. The gaming world is one that I haven’t paid too much attention to, but the whole weekend was a revelation.

The atmosphere was wonderful, there was so much fun and good humour. I met and made contact with new authors, I had the chance to chat and learn better ways to promote myself as an author, and there was a great sense of camaraderie. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

I gained some new insights into how my own work is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as she finds herself in a deadly situation from which she must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There was an unexpected connection for me.

Mystical Circles is set in the real world but the world Craig inhabits moves further and further into a world of impossible ideals – and the paranormal, an area in which he has special gifts. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to the world of psychological suspense fiction. And finally, family relationships, which play a strong role in my novel. Problematic relationships between father and son, between two sisters, between twin brothers, between mother and son… I find these provide a fertile ground upon which the action of my novels can be played.

Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; though now I write psychological suspense, the paranormal element is getting stronger, and maybe in the future I could move into areas of fantasy and magical realism. All is possible.

Guest Post and Review: Vivienne Tuffnell, Author of ‘Little Gidding Girl’

I’m delighted to host author Vivienne Tuffnell today on my blog. Front cover of novel "Little Gidding Girl" by Vivienne TuffnellI’ve followed Vivienne’s blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking now for several years, and reblogged one of her posts here; I’ve also read four of her previous books: Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking, Square Peg, Away With the Fairies and Hallowed Hollow. Today she is here to talk about her inspiration for her new novel Little Gidding Girl.

Here is the blurb for the story:

At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean. ‘From the unknown spaces between what is, was, and will be, messages and sendings break through into Verity’s life: are they nightmares of a parallel reality or projections from a love that has flown? Vivienne Tuffnell keeps us guessing with utmost artistry as we trace the interweaving way-marks in pursuit of the truth. Little Gidding Girl kept me enthralled until the very end.’ – Caitlín Matthews, author of Singing the Soul Back Home, and Diary of a Soul Doctor

Now it’s time for Vivienne to tell us how the ideas for this novel first came to her. You’ll find my 5 star review of the novel at the end of this post.

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AUTHOR VIVIENNE TUFFNELL:

“We’re all mad here,”- the inspirations behind Little Gidding Girl.

 

One of the questions most writers get asked from time to time is “Where do you get your ideas?” and it’s also the most difficult to answer because it varies enormously for each writer and for every book. But being asked, “What was the inspiration behind your book?” is often simpler because it’s more precise.  So when Sheila asked me about the inspiration behind Little Gidding Girl, the real difficulty was casting my mind back about fourteen years ago to a period when I was almost bursting with creativity and ideas and winnow out what really inspired that particular book.

We’d moved to a new area and that is something that is always unsettling and unnerving, and within a few months of arriving I began writing again. I’d turned my back on writing for all sorts of reasons. Roadblocks where agents and publishers would take up a book with interest and then reject it or ask me to rewrite and then reject it again, created such tension in me that I became ill, almost fatally so, and to save my health and my sanity, I stopped writing altogether. Eight years had passed where I’d written nothing longer than a letter, when a whole novel sprang to my mind and poured out almost uncontrollably in an unprecedented flood. More novels followed, Little Gidding Girl  being among them, but its origins lie (as almost always for me) within the unconscious mind.

I’d begun dreaming again. Powerful, vivid, compelling and often lucid dreams that left me exhausted and haunted. One afternoon, I had a snooze and thought I’d woken up, and was getting dressed in brand new jeans that required a coat-hanger to ease the zip up, when my son burst into the room demanding something or other. He hadn’t knocked and I was upset and cross with him, and humiliated because the jeans were so tight, I had visible muffin-tops of fat spilling over the waistband.

The thing is, I don’t have a son.

I’ve never had a son, only a daughter, who at that stage was in her early teens. I woke again, properly this time, rather shocked and shaken by this experience. I made a note of the dream and let it go. More odd dreams followed. In one I was in a school science lab, attempting to teach something I didn’t understand, when the lab bench started to fade in and out and be replaced by a flower bed. In another, I went to the bottom of my garden to discover a massive trench (like in Time Team) and a row of shelves with finds laid out on them. But the finds were all modern rubbish and not archaeology.

A whole series of extraordinary dreams occurred, leaving me spell-bound and baffled, because they all seemed to connect to a life I’d never had but might have done. Like many women, I’ve experienced the loss of pregnancy in miscarriages. I’ve never grieved much, for those potential babies, but I have always felt a tiny bit sad that life circumstances and the revelation that I’m not much good with babies and children led me to decide that one child was all I should have. In another universe I might have been one of those earth-mother types, perhaps, but not in this one.

Around the same time, I’d begun to be a bit obsessed with Four Quartets. I’d never studied it at university, and a quote somewhere set me to seek out a copy and read it. It seemed to hold so much, so much that science and religion in their blunter, less mystical forms, simply did not express in ways I could relate to. I began to think about the paths I never took, the doors I never opened, the rose gardens I never stepped into, and it felt like the dreams were showing me glimpses of those other realities that never happened. Any belief that other paths might have been nicer, sweeter or more successful than the one I did take soon began to crumble. In the Narnia books, Aslan says that no one is ever told what would have happened, and yet, sometimes I believe we are shown a tiny vision of the other lives we might have lived. Sometimes it’s to comfort us, sometimes it’s to inspire us but always it is to root us in the reality of what is  rather than what might have been.

In Little Gidding Girl, the might-have-beens become the growing focus of Verity’s attention, forcing their way through in powerful ways that leave her unsettled and unstable. My agent asked me if she was insane and I still don’t know how to answer that. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland:

 “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Perhaps now, like the Alice speaking to the Mad Hatter, I’d say: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

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Thank you Vivienne – this gives a fascinating insight into the background to your novel. I too have long been interested in paying attention to and recording dreams, and to learn that you were inspired to write Little Gidding Girl by your dreams particularly intrigues me.

MY REVIEW OF LITTLE GIDDING GIRL

A very sensitive book which represents an unusual exploration of grief and blends it with the philosophy expressed by TS Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding’ from ‘The Four Quartets’. The main protagonist Verity is living with unresolved emotions from the accidental death of her boyfriend nineteen years earlier. Though her present-day marriage is ostensibly happy and her life relatively comfortable, she has never stopped engaging on an unconscous level with the life she imagines she would have lived, had that boyfriend not died. Vivienne Tuffnell handles the female relationships in Verity’s life with sharp perception and wit, and I loved her descriptions of the New Age shop that Verity works in, whilst being exploited by the rather unpleasant owner of the shop, manipulative therapist Juliet. Verity’s “visions” of that alternative life are also handled in such a way that the reader strongly feels their weirdness and they carry a considerable shock factor in the narrative. Earlier on in the story I found Verity’s present-day husband a little too gentle and calm and sympathetic, but later on we come to share some of his own turbulent feelings at the strange inner journey his wife is taking. I loved this quote near the end of the story: That’s what grief is. A little bit of us dies when our loved ones do. We go down into death with them while the grief endures. When the grief pales we return with what gifts our loved ones gave us in life. A very thoughtful and haunting novel.

5 stars

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About Vivienne Tuffnell

Vivienne is a writer, poet, explorer and mystic.

You can follow Vivienne on Twitter

or visit her blog