GUEST POST: Genre – What is it exactly? by S.C Skillman

Guest Post

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 Author’s 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.

Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Blurb: “Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig’s gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.”

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen in love with the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswolds to investigate, fearful that Zoe has become entangled with a religious cult.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But  intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle, and despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love… with completely unforeseen consequences.

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Author bio: SC Skillman studied English Literature at Lancaster University. She has previously worked within a BBC radio production office and later spent four years in Australia. She now lives in Warwickshire with her husband David, their son Jamie and daughter Abigail.

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10 thoughts on “GUEST POST: Genre – What is it exactly? by S.C Skillman

  1. I too think that the drive to write in one particular genre is just commercially-driven pressure. Another complication is the divide between ‘literary fiction’ and ‘commercial fiction’, the latter being more genre-led. Arrggh!

    • I totally agree. I have since my earliest reading days read books which appealed to me for no reason I could analyse, but I never identified a ‘genre’. Sady yes I think publishers and booksellers have created the mania for genre. They just want to know, where is this book going to go in the bookstore? How can we put this book in front of people who “like this sort of thing”?

  2. Interesting blog tour post Sheila. Classification of genres tends to box novels into neat consumable piles. Mine is a bit of a puzzle really: fantasy, mystery, coming of age, poetical magical realism set in an urban fantasy!

    • IN the end I think it’s publishers and booksellers and reviewers who determine your genre. I went to a writers conference this weekend and one of the speakers (Jane Johnson, writer/editor) said we need to decide what is ‘the heart’ of our novel. We can only do that by reading through our new ms and following our own instincts (something I’m trying to do right now). And – in the face of so much that distracts and pressurises us as writers these days – that is quite a challenge!

    • That sounds quite promising. One of my favourite authors, Phil Rickman, certainly covers several genres in his Merrily Watkins novels. I can’t resist pasting a quote from his Amazon author profile here: it’s wonderful: “I’m a crime writer with a cautious interest in the paranormal. The Merrily Watkins series is a collection of darkish thrillers about the diocesan exorcist for Hereford: crime novels with smudgy hints of something else.
      They occupy an odd place between genres, slightly more than crime, sometimes a little scary but not exactly horror (feel free to disregard the genre classifications above – algorithms are illiterate.”

  3. Pingback: Author Spotlights – Inspiration S C Skillman – Mystical Circles | M J Mallon Author

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