Talking about Genres – Who cares about genres?

Writers, publishers and readers talk about genre a lot. It’s how bookshops decide where a book belongs. It’s used to draw up charts, award prizes and produce those “If you liked this book, you might also like…” messages on-line retailers send us.

Pigeon Park Press asked a number of published authors whether we need genre distinctions, what problems exist within and between genres and what challenges they face writing in their chosen genre.

Pigeon Park Press – Are genres important? And who are they important to?

Dean M Drinkel: Genres are important to publishers, writers and readers but for different reasons. From a genre publisher’s point of view you have to assume they are an expert in their field and (hopefully!) employ excellent marketeers / publicists etc who have the right connections in that particular genre to deliver best product and push it to the forefront. For a reader genre is important IF you like a particular genre or not – there’s (probably!) no point in buying a Mills & Boon if you were really wanting a Dean Koontz novel. Finally, for a writer, genre is important because that is more than likely where your existing fan-base is and when you release a new work they will be wanting “more of the same” – the problem for a writer comes when they want to step out of their genre…

“the problem for a writer comes when they want to step out of their genre…”

Anna Stephens: I agree with everything Dean has said here. Genre is really helpful when marketing a book, or for people who want something new to read but aren’t sure what – they can always look in the same genre as the last book they enjoyed. It’s an almost guaranteed way to find something you’ll like. Parents who ask a bookseller for recommendations for their child etc can really benefit from genre like this. It’s also helpful for publishers because they can fit the right editor to the right book and have dedicated imprints with their own business plans and aims etc. And as Dean said, genre is helpful for authors who can market themselves/be marketed as “the next (insert author name here)”

Heide Goody: I agree with everything that Dean and Anna say. Rather than saying who it’s most important to, I would take a holistic view and suggest that publishers, writers and readers all want the same thing: they want to match a reader up with the sort of book they enjoy, and genre is one of the tools that helps everyone to do that. If I am a reader who knows exactly what I like, then I can seek it out. Otherwise, the more subtle influences of the book marketer will parade the “you might also enjoy” options in front of them

Jon Hartless: Readers need it to find what they want on the shelf, marketing needs it to flog the stuff, while the supposed intelligentsia is snobby toward it. As proof of this, glance back a few years ago when Kent University quoted on its Creative Writing syllabus that students wouldn’t “write mass-market thrillers or children’s fiction on our programmes.” The condescension was quickly called out by Twitter users, yet the university’s snide apology, “the author of the offending passage will be paraded through Canterbury in chains, pelted with copies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games”, demonstrates the contempt the highbrows feel toward anything that is genre.

“The author of the offending passage will be paraded through Canterbury in chains, pelted with copies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.”

William Thirsk Gaskill: There are no generic publishers. There are big publishers, and independent publishers. The distinction is difficult to define, but it is mainly to do with the size (or existence of) the marketing department. Big publishers want readers to keep buying what they are already buying. Independent publishers want readers to buy something new. As a writer, I regard genre as something either to be followed, or subverted. To use a geological analogy: genre is like a ridge that is blocking a new road. I can choose to follow it or blast a tunnel through it. The top layer is publishing conventions. The next layer is the booksellers’ expectations, and then the readers’ expectations, and finally what public understanding and taste will actually bear.

“Genre is like a ridge that is blocking a new road. I can choose to follow it or blast a tunnel through it.”

Tiffani Angus: I think genre designations are most important to publishers. They’re the ones who go to all the trouble to have categories and subcategories (and BISACs) so that book stores know where to shelve new books. Readers use them, then, to find books to buy. But we have been “trained” by this via bookshops and, before that, libraries to some extent. So readers have come, over the years (over decades) to recognize genre designations; in the early days of publishing, novels and short stories weren’t labelled in this manner. As writers, we just want to write interesting stories; too often we come up against a genre “wall” where a story we write overlaps genres and the publishers don’t know what to do with it (or don’t want it, because they don’t know how to sell it). Yet I don’t think that matters as much to readers; they just want to be entertained. This isn’t to say that readers aren’t sophisticated enough to understand genre characteristics, but I think the hoops that a story has to jump through to be labelled this or that sub-genre isn’t as important as whether it works as a satisfactory tale.

“As writers, we just want to write interesting stories; too often we come up against a genre “wall” where a story we write overlaps genres and the publishers don’t know what to do with it.”

Genres are marketing designations publishers and bookstores (and Amazon!) use to sell books, so sub-genres defined by their themes, tropes, etc. help readers find what they like. They also help writers know what their readers want and how to market themselves, especially vital in the highly competitive publishing industry. Twitter, Fb, Goodreads, etc., have also helped, resulting in hashtags that condense long descriptions. Saying something is #steampunk is so much easier and quicker than explaining its setting, general aesthetic, etc., and readers know what to expect from that more than they do if it’s just sold as SF or Fantasy.

William: One of the tasks of literature is to try to reconcile individuality versus shared experience. More individuality you might think militates in favour of more sub-genres. That isn’t necessarily true. I write literary fiction. I write about conflicted lesbians, drunks, and nutters whom people encounter at transport interchanges. That is a niche, but it isn’t a sub-genre. A sub-genre is a table in Waterstones. A niche is one particular alcove in one particular cave in South America. You might say that my work is concerned with directing the lesbians, the drunks, the nutters, and, most of all, the people who might be interested in reading about them, to that particular cave.

Dean: I think that Amazon has driven this notion of sub-genres particularly with their never-ending charts etc. This has had the knock on effect that some very bad authors can claim to be a ‘number one best seller author’ because they wrote something in a sub-genre (potentially) all to themselves. Perhaps that’s just me being grumpy and obviously I shouldn’t bemoan a fellow writer their ‘success’ – if that is indeed what it is. I don’t think we should concentrate on ‘labels’ nowadays anyway, the world I live in (quite different to the one I was born into) is much more fluid and I always get the idea that creative people have to be ‘pigeon-holed’ for some reason and if they do break out of that particular genre and write something else then heaven help them!

James Brogden: I don’t think readers think about their taste in books in those same genre terms. As a reader, I certainly don’t. I have favourite authors who I will follow as they try new things and sometimes find myself reading and enjoying a genre I wouldn’t ordinarily touch. On the other hand you get people who expect a very narrow range of experience – largely based on cover image, I feel – who get very annoyed when you stray from that, but I still don’t think most conceptualise it in terms of ‘Oh, well that was/n’t what I expected from a folk horror novel.’

“You get people who expect a very narrow range of experience – largely based on cover image, I feel – who get very annoyed when you stray from that.”

Anna: I think people are becoming increasingly aware of sub-genres but in the broad sense, they go for the “big” monikers – sci-fi and fantasy. Occasionally online people will ask for recommendations for something specific like a new grimdark book or sci-fantasy instead, but most often I see people asking for themes: quest stories or continent/planet-spanning warfare. And all sorts of genres can fall into themes like that.

Heide Goody: I’m not sure that sub-genres are the most common way in which readers describe what they like, but they do serve a useful purpose for anyone navigating any kind of systemised book store, because it’s very easy to discover other reading material that is similar. If a sub genre becomes big enough then it will become adopted as shorthand amongst readers. I have been to a couple of readers’ groups recently and a good many people have told me that they enjoy psychological thrillers. This is a sub-genre that has exploded in popularity in recent years, and so it’s lost some of the “sub” now.

Jon: I’ve seen/heard examples of readers defining their reading pleasure quite broadly, (horror, sci fi etc), while others are far more specific. When looking for places to submit to, I have observed the same sort of thing; some publishers have very broad demands, while others – usually the smaller presses – can be very, very specific: “retro gothic psychological vegan vampire ghost horror set on Wednesday afternoon in 1897 South London” may soon be a thing…

Pigeon Park Press – What problems are there specific to the genre you write in?

William: In literary fiction, the main axes of antagonism are sophistication versus populism, and the Big 5 versus independents. I am a militant of the independently published faction. Salt is the biggest independent in the UK, short listed once for the Man Booker prize, and I have story in its next short story anthology, which should be out in July. I am hoping to use this as a springboard for my debut short fiction collection, from Stairwell Books. The big publishers still don’t want to publish short stories, which is silly, because short fiction suits contemporary life styles.

Dean: One problem we have at the moment is that there are only few writers working in the historical / horror genre. Now before people jump up and say the complete opposite, I’m sure I could reel off a handful of names but after that? The thing is, I’m all for more writers in the genre – why not? As many as possible as far as I’m concerned. We shouldn’t treat each other as enemies, we should support and promote one another which should be genre-wide. What has to be a truism however, is that any writer (new or established) has to ensure that, one, their stories are historically accurate and, two, their stories are bloody good – otherwise they are doing all of us a disfavour.

Anna: The biggest I’ve noticed, particularly in grimdark, is the prevailing misconception that only men write it. People mention Abercrombie, Lawrence, Bakker, GRRM over and over again. No one mentions Kameron Hurley, ML Spencer, JV Jones, Mary Gentle, Robin Hobb and many many more. It’s a constant battle to be recognised and it feels like however many times we discuss female authors, we never manage to break into those ‘grimdark lists’.

“However many times we discuss female authors, we never manage to break into those ‘grimdark lists’.”

Pigeon Park Press – So, if I wanted to write something in your genre, what is there to recommend it?

Heide: Firstly, do you want to write comedy? I can’t really imagine wanting to write anything else, but it’s taken me a while to understand the techniques. They can be learned, and it’s very fulfilling to make people laugh. If you write comedy then fantasy is an excellent fit for exercising those techniques. For example, the Agent of Chaos (the character who will say the unsayable or always kick the puppy) can very easily be imagined as a demon, imp or evil goblin. Fantasy also brings a genre community with it, which is useful for the community and for targeting marketing.

“Firstly, do you want to write comedy? I can’t really imagine wanting to write anything else.”

Jon: It’s a great opportunity for a shedload of research on the 19th century, so you can justifiably ignore everyone up to and including your spouse, employer, children etc, with the claim you are engaged in vital research! Or you can just make it all up and create your own specific Steampunk world; it is a very flexible format.”

Tiffani: Writing historical fantasy is a great excuse to use the stories already out there about historical people and events; you don’t have to make up a lot of it, you just have to do research to get it right. The stories are out there for you to mess with. I agree with Jon that it is an opportunity to do a lot of research, which I find particularly fun. For one novel I not only read book after book about gardening history but I also built several Pinterest boards, one for each time period/garden style, and got to go on ‘field research’ to a bunch of gardens. What’s not fun about that? What’s also great about being a genre writer is the SFF community; you make friends at conventions who you get to see a few times a year, hang out with, drink with at the bar, etc. People make connections in genre, which I’m not sure happens at the same rate in the non-genre writing community. I’ve made friends of other writers (and we go to writing workshops together), and of editors and publishers, artists and academics. By being in the community I’ve gained opportunities, such as being part of this blog, being on podcasts, being asked to contribute to anthologies. None of these would have happened otherwise. We are all a bunch of geeks who get to share and talk about the stuff we love, which can make your SFF friends feel like family.

The Contributors

Anna Stephens is the author of the grimdark debut fantasy novel Godblind, first in the Godblind trilogy published by Harper Voyager in the UK and Commonwealth. It has also been published in North America and France, with forthcoming publications in Germany, Poland, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Book 2 is out Summer 2018. An Open University Literature graduate and a second dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, Anna loves all things speculative, heavy metal music and the screams of her enemies.

James Brogden is a part-time Australian who grew up in Tasmania and now lives with his wife and two daughters in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where he teaches English. His horror and fantasy stories have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies ranging from The Big Issue to the British Fantasy Society Award-winning Alchemy Press. He is the author of the novels Hekla’s Children, The Narrows, Tourmaline, The Realt and the short story collection Evocations. His new novel The Hollow Tree will be published by Titan in March 2018. Blogging occurs infrequently at jamesbrogden.blogspot.co.uk, and tweeting at @skippybe.

Heide Goody said her co-writer, Iain, could write this bio bit. She didn’t say it had to be true. Heide was born in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire in 1953 but not fully assembled until 2012 as part of the London Olympic Games closing ceremony. She is only four inches tall and worked as freelance security for woodland creatures. She became a writer after being hospitalised by some very vicious shrews. Iain and Heide have been writing together for 6 years. Iain writes the nouns. Heide puts the verbs in. Her favourite verbs appear in this book.

Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire. His latest novel, Full Throttle, a steampunk motor racing adventure examining the gulf between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, appeared with Accent Press in August 2017.

Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A graduate of Clarion, she has published short fiction in a variety of genres (historical fantasy, fantasy, SF, horror, and erotica). Her current research includes gardens in fantasy fiction and women in apocalyptic fiction. Find her at tiffani-angus.com and @tiffaniangus

 

William Thirsk Gaskill was born in Leeds in 1967. He studied chemistry at the University of Liverpool, where he contributed to a fanzine called Dregs. He began writing seriously in 2010, after completing a diploma with the Open University. William appears regularly on the West Yorkshire spoken word circuit. William and his wife, Valerie Anderson, appeared together in the 2017 Wakefield Litfest, under the title Welcome To The Mad. His debut short fiction collection, Something I Need To Tell You, from Stairwell Books, comes out in 2018.

Ambitious, Dean M Drinkel is a published author, editor, award winning script-writer and film director. He has over thirty credits to his name in the field of genre writing (including short stories, collections, novellas, anthologies); has written and directed fifteen theatrical plays in London and South East of England. In 2016 Dean moved to Cannes, France to write a script with Romain Collier which was to become entitled “The Tragedy Of The Duke of Reichstadt”. This won two screenplay awards (Best Historical Drama / Best Independent Spirit) at the Monaco International Film Festival. In 2017 Dean directed the short film “15” for Midas Light Films and in April 2018 will direct (also for MLF) “Echoes of Mine” based on his own script. Dean will be following this with “The Lake” – an historical short film about the Empress Eugenie and a young piano-tuner to be shot in Chislehurst, Kent at their former home – Camden Place. Dean has won five awards (thus far) for his script-writing and was runner-up for the 2001 Sir Peter Ustinov Screenwriting Award (International Emmys) – for his script “Ghosts”.

Posted in 2018

Talking about Genres – The problems with genre writing…

Writers, publishers and readers talk about genre a lot. It’s how bookshops decide where a book belongs. It’s used to draw up charts, award prizes and produce those “If you liked this book, you might also like…” messages on-line retailers send us.

Pigeon Park Press asked a number of published authors whether we need genre distinctions, what problems exist within and between genres and what challenges they face writing in their chosen genre.

Pigeon Park Press – Does genre actually matter?

William Thirsk Gaskill – Human beings love to categorise things. We have to live with that. Most consumers like to have things pre-categorised for them, because it means they don’t have to think as much about what they are buying. My writing is an attempt to connect with readers who say they are looking for something new and stimulating – and actually mean it. With regard to marketing, genre is something writers and publishers can’t ignore. In the creation of original art, genre is something deliberately to be subverted. If successful, this results in the creation of new genres.

Dean M Drinkel – Until recently genre probably did matter, writers wrote in specific genres and readers would only read specific genres. However, like many things there is a lot more fluidity nowadays and whilst genre can be still deemed important (i.e. there are some publishers that will only publish particular genres or even agents who will only look at specific genres) what is more crucial is that whatever is written is written well. What I find interesting is when you call your work a specific genre and then somebody else calls it something different – with the Oscars around the corner, I am reminded of the furore when The Silence of the Lambs won – some called it a horror, some said it was a thriller and lots of people got their proverbials in a twist! Did it really matter? Probably not. It was a film well made, that was what was more important.

 

“…when The Silence of the Lambs won – some called it a horror, some said it was a thriller and lots of people got their proverbials in a twist! Did it really matter?”

James Brogden – Genre is the narrow point of an hourglass. Feeding in from the top, writers think more in terms of story and character rather than marketing, while at the narrow point an editor has a very clear idea of how a book needs to be marketed to be sold and so shapes it into a form which bookshops can label for their shelves. Out the other end, readers don’t think of themselves in genre terms but at the same time are attracted by covers designed by publishers to very carefully communicate genre expectations, however unconsciously. Genre is a selling tool, basically. In a nutshell, if you want to read or write books it doesn’t matter, but if you actually want to SELL them it’s crucial.

Anna Stephens – Dean and James make excellent points, especially what Dean says about The Silence of the Lambs. That blurring of genres is often something that can really help a book sell. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is such a crossover novel; it’s a modern thriller with a speculative twist and that’s what helped it become a Sunday Times bestseller. It’s sheer unpredictability. So I’d say I think genre is still important. I know my favourite genres are SFF and historical fiction and those are the shelves in the library and bookstore I gravitate towards. If all “fiction” was mingled on the shelves, I think fewer people would borrow or buy books. The sheer scale of the task of finding a book to enjoy would be almost impossible.

Heide Goody – I loved Behind Her Eyes, and I enjoyed the way that it straddled more than one genre, but I have seen several people react badly to it. They started to read what they thought was a “straight” psychological thriller, only to discover that there were supernatural elements in the book. This apparently made them feel as if they had been let down, that their expectation had been mismanaged. These people were in the minority, and the book was the massive hit that it deserved to be, but it suggests to me that genre does matter to some people; it represents their expectations.

 

“They started to read what they thought was a “straight” psychological thriller, only to discover that there were supernatural elements in the book.”

Jon Hartless – From the practical point of view, genre helps me navigate to the shelf I want in the bookshop, but it can be a self-limiting constraint also as many people will no doubt pass on by any genre they don’t know or like or approve of, and hence they may be missing out. Unfortunately, in terms of “literature”, there does seem to be a distaste of anything outside a narrow, prejudiced view on what constitutes “good” literature. I can only assume the reason for this is cultural superiority; literary fiction enables a self-satisfied clique of smug privileged wastrels to perch themselves on top of an ivory tower and drop the turgid turds of literary criticism and self-validation onto lesser mortals below. “I can read and understand this,” is the implied message, “while you can’t. I am therefore more intelligent and infinitely better cultured than you. And I insist I be treated as such.”

Tiffani Angus – To respond to Jon, if we look at LitFic as a genre itself–rather than a lack of genre or a type of writing that is ‘genre-less’–full of its own tropes, then I think its placement atop an ivory tower is undermined. LitFic then, instead of being the thing against which other genres are compared and often found wanting by those who haven’t even waded into SFF, becomes another categorisation. As such, it is still susceptible to placement in a hierarchy and so much a monolith of LitFic in opposition to all other genres together. Genre does matter for marketing, of course, and it helps writers know what context they’re working in. It also allows us writers to play, to combine genres and come up with something new and then, we hope, find readers who may be excited by the combination–something that a lack of genre identification would be difficult to explain.

Pigeon Park Press – So is there snobbery within and between genres? Do some genres look down on others?

Anna – In terms of fantasy, I think there’s a wider snobbery at play in which people who read non-fantasy genres think we’re a bunch of juveniles running around with swords and magic and not writing anything of worth, but among fantasy fans I haven’t come across any kind of snobbery. People have preferences of course – I don’t read steampunk for instance – and I imagine there are some people who think grimdark is like those horror films where it’s all gore and no plot. The literary equivalent of The Human Centipede, perhaps. But I think we all understand that we’re all fantasy fans and fantasy writers and that gives us a bond and a sense of community.

 

“people who read non-fantasy genres think we’re a bunch of juveniles running around with swords”

Heide – I agree with Anna that genre fiction is a tolerant place with a good sense of community. I like to spend time with writers of genre fiction, general commercial fiction and even poetry because I am extremely nosy and I like to see what writers do. If there is a difference in attitude, I am not sure I’d call it snobbery: I think I might suggest that we are driven by different goals. We all want readers to read our work, but commercial gain (and the sordid business of marketing) is perhaps not everyone’s primary driver.

Jon – Heide mentions commercial gain, which reminds me of the old assumption that you can have a literary reputation, or you can have sales, but not both. To me, this shows that intellectual snobbery toward genre, and indeed to healthy sales, is built into the very system and even before we begin we are encoded and trapped by assumptions from the cultural critics who refuse to recognise populist entertainment as anything but vulgar. And the more obscure and difficult a text is, the more they like it as they can pretend to be cultured by lauding something no one else is ever going to bother to read…

“You can have a literary reputation, or you can have sales, but not both.”

Tiffani – It’s not news, but there’s been a battle between LitFic and SFF for decades. A recent article claimed LitFic was in ‘crisis’, as if its slump was the death knell for ‘high culture’, which gives strength to the idea of a hierarchy of LitFic above SFF despite the latter’s popularity and sales numbers. Within SFF there’s snobbery about sub-genres, too, such as ranking hard SF above urban fantasy. While waiting in a green room to be on a panel about love & sex in SFF, I was informed by a (male) panellist/fan/writer that relationships don’t belong in SFF and that we were ruining things. It’s hard not to see snobbery in that!

William – The snobbery shown by literary fiction towards other genres is nothing compared to the snobbery within itself. The Big 5 publishers don’t so much look down on the independents as not notice they are there, except when an independent has a big commercial success, which is a cue for a patronising phone call about taking a writer off somebody’s hands. The Man Booker prize makes token attempts to respond to accusations that it is a white, male London-based conspiracy. The effects of digital publishing are still to be fully realised. Adelle Stripe’s recent novel, Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile, based on the life of Andrea Dunbar (writer of Rita, Sue and Bob Too) has re-exposed some of the old scars. It has also sold a lot of copies.

Dean – There is definitely a hierarchy and snobbery in genre writing that I have witnessed personally at conventions and gatherings but I leave ‘them’ to it though I know people who have suffered and will no longer attend events which is shame because I thought we were supposed to be about ‘inclusion’ rather than ‘exclusion’. I am proud to say that I write in the horror genre and will therefore suffer snobbery from those who think that horror is a lesser form of literature. I am lucky too (ha ha) in the fact that historical writers will also look down on writers like me that ‘dare’ to set our horror tales in THEIR historical worlds…I never make it easy for myself do I?

Pigeon Park Press – So what are the challenges of your genre? What are the barriers that you face within your particular genre?

William You have to come up with something new, because literary fiction is arguably the oldest genre (adherents of fantasy might lay claim to The Odyssey). I am fascinated by the information age. Rather than making us all buy e-readers, I think it offers new opportunities to experiment with narrative mode, ways of writing dialogue – the very idea of how to convey a story – but in ways which are accessible to contemporary readers. But it is not what you can write, nor what you can publish. It is what you can sell. You have to try to be to your genre what Einstein is to physics: make it comprehensible and appealing to people, sellers as well as readers, who think they hate it.

 

“You have to try to be to your genre what Einstein is to physics: make it comprehensible and appealing to people”

Jon – The greatest challenge to Steampunk may well lie in defining what the genre is; “That’s not Steampunk!” is a common refrain within the community, some of whom have much narrower ideas than others on what and isn’t “allowed”. For this reason, your brilliantly imagined world may not appeal to everyone – and they can be vocal in their criticism. Another barrier is that Steampunk, at least within the UK, is still rather niche; not that many have heard of it or know what it is…

Anna – One challenge in writing grimdark is there’s a fairly specific approach to writing it, including a focus on the bleaker side of life and as such it doesn’t have the broad appeal that other types of fantasy does. Sales figures and resulting profits may therefore not be as high as other types of fantasy. That said, Game of Thrones has proven wildly popular, so who knows. Challenges to writing in the genre include a higher than usual ratio of villains, so be prepared for the mental exhaustion that comes with those characters and their nefarious plans. Also, colour schemes tend towards mud brown and blood red!

Heide – A barrier to writing comic fantasy is that sometimes people don’t like to see the “comedy” part of the label. I pitched a short story to a small press last year, but fell at the first hurdle by mentioning the word comedy. “We don’t accept comedy” is not uncommon, even if you’re hitting the right genre. Readers are more open to being told that something is funny, but because humour is so subjective, the burden of proof is on the author. I can’t think of another subgenre where cynicism as to whether you’ve correctly identified what you’ve written is the default reaction!

Dean – For writing historical horror stories you HAVE to have a passion for history and know the particular period like the back of your hand – which means lots of research. You have to ensure that you create something unique and interesting if you are setting something in a particular period of history which we know a lot about e.g. WW2 and make your story ‘fresh’. Something to definitely remember is getting the language and dialogue of the characters right otherwise it can throw the reader out. For example, when we wrote the first draft of our Napoleon II script, we had characters saying “okay” probably a good eighty years before the word was invented!

James – I agree with Dean. I think if you’re going to write anything which needs an historical background the absolute minimum you can do is get that background accurate. There’s a lot of fun in world-building an entire secondary reality as part of a fantasy novel, but part of the fun of writing this folk or historical horror lies in finding the gaps in the real world where the weirdness might slip in. Aside from the obvious challenge of Knowing Enough Stuff, you have to be careful about info-dumping all the really cool things you’ve discovered, because there’s the need to balance it with actually telling a story.

 

“Aside from the obvious challenge of Knowing Enough Stuff, you have to be careful about info-dumping all the really cool things you’ve discovered.”

Tiffani – Research is key. There is a fine line between getting the information you need for X character living in X place and X time and falling down the research bunny hole for days or weeks at a time. You don’t have to know every last thing about your place or time period–just enough to get the story down. And you do all of this research but need to avoid info-dumps and long passages where you report on the time period or place. You want your research to inform the character’s actions, etc., and for the piece to pull the reader in and sing as fiction–not a report. But I find the biggest challenge, the one that stalls me, is really closely related: it’s getting out of your own head and remembering that you’re writing fiction and not non-fiction. You find yourself stopping and questioning “Would X character do that, then?” or “Could X happen?” In some cases, you have to adhere to historical rules, but at the same time you’re writing fantasy and can and SHOULD play with all of it, tweak it.

The Contributors

Anna Stephens is the author of the grimdark debut fantasy novel Godblind, first in the Godblind trilogy published by Harper Voyager in the UK and Commonwealth. It has also been published in North America and France, with forthcoming publications in Germany, Poland, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Book 2 is out Summer 2018. An Open University Literature graduate and a second dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, Anna loves all things speculative, heavy metal music and the screams of her enemies.

James Brogden is a part-time Australian who grew up in Tasmania and now lives with his wife and two daughters in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where he teaches English. His horror and fantasy stories have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies ranging from The Big Issue to the British Fantasy Society Award-winning Alchemy Press. He is the author of the novels Hekla’s Children, The Narrows, Tourmaline, The Realt and the short story collection Evocations. His new novel The Hollow Tree will be published by Titan in March 2018. Blogging occurs infrequently at jamesbrogden.blogspot.co.uk, and tweeting at @skippybe.

Heide Goody said her co-writer, Iain, could write this bio bit. She didn’t say it had to be true. Heide was born in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire in 1953 but not fully assembled until 2012 as part of the London Olympic Games closing ceremony. She is only four inches tall and worked as freelance security for woodland creatures. She became a writer after being hospitalised by some very vicious shrews. Iain and Heide have been writing together for 6 years. Iain writes the nouns. Heide puts the verbs in. Her favourite verbs appear in this book.

Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire. His latest novel, Full Throttle, a steampunk motor racing adventure examining the gulf between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, appeared with Accent Press in August 2017.

Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A graduate of Clarion, she has published short fiction in a variety of genres (historical fantasy, fantasy, SF, horror, and erotica). Her current research includes gardens in fantasy fiction and women in apocalyptic fiction. Find her at tiffani-angus.com and @tiffaniangus

 

William Thirsk Gaskill was born in Leeds in 1967. He studied chemistry at the University of Liverpool, where he contributed to a fanzine called Dregs. He began writing seriously in 2010, after completing a diploma with the Open University. William appears regularly on the West Yorkshire spoken word circuit. William and his wife, Valerie Anderson, appeared together in the 2017 Wakefield Litfest, under the title Welcome To The Mad. His debut short fiction collection, Something I Need To Tell You, from Stairwell Books, comes out in 2018.

Ambitious, Dean M Drinkel is a published author, editor, award winning script-writer and film director. He has over thirty credits to his name in the field of genre writing (including short stories, collections, novellas, anthologies); has written and directed fifteen theatrical plays in London and South East of England. In 2016 Dean moved to Cannes, France to write a script with Romain Collier which was to become entitled “The Tragedy Of The Duke of Reichstadt”. This won two screenplay awards (Best Historical Drama / Best Independent Spirit) at the Monaco International Film Festival. In 2017 Dean directed the short film “15” for Midas Light Films and in April 2018 will direct (also for MLF) “Echoes of Mine” based on his own script. Dean will be following this with “The Lake” – an historical short film about the Empress Eugenie and a young piano-tuner to be shot in Chislehurst, Kent at their former home – Camden Place. Dean has won five awards (thus far) for his script-writing and was runner-up for the 2001 Sir Peter Ustinov Screenwriting Award (International Emmys) – for his script “Ghosts”.

Posted in Uncategorized

Talking about Genres – Welcome to my Genre

Writers, publishers and readers talk about genre a lot. It’s how bookshops decide where a book belongs. It’s used to draw up charts, award prizes and produce those “If you liked this book, you might also like…” messages on-line retailers send us.

But how do we define genres?

Pigeon Park Press asked a number of published authors to give a personal account of their chosen genre.

Grimdark

Who are you and why are you qualified to talk about grimdark?
I’m Anna Stephens and my debut novel, Godblind, is considered by many to be in the grimdark sub-genre of fantasy. Grimdark fantasy is often set in a dystopian world where there is a distinct lack of fun or hope. There is very often some sort of war being fought, whether by magic or by inserting metal into flesh with extreme prejudice, and the heroes – or rather, the protagonists as ‘hero’ can be a strong word for the types of people we encounter – are generally just doing their best to survive. They may have lost all faith in the cause for which they’re fighting.

Q:So, it’s just depressing and peopled with savages?
Not really. There’s no doubt that a grimdark universe will focus on some of the darker places people can go – both physically in acts of violence and mentally in their attitudes to the world in which they live. The societies and cultures are often very complex, with systems of government, trade and social systems, much like any other type of fantasy or, indeed, reality. What makes a fantasy grimdark is that these cultural benefits are often subsumed by the horrors of war or the proclivities of the main characters.

Q: Torture. You’re talking about torture. So grimdark is torture-porn for readers?
Not at all. While you’re likely to come across some scenes that make you wince, the emphasis is usually on the characters’ journeys, as it is in any novel. It’s just these characters don’t necessarily have a happy ending or anything much to look forward to. It’s an examination of humanity pushed to the brink; who we become and what we’re capable of when everything seems hopeless and bleak.

Q: So nothing good ever happens?
Oh no, lots of good things happen. In fact, a lot of grimdark is about clinging to the small moments of light and shreds of hope that leaven the darkness. The darker the night, the brighter the stars.

Q: Alright, that’s actually quite interesting. Which other authors beside you should I look out for?
George RR Martin, he of Game of Thrones fame, was one of the first authors to grimdark elements into his work (the Red Wedding, anyone?) so there’s him, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Deborah Wolf, Kameron Hurley, ML Spencer and CS Friedman, to name a few.

 

Folk Horror

Who are you and what is folk horror?
My name is James Brogden, and I write folk horror – at least, that’s what it’s being called now. It’s a peculiarly British subgenre which focuses on the dark side of traditional – usually rural – culture. Think devil-worship in old, thatched cottages; murderous scarecrows; nasty things scuttling in the hedgerows; the brooding presence of pagan elder gods.

Ooh! That Lovecraft bloke!
No.

What type of folk do you write about, then?
Not so much ‘folk’ as in people, more like ‘folklore’ – old stories, traditions, superstitions and domestic rituals passed down from generation to generation. Classic examples might be Arthur Machen’s ‘The Great God Pan’, the works of Dennis Wheatley, or David Pinner’s ‘Ritual’, filmed as ‘The Wicker Man’ (the original version, not the godawful remake). You can see its influences very strongly in ‘The League of Gentlemen’, and it’s also bound up in a certain nostalgia for 70’s film and television, a sense that ‘modern’ horror has become saturated with cheap jump-scares, torture porn, slasher remakes and endless hordes of bloody zombies. In a sense it’s generational – those of us who grew up as kids in the 70s addicted to Hammer horror are now writing the kinds of things we loved then.

Is it anything to do with folk music?
Yes and no. Folk tunes often touch on the same dark themes, and Morris dancing has some pretty weird history behind it, but if you’re asking should the story be read out loud in a nasal whine with a finger stuck in your ear, then no.

So no Ed Sheeran then?
No. No Sheeran, no Lovecraft, and no sodding zombies.

 

Comic Fantasy

Who are you and what is comic fantasy?
I’m Heide Goody. Comic fantasy? Well that would be fantasy that is funny. Or a funny book that contains fantastical elements. It can be set in an entirely fictional universe, or it might be set in the real world with some minor magical or supernatural adjustments (e.g. dogs can talk or mermaids are real).

So, it’s books you’re talking about, not comics?
It’s anywhere you might find fiction. The word comic just means that there is comedy in there.

Huh. Well that means you could have “comic anything”, surely? What’s special about comic fantasy?
It gained huge popularity because of Terry Pratchett, whose work dominates the genre. In the Discworld series, all of the stories are set in the same world, but he took different elements of the real world (universities, journalism, the coming of the railways) and showed us what they looked like in the Discworld. Writing in a fantasy world means that parody fits very naturally; people love the opportunity to laugh at familiar things presented through a fantasy lens. Other authors to look out for are Robert Rankin, Tom Holt and Christopher Moore. Because humour is so subjective, it can be a slippery label to apply, and the boundaries blur somewhat. Douglas Adams will sometimes be included, but much of his work is SF rather than fantasy. Neil Gaiman makes many lists, but that might be because of his association with Terry Pratchett.

 

Steampunk

Who are you and what is Steampunk?
I’m Jon Hartless and Steampunk is (usually) reimagining the nineteenth century with anachronistic technology.

You stick some cogs on it and call it Steampunk?
Not at all; for me, trying to be aware of how one change in the timeline could alter history is the key to presenting a believable world, after which I map that starting point onto the themes and issues I want to explore. However, given the sheer variety of people in Steampunk – musicians, writers, cosplayers, crafters, clothes designers etc – it is problematical (to say the least) to claim there is only one way or one approach which is valid.

It sounds like a very broad genre?
It is, and hence you find quite a lot of variation within. Steampunk can feature a world where airships dominate the skies or it could show humanity spreading across the entire solar system in steam-powered rockets.

It sounds as though Steampunk is a little too broad?
Not really; the genre thrives on diversity. It can be horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, erotica, and that is just in the literary side of it.

Ah, but isn’t Steampunk just “fascism for nice people”, in which the true nature of the 19th century – slavery, oppression, exploitation – is simply glossed over and sanitised?
It has come under fire for ignoring reality, but that is a criticism you can aim at almost any genre – and like just about every other genre out there, you can find many different approaches going on; light and frothy, thrilling and adventurous, dark and bleak etc. Besides, Steampunk is alternate reality, so criticising it for not being real is somewhat paradoxical. Reality is merely the starting point; it’s what you actually do with Steampunk that is important.

Who are the big names in Steampunk?
Alan Moore’s earlier League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a good start, though the most common names are probably Gail Carriger and Cherie Priest, with a dash of Robert Rankin for humour.

 

Historical Fantasy

Who are you and what is historical fantasy?
I’m Tiffani Angus, and historical fantasy is what it says on the box: fantasy set in a historical time and place. But pinning down a clear definition of the type that I work in can be difficult because of the many subgenres placed beneath the generic historical fantasy umbrella and fantasy’s use of secondary worlds that are eerily familiar.

So, it’s like Lord of the Rings?
No, not exactly. Even though LotR is in some ways based on historic times/places, with familiar elements, it’s set in an imaginary, or secondary, world. LotR and its most recent literary descendant Game of Thrones are High Fantasy; other subgenres of historical fantasy include Steampunk, Classical Fantasy, based on Greek and Roman mythology, and Celtic fantasy (such as stories about King Arthur). The historical fantasy I’m interested in closely overlaps with historical fiction that is based in our real world. It’s populated with real historical persons and can feature real historical events.

Oh, it’s alternative history?
Eh, yes but no. A lot of alternative history is based on the premise that thing X did or didn’t happen (such as the Allies winning WWII) and explores how the subsequent timeline would have changed. But then there are some novels, such as Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula, that are set in a specific time period and feature real people but with such strong fantasy elements that the history becomes alternative. In some cases, the fantastic element is time travel, which further complicates defining the subgenre. My historical fantasy isn’t so much interested in changing “big” history as in tweaking little bits of it, but the timeline remains.

Who writes this stuff?
A few authors who write a lot in this subgenre include Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu) Tim Powers (On Stranger Tides), and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series). Other authors who’ve written in this subgenre include Christopher Priest (The Prestige), Connie Willis (Doomsday Book), Catherynne Valente (Deathless), and Elizabeth Hand (Mortal Love)

 

Urban Fantasy

Who are you and what is Urban Fantasy?
I’m Theresa Derwin and Urban Fantasy is a sub genre of fantasy. It’s often associated with Charles De Lint as one of the earlier players, is a genre also centred in ‘place’. Set predominantly in an urban environment (cities such as London, New York, Chicago for the Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill or Shreveport for the Sookie Stackhouse series aka True Blood) this genre mingles a contemporary world with elements of fantasy.

Ah, so it’s Harry Potter?
No, it’s broader and often darker than that. For instance, in Seanan McGuire’s Incryptid series, Verity Price is an internationally ranked ballroom dancer who happens to have another – discreet job. Kicking arse with elegant spins and protecting the cryptids (or supernatural creatures) of Manhattan. These can range from the Aeslin mice who live in her closet and worship her family as deities, ogres, dragons, fae, werewolves or Sasquatch- and that’s just for starters.

So, it’s just modern stories with monsters in?
Well, the different directions it can take however is the ‘in or out’ game; supernaturals are either known to the world and are coming out, such as in the Charlaine Harris worlds, or they are a deeply hidden secret with only a select population ‘in the know’. Best examples of this are the SPI Files books by Lisa Shearin, or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Place is central to the tone of urban fantasy; as is adventure, quite often romance, and strong female leads.

No room for Harry Potter?
Despite preconceptions there’s plenty of room for the boys. Harry Dresden – the wizard in Butcher’s books, is kind of like an adult Harry Potter with attitude. Urban Fantasy male authors suffer the same prejudices experienced by female horror writers; their existence is either disregarded or not known of.

 

Literary Fiction

Who are you and what is literary fiction?
William Thirsk-Gaskill. Literary fiction is any fiction which is not genre, and not written entirely to make money.

So is The War of the Worlds not literary fiction, because it’s genre?
It is more complicated than that. If you believe TWOTW is actually about Martians, then it is science fiction, and hence not literary fiction. If you think, as I do, that it is an allegory for what was about to happen in World War One, and that the Martians are a metaphor for human agents from other countries, then it is, arguably, literary fiction. In this case, it is also one of the most prescient books of the modern era.

That’s vague. It sounds as if anything you think is good could be literary fiction. Say what it is, rather than what it is not.
I won’t bother to repeat the basic, Aristotelian rules of narrative. I would say that literary fiction examines characters in more minute detail than any other genre. I accept unreservedly that other genres draw out character, but if your narrative has first to construct, say, a penal colony on one of the moons of Saturn, then it will be more about the setting, and the technology which supports it, rather than the characters.

But a harsh environment like a moon of Saturn will test the characters to their limit.
Yes. But a suburban sitting room can also test characters to their limit. And if I am going to create a suburban situation which tests characters to their limit, that will test me as a writer.

The best contemporary literary fiction also uses as few words as possible – no whole paragraphs of description of what somebody is wearing, unless such description is vital to the narrative, as it is in American Psycho. It tells the reader what is happening, what the protagonist sees, hears, says, and does, but it delegates the task of working out why all this is happening to the reader. In that sense, literary fiction owes part of its living to increased access to education.

Who would you say are the main exponents of the genre?
I can only give a highly selective answer. Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Anthony Burgess, Muriel Spark, and Toni Morrison. I could give you at least five others sets of five. Arguably the greatest influence on my own work is Dorothy L. Sayers, a crime writer, but my point is that her novels are not just about solving crime: they have character development and social commentary and can be appreciated for those things alone, if the reader prefers.

But most of those are dead, and Toni Morrison is getting on a bit. What about some contemporary names?
I have a collection of short fiction coming out later this year, from Stairwell Books. It is called Something I Need To Tell You. I’ll give you the name of a website that sells books from a collection of independent publishers, and you can look at them for yourself. www.inpressbooks.co.uk

 
Historical Horror Fiction

Who are you and what exactly is historical horror fiction?
Hi, my name is Dean M Drinkel; I’m a UK / France based award winning writer and director. Horror is where it all began for me but over the last couple of years ‘history’ has played a bigger part in my creative life (which is good as I double majored in American History / History at University – I wrote my thesis about the Salem Witches. I was convinced they were witches, the people who marked my work, weren’t.)

Can you tell us some more then about the historical aspect of your work?
Sure, about three or so years ago I was invited to contribute a story to an anthology (FEAR THE REAPER – Crystal Lake) and I wanted to write a story about a character I had used in a couple of tales set in Paris, in modern times; however, I thought it would be fun to write something about the past so set it in 19th Century, Vienna. I soon got the bug and I compiled / edited an anthology for Lycopolis Press about the Titanic and then for Alchemy Press in memoriam to World War One. In 2016 I moved to Cannes, France to co-write a historical feature film script (with the French writer, Romain Collier) about the son of Napoleon entitled “The Tragedy Of The Duke Of Reichstadt” which then won two screenplay awards at the Monaco International Film Festival and which should see production (as a tv series rather than a film) later this year. During that time I also wrote a (recent) historical based novella which formed part of the Exaggerated Press’ anthology DARKER BATTLEFIELDS.

Is there a market for this sort of thing?
In terms of our script yes – you want to see the cast we have attached, it is mind-blowing that everyone we approached said yes and there are some big European names there. History in literature always seem to sell, I mean look there is Ken Follett, Hilary Mantel, Amor Towles, Umberto Eco, Philippa Gregory and William Shakespeare to name but six. In terms of historical / horror you definitely see that a lot in the cinema and in terms of literature writers who have worked ‘history’ into their work can include Kim Newman, Lucius Shepard, Philip K. Dick, F.G. Cottam, Guy N. Smith and of course Christopher Fowler with his Bryant & May series of books.

Are you going to continue to write in the historical horror genre?
Yes, I am right now working on a new novella for our follow up to DARKER BATTLEFIELDS – we have all been tasked with writing WW1 stories which should see publication during the fall of 2018. From a script point of view, with the 200 years anniversary of Napoleon’s death coming up that seems too good an opportunity to miss, my co-writer and I were looking at a very unique and ‘modern’ way of telling Bonaparte’s story…so watch this space!

The Contributors

Anna Stephens is the author of the grimdark debut fantasy novel Godblind, first in the Godblind trilogy published by Harper Voyager in the UK and Commonwealth. It has also been published in North America and France, with forthcoming publications in Germany, Poland, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Book 2 is out Summer 2018. An Open University Literature graduate and a second dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, Anna loves all things speculative, heavy metal music and the screams of her enemies.

James Brogden is a part-time Australian who grew up in Tasmania and now lives with his wife and two daughters in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, where he teaches English. His horror and fantasy stories have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies ranging from The Big Issue to the British Fantasy Society Award-winning Alchemy Press. He is the author of the novels Hekla’s Children, The Narrows, Tourmaline, The Realt and the short story collection Evocations. His new novel The Hollow Tree will be published by Titan in March 2018. Blogging occurs infrequently at jamesbrogden.blogspot.co.uk, and tweeting at @skippybe.

Heide Goody said her co-writer, Iain, could write this bio bit. She didn’t say it had to be true. Heide was born in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire in 1953 but not fully assembled until 2012 as part of the London Olympic Games closing ceremony. She is only four inches tall and worked as freelance security for woodland creatures. She became a writer after being hospitalised by some very vicious shrews. Iain and Heide have been writing together for 6 years. Iain writes the nouns. Heide puts the verbs in. Her favourite verbs appear in this book.

Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire. His latest novel, Full Throttle, a steampunk motor racing adventure examining the gulf between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, appeared with Accent Press in August 2017.

Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader of MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A graduate of Clarion, she has published short fiction in a variety of genres (historical fantasy, fantasy, SF, horror, and erotica). Her current research includes gardens in fantasy fiction and women in apocalyptic fiction. Find her at tiffani-angus.com and @tiffaniangus

HWA member Theresa Derwin writes SF, Urban Fantasy & Horror and has over thirty anthology acceptances. One coming soon is ‘Below the Stairs’ with Ramsey Campbell and Clive Barker. She writes book reviews at her site www.terror-tree.co.uk. She’s had three collections published: ‘Monsters Anonymous’ (currently reworking), ‘Season’s Creepings’ and ‘Wolf at The Door’. She edited Weird Ales 2016, creating vol 2 and 3 in 2017. Forthcoming books are ‘Once Upon a Feather’ then ‘God’s Vengeance’ from Crystal Lake Publishing. In 2018 she commences a study of #WomeninHorror. Twitter @BarbarellaFem

William Thirsk Gaskill was born in Leeds in 1967. He studied chemistry at the University of Liverpool, where he contributed to a fanzine called Dregs. He began writing seriously in 2010, after completing a diploma with the Open University. William appears regularly on the West Yorkshire spoken word circuit. William and his wife, Valerie Anderson, appeared together in the 2017 Wakefield Litfest, under the title Welcome To The Mad. His debut short fiction collection, Something I Need To Tell You, from Stairwell Books, comes out in 2018.

Ambitious, Dean M Drinkel is a published author, editor, award winning script-writer and film director. He has over thirty credits to his name in the field of genre writing (including short stories, collections, novellas, anthologies); has written and directed fifteen theatrical plays in London and South East of England. In 2016 Dean moved to Cannes, France to write a script with Romain Collier which was to become entitled “The Tragedy Of The Duke of Reichstadt”. This won two screenplay awards (Best Historical Drama / Best Independent Spirit) at the Monaco International Film Festival. In 2017 Dean directed the short film “15” for Midas Light Films and in April 2018 will direct (also for MLF) “Echoes of Mine” based on his own script. Dean will be following this with “The Lake” – an historical short film about the Empress Eugenie and a young piano-tuner to be shot in Chislehurst, Kent at their former home – Camden Place. Dean has won five awards (thus far) for his script-writing and was runner-up for the 2001 Sir Peter Ustinov Screenwriting Award (International Emmys) – for his script “Ghosts”.

Posted in Genre, Uncategorized, Writing Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

2017-2018 – What did we do? Where are we going?

Satan mimics the Statue of LibertyWhat did we do in 2017…

We started 2017 hotly promoting our latest Clovenhoof novella, Clovenhoof and the Trump of Doom. This was a story, written in the days after Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. We had great fun writing it and fans have taken really well to it, although some readers did object to possible political bias regarding the hot topic of Trump and the UK Brexit vote. Clovenhoof will definitely keep his nose out of international politics from now on, although it did attract the attention of MTV.

Fairy tale silhouettesIn April, we published a brand new and original novel, Disenchanted. We wanted to write a book about fairy tales but we’re not the kind of people who want a princess who’s just going to hang around the palace, waiting for her prince to come and rescue her. We decided to write about a woman who wasn’t interested in hooking up with Prince Charming or getting the Happily Ever After everyone else wants her to have. And so our heroine, Ella, has the challenge of avoiding forceful suitors, ditching seven persistent dwarfs who want to help her and generally avoiding anything that looks like it stepped out of the pages of the Brothers Grimm.

In April we also helped to celebrate the 50th birthday of Adrian Mole. Our specially commissioned Mole short Let Them Eat Custard Creams formed part of the celebrations, held at Leicester university and sponsored by Penguin.

In July, we published Oddjobs 2, sequel to the workplace comedy we published in 2016. The Oddjobs stories follow a group of office workers who have the unenviable job of making sure that the end of the world goes according to plan. Horrible monsters from another dimension are poised to devour the world and it’s our heroes’ mission to make sure the Great British public don’t panic and no one makes a great big fuss about it. By the end of Oddjobs 2 – spoilers! – the world has not yet ended so there are still further stories in the series.

Also in July, we filmed a Facebook advert to promote the book, Disenchanted. We decided that the best way to illustrate the ‘you don’t need a fairy tale wedding to be happy’ theme was to blow up a wedding cake. We had… interesting results. Here is the advert if you want to take a look (give it a like or a comment if you’re feeling generous). There was violence and fire and there were casualties. But we had a lot of fun. We ‘ve even cobbled together a Making Of video…

December saw the publication of 12 Dark Days: One Hell of a Christmas. This was an anthology project masterminded by Dean M Drinkel, where each author wrote a story for one of the twelve days of Christmas. We took “Eight Maids a-Milking” and made sure it was very, very silly.George RR Martin with sinister baby

Conventions…
In April Heide went to Stokercon in Long Beach, California. It was held on the Queen Mary and was a wonderful chance to meet writers from the US and beyond. Heide could not resist the opportunity to bother George RR Martin with her satanic Baby.

In July we ran a comedy writing workshop at Edgelit in Derby and popped up on a couple of panels as well.

In September we ran the comedy writing workshop at Fantasycon. We were both lucky enough to be on several panels, but we still found time for plenty of chatting in the bar with our friends as well.

We attended meetups with readers in Leeds, Birmingham and London. At these events we performed customised karaoke, led a kazoo orchestra and organised a giant pass the parcel, because we like to keep things low-key.

What we’re doing in 2018…

 

A Spell in the Country

On 23rd February, our first book of 2018 will be published. A Spell in the Country, a comedy about three very different witches meeting up at a witching training course in the countryside, is already available for pre-order. Click here to pre-order your copy and look at Mike Watts’ stylish cover artwork.

 

2018 will also see the release of Oddjobs 3. We’ve had such positive feedback for Oddjobs 1 & 2 (and so much fun writing them!) that we will be pushing this forward in our schedules so that we can get it out to the reading public as soon as possible.

But we haven’t forgotten old Jeremy Clovenhoof. We’re currently partway through writing duties on not only Clovenhoof Book 7 but also Clovenhoof Book 8! Both will see publication in 2018.

We will be delivering a number of writing workshops this year. Among them will be a workshop on story structure and plot we’ll be running in Birmingham on June 16th.

We’ll also be attending various writing conventions and meetups with readers groups in Leeds, Birmingham, Derby and Chester. No trips to California this year although Heide is toying with the idea of going to Edinburgh.

Posted in 2017, 2018, Books, Events, Reflections

Short story: A Christmas Baby

We offer to you a Christmas short story, featuring Baby.
Baby reads book

You might have seen pictures of Baby before, if you follow us on social media.
Our relationship with Baby was originally intended to be a short-term one, mainly for some amusing publicity pictures when we released Beelzebelle, which features a baby.
Baby had other ideas though, and has now been to numerous fantasy and horror conventions, bothering everyone, including George R R Martin.

George RR Martin with sinister baby
After nearly two years, life without Baby is unthinkable, and so, it was only a matter of time before Baby became the subject matter for a short story.
With compliments of the season, here is a short story featuring our favourite infant.

A Christmas Baby

Baby nativity

Rupert settled into his favourite leather chair. The comforting clatter of James arriving with his coddled eggs soothed his soul. The terrific wrench of getting out of bed in the morning was made bearable with this carefully honed routine. This morning however, there was a difficult conversation to be had. As James poured the tea, Rupert looked him full in the eye.
“James, have you moved Baby?” he asked. “The high chair is empty.”
“Ah, yes sir. I have re-located Baby to a sealed box in the loft.”
“Dash it, James!” spluttered Rupert. “Why would you do that?”
“There have been complaints, sir,” said James. “A most regrettable accident with the window cleaner. He fell off his ladder and, I am told, even after the doctors ruled out concussion he was heard to mumble incoherently about evil eyes staring at him. I fear he encountered Baby.”
“Nonsense, I bet it was next door’s pug,” said Rupert.
“I can’t imagine young Boots being visible from the top of the ladder,” said James. “I feel that it will be better for all if Baby is kept away from prying eyes.”
Rupert cast anxiously about for the correct words. When James got these stubborn ideas into his head, he tended to forget all about the traditional employee / employer relationship and became quite immovable. It wouldn’t do to drive a wedge between them. There were plenty of other opportunities open to the very best gentleman’s gentleman. Butlering might be a scarcely-populated profession these days, but that would make James even more sought-after on an open market. The problem that Rupert faced was one of brain power. He relied very much on James to tackle advanced problem solving, whether it was deciding what to serve for supper, or negotiating with a crime lord whose briefcase full of money had got muddled up with the de-luxe backgammon set. When it came to Rupert’s own ideas though, his head was normally as empty and hollow as the charming set of bongo drums that he’d found on the market (which was also missing, presumed relocated to the loft). However, when Baby was around, he found that his head blossomed with ideas, many of them incredibly exciting. James was aware of this phenomenon, but had reservations about the influence of Baby. Just because a few of those ideas had ended badly, he sought to limit contact with Baby.
“Very well James, I will concede to your wishes, but could I perhaps be allowed to have a small tea party with Baby in attendance? I should very much like to wish Baby a Merry Christmas.”
James gave a tiny bow. “Very good sir. I shall be happy to arrange limited access for special occasions. Might I also remind you that Miss Ashna will be coming along later as well?”
“Ah, capital! She can join the tea party. Will there be Battenberg, James?”
“Of course, sir,” said James.

“My favourite people, all together!” declared Rupert as James placed a cake stand on the table, loaded with Battenberg and other treats.
Ashna turned and gave him a narrow-eyed look as she poured tea from the china pot. “I strongly suspect that you’re including your hideous Baby in that group,” she said. “I’ve never properly understood your fixation with the wretched thing. I mean, look at its face!”
“Shush! No need to be rude. Baby’s looks are unique, I’ll give you that.”
“Oh Rupert, that face has surely been chewed by a dog. It’s horrible,” said Ashna. “And no, I’m not pouring tea for Baby.”
Rupert replaced the extra cup with a small sigh, but slipped a plate of Battenberg in front of Baby. “There you go,” he murmured, sotto voce.
“Your Christmas decorations look lovely,” said Ashna.
“Yes. James has done us proud once again. The man’s a genius in so many ways.”
“He really is,” said Ashna, standing so that she could survey the entire room. “Such an eye for colour. Such a balance of texture. He has the most exquisite taste.”
“Yes. Well, I chose the tree,” said Rupert, keen to be the recipient of at least some of Ashna’s admiration. “Literally picked my way through dozens of contenders to find the cream of the crop. Wasn’t easy, I can tell you.”
“You know, you’ve given me a thought. I wonder if you and James would mind helping me with something later today?”
“I’m certain we’d give it our best shot. What do you need?”
“Just a little help with a window display I’m working on in the Bull Ring. Maybe you could meet me there at six this evening? It’s next door to the doughnut shop that you like.”
“Absolutely. You had me at doughnuts!”

Just before six, James and Rupert walked through the Bull Ring.
“I find it most bizarre that Miss Ashna would insist that you bring Baby along, sir. I have never seen any indication that she holds Baby at that level of esteem.”
“Well, she didn’t insist exactly. I was more reading between the lines, if you know what I mean?”
“I’m afraid that I probably do, sir,” intoned James, with a look that Rupert wasn’t sure he entirely approved of.
“Right, doughnuts first!” Rupert said gleefully as they approached.
“Sir might consider saving that treat until afterwards, to avoid the nuisance of sticky fingers during the task ahead,” suggested James.
“Oh, you’re right. I’m sure I can manage for a short while.” Rupert stopped and sniffed the air. “But I can smell them, James. This might be difficult.”
“I have every confidence that sir can muster the inner strength required,” said James.
“We’ll see,” said Rupert, casting a longing gaze at the doughnut shop. “This shop here must be the one Ashna needs help with. Look, the window display isn’t finished yet.”
The window featured a delightful rustic scene, with hay bales and rough-sawn beams holding up a low roof. The lighting was subdued, apart from spotlights trained on some crisp, white household linens piled on the hay bales.
“Did Miss Ashna indicate what would be required of us, sir?” asked James as Rupert pushed through the door of the shop.
“Yes, sort of,” said Rupert. “We need to use our initiative. I’d say it’s pretty damned obvious, wouldn’t you? Everything’s laid out for a nativity scene. We just need to step in and finish it off. Now, how do we get into the window display? We can make a start before Ashna gets here.”
James found the mechanism for opening a small door to the window display and they stepped inside.
“Well this all looks pretty straightforward, wouldn’t you say?” said Rupert. “We have the traditional outfits for Mary and Joseph just here.”
“Those are tea towels, tablecloths and blankets, sir.”
“Yes, traditional outfits, as I said. Come on, you can be Mary,” said Rupert.
“Might I suggest that sir would be better cast in the role of Mary? That is, if we are maintaining the tradition that Mary is slight of build and short of stature.”
“What? But…oh I suppose so. Although, I do lack some of the attributes of a woman. Two rather obvious attributes, James.”
“There is no need for vulgarity, sir.”
“Oh, but I have an idea,” said Rupert. “You get busy with the tea towels. I shan’t be a moment.”
Rupert, as promised, was back from his errand in a few short minutes, bag in hand, and returned to find James folding towels expertly. “It just so happens that I have a number of safety pins about my person. Mary will need a white head dress and a blue cloak, as depicted in so many classical paintings.”
Rupert considered the Mary costume James had whipped up for him and, glancing aside to check if James was watching, dipped into his bag of purchases to pad out his bosom.
“How busty do you think Mary should be?” asked Rupert.
“Sir. I do not feel it’s my place to answer such thorny theological questions. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing, nothing,” said Rupert. He licked his now sugary fingers and patted his false bosom.
“It is a pity that I was not forewarned of the need to play Joseph,” said James thoughtfully. “I might have taken the liberty of growing a discreet beard for the occasion.”
“Just stick out your chin and look manly, James. You’ll look wonderful. That blanket suits you by the way. Don’t forget Baby’s outfit.”
James wrapped Baby in some extra tea towels and looked questioningly at Rupert. “We don’t have a manger. Would sir like to hold Baby, in the manner of a proud mother?
“I certainly would, James. Now, try to look biblical for our admirers, we’ve already drawn quite a crowd.”
Rupert settled into position and concentrated on looking like an adoring mother to the Messiah. James stood to the side, every inch the proud, but somewhat confused father to the virgin birth.
“This is surely the true meaning of Christmas, James,” murmured Rupert happily. “Showing the kiddies what it – gnom – was really like on that magical night, all those years ago.”
“Indeed sir, although I think you should perhaps tone down your smile a little,” whispered James from the corner of his mouth. “It rather appears as though you are about to eat the Baby Jesus.”
“Right you are, James. Now let’s just watch their little faces, shall we? Gnom, gnom.”
“Are you eating, sir?”
“Gno,” said James.
“I swear I can smell doughnuts.”
“Not me,” said Rupert, stuffing the final piece of evidence into his mouth.
Rupert gazed out at the crowd, but then a frown creased his brow. “What exactly is wrong with their faces, James? I know children are somewhat prone to crying, especially when one makes a genuine mistake vis-à-vis the blackcurrant squash. I can’t help that it so resembles the cooking sherry, can I? Anyway, is it normal for them all to be crying at the same time?”
“I think not, sir. I would venture that they find the sight of Baby disagreeable. Perhaps if sir turned the head away from the window a little?”
“That just can’t be right James, Baby is the star of the show! No, I daresay there is another reason for the upset. A contagion perhaps, or an overindulgence in festive sweetmeats.”
The growing restlessness of the crowd outside did indicate that perhaps some mass illness had taken hold. Some of the adults were exhibiting symptoms. A man in a beanie hat near to the front had a hand over his mouth, and a panicked look in his eye. As Rupert watched, he turned and tried to run. The crowd made this difficult and he knocked over a small child. A large man, presumably the child’s father, took exception to this and thumped the man with a loud and angry roar.
It wasn’t entirely clear how this small ruckus escalated so quickly, but it seemed to Rupert that violence blossomed from the epicentre. Shoving and shouting turned to punching, kicking and hair-pulling. Very soon, everyone in sight of the window was engaged in a fight.
“James, things seem to have taken a somewhat rum turn outside,” whispered Rupert.
“Indeed sir. It was perhaps inadvisable to bring Baby into a crowded shopping centre.”
As they watched, security guards appeared, but they were overcome by the sheer number of crazed shoppers, firmly in the grip of whatever bloodlust had overtaken them.
“I think that the time has come for a discreet withdrawal, sir,” said James, letting his blanket slip to the ground. “Let me help you out of your robes.”
Moments later, the linens were folded and back on the haybales and the two men had stepped out of the window display.
James found a large carrier bag to carry Baby.
“Sir,” he said.
“Yes, James?”
“May I postulate a theory?”
“Do I normally permit you to postulate?”
“You’ve never objected before. I put it to you, sir, that you chose to enhance your Mary’s bosom with a selection of doughnuts from the shop next door.”
“That’s dashed observant of you. They were so enticing and then I thought to myself that doughnuts are soft and squishy and I’ve had it on good account from Bunty Chapelforth that ladies’ –”
“Yes, sir. But I would also contend that you got a mite peckish during our dramatic presentation.”
“They are most enticing, James.”
“Jam-filled doughnuts, sir?”
“The preferred doughnut of any British gentleman.”
James diffidently took Baby and turned the ugly infant round to face Rupert.
“Note, if you will, sir, the splodges of jam that fell on Baby’s brow. Here. And here. Large, almost conical splodges.”
“Ah, the jig is up. That’s how you knew, eh? Ha! It’s funny. Those splodges look like tiny red horns. It’s almost as if our little nativity Jesus was a little nativity Satan. Humorous, eh?”
James raised an eyebrow. Rupert could still hear the brawling crowd. Sirens sounded from somewhere outside.
“Oh, dear,” said Rupert.
The two of them and their inanimate chum made a swift exit into the shopping arcade. Rupert’s hasty steps took him towards the doughnut shop, but as he was about to enter, he noticed that the shop on the other side had a large, unfinished window display featuring a Christmas tree and a traditional fireplace with stockings hanging on either side. Most significantly of all, it also contained Ashna, who was arranging decorations on the tree.
“Oh look James, what are the chances that Ashna is doing the displays on both sides of the doughnut shop?”
“Extremely slim, sir,” intoned James, “I should imagine that she is just doing the one. This one.”
The implication of this took a few moments to settle into Rupert’s brain. He looked back at the shop with the hay bales and then at James. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.” Then he glanced to the side and beamed with pleasure at what he saw. “Hey ho, come on James, let’s get some more doughnuts. I bet Ashna could do with a small snack.”

Posted in 2017, Writing

Comedy Influences – Heide

Fantasycon panel: what made you want to be funny?

I was on a very lively panel at Fantasycon talking about Humour in Genre Fiction. It was lively because it was chaired by Donna Bond who whipped things along at a frantic pace and got loads of laughs out of everyone.
Chris Brookmyre talked about the opening scene in Quite Ugly One Morning which features the memorable addition of a “jobbie” on the mantlepiece. Adam Millard described his book Zoonami as “like Sharknado but with the whole zoo”. Duncan Bradshaw and Jen Williams were hilarious and charming.
One of the early questions, put to us all, was “what made you want to be funny?”.

Heide Goody, Bob Carolgees and Spit the Dog

Heide and Bob

The answer I gave on the day was to reveal that my uncle is Bob Carolgees, who appalled the nation in the 1980s with a comedy punk dog called Spit.

It’s true that as a teen I craved the laughs that Bob could generate with his stage show and on Tiswas, an anarchic Saturday morning TV show of the time.

Other influences

A grounding in British sitcoms is part of the story as well. Anyone who grew up with Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and Father Ted is primed for comedy.

AC/DC

I’m still not sure that’s the whole story though. 

With the passing of Malcolm Young in recent days, I have been reflecting on how AC/DC are layered in there somewhere as a comedy influence. Their music is riddled with double-entendres and corny wordplay.
A live performance by them has always been a masterclass in whipping the audience into a hollering frenzy.

I was alerted this week to a wonderful parody routine by comedian Jim Breuer which captures exactly what it’s like.

AC/DC 2016 Olympic Park

AC/DC at Olympic Park London, 2016

And what about the props? Giant inflatable women, cannons, trains and bells. It’s as if they went to the slapstick cupboard and decided to get everything out. EVERYTHING.
Angus Young still dresses as a schoolboy. He started doing it when he was a schoolboy, but now he’s in his sixties he does it because everyone expects him to. Because it’s funny. He is also famously aware of the reputation that the band has for making formulaic songs. In an interview,when it was suggested that the band had put out 11 albums that all sound exactly the same, he angrily countered the accusations, saying that actually they’d put out 12 albums that all sound exactly the same…

Crossword

In case you’re not convinced about the corny wordplay, a few years ago I made a crossword for a charity magazine inspired by some of AC/DC’s finest work.

I shall attempt to reproduce it here for your entertainment. See how you get on:
Crossword grid

Clues:

Across

1 and 3
Quote from an AC/DC song: “some _____ are held for charity and some for fancy dress, but when they’re held for pleasure they’re the _____ that I like best”

Down

1. Sporting equipment made by Gilbert
2. What does the Spanish word Cojones mean?

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Baby’s guide to Fantasycon

Baby has now been to two Fantasycons and wanted to pass on some top tips for getting the most out of a convention.
Here’s Baby’s guide to Fantasycon.

Preparation

Baby reads the Fantasycon programme

Consult the programme!

Consult the programme.
So many exciting things to see! Which events to attend? Where are the clashes? When will you eat?

Preparation is a great idea, but as Baby knows all too well, you sometimes get chatting in the bar and just forget the time.

Socialise, but not like this!

Fanstasycon is filled with wonderful people. Mostly they are delighted if you take time to say hello to them, but it’s important to respect boundaries and be polite.

Baby is captured here trying to steal Guest of Honour Ben Aaranovitch’s pint

 

Baby was heard muttering “Don’t you know who I am?” to this young lady

 

Baby no! Violence is never the answer

 

Attending panels

Wait until invited to ask questions of the panel.

Nobody likes a show-off: Everyone moved away in disgust here after Baby asked a long rambling question that was actually a statement

 

Join in the fun

Baby really wanted to have a go at karaoke, but nobody wanted to hear (or foot the bill for) Baby’s re-interpretation of Nick Lowe’s I love the sound of breaking glass featuring real breakages.

Baby had to make do with dancing along.

 

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: , , , , , ,

5 things I took away from Fantasycon 2017

Just back from Fantasycon 2017 in Peterborough. But what have I taken away with me, apart from too many books and a mild hangover? I took away five things.

#1 – You always learn something new at Fantasycon

On the Saturday night, I was moderating the Mythology and Folklore panel (Brilliant panel! Packed room!) when an audience member asked the panel what their favourite myth or piece of folklore was. It was one of those questions that I had wanted to ask the panel but one they had vetoed in the pre-panel e-mail discussion because they didn’t want the whole thing to descend into a “my god’s bigger than your god” fight.
But the question was asked and Eliza Chan replied, “Does everyone know about the Tanuki?” We didn’t. They are, to quote Eliza, “Japanese raccoon dogs with huge hairy testicles.” And they are. And Eliza gave us a whistle-stop tour of myths and legend and how these scrotally-enhanced magical beings are still relevant to Japanese culture today. Read about them here.
That nugget was almost topped by something I learned from Jacey Bedford on the Writing Research panel on Sunday afternoon. On the question, of things we’ve researched that seem too incredible to use in writing, Jacey gave us a potted history of the Polish Winged Cavalry. It’s not just a name. They had wings! Want to know more? Go research it!

 

#2 – Every panel is about the audience

Possibly my favourite panel of the weekend was the Collaborative Writing panel late on Saturday night. I was one of four panellists, discussing some very different approaches to working with others. It became very clear that this panel needed to be about answering the audience’s questions and offering some practical advice.
The entire audience asked questions and we did our best to answer them without appearing off-putting about the challenges of collaborative writing. We then insisted on taking the audience to the hotel bar and buying the audience a drink before taking the audience to the karaoke session where we all enjoyed the sight of panellist Dean M Drinkel reinterpreting the works of REM.
I think the audience enjoyed it. Thanks for coming, Natasha.

 

#3 – Fantasycon is worth the journey, no matter how far

Some people always have a long journey to get to Fantasycon and there are some friends from far afield who had to do more than pootle down the A14 to get to Peterborough. I was delighted to finally meet Justin Lee Anderson at Fantasycon this year. I’ve known Justin through social media, contributions to anthologies and his brilliant debut novel Carpet Diem but it took Fantasycon to bring us together. At the thought-provoking world-building workshop on Sunday morning, Vic James awarded copies of her novels, Gilded Cage and Tarnished City, to the person who had travelled the furthest to attend. Justin will be taking those back with him to Edinburgh. People have come from further afield to this con and previous ones and I hope to meet some of them again at Fantasycon 2018 in Chester.

 

#4 – Fantasycon is open to everyone

Fantasycon is a very welcoming convention. The organisers have made every effort to accommodate all people and make sure no one feels excluded. I think that’s why you see people coming back year after year. Even so, there is the occasional individual whose disturbing appearance, abnormal behaviour and general freakishness are so off-putting that one must question how tolerant we should be.
I am, of course, talking about Baby.
Not for the first time, my co-writer Heide brought the world’s most unpleasant doll to Fantasycon. What had started out as a promotional tool for a novel – over eighteen months ago! – has turned into a some sort of carnival show of plastic hideousness. I’m sure that many con attendees see it all as ‘a bit of fun’ and not the cry for help that it clearly is.


If you see Baby, please do not approach. You are not joining in with the fun. You are an enabler.
We have the photographic evidence. I don’t want to see it happen again.

 

#5 – It’s the people, not the place that makes Fantasycon what it is

I had my doubts about Peterborough. Last year, when I asked my wife if she wanted to attend Fantasycon by the Sea in Scarborough, she jumped at the opportunity to go on an all-expenses paid trip to the coast. This year, when I asked my wife if she wanted to come to Peterborough for the weekend, she gave me a look of horror tinged with pity.
Actually, Peterborough was perfectly lovely and the convention hotel was definitely on the good side of adequate (although there were more cursed mirrors and haunted paintings in that place than I usually like).
But, as always, it was the people who made it a great weekend: the organisers, the redcloaks, the dealers, the panellists, the moderators, the workshop facilitators and the other attendees. I thought I was going to get a quiet hour or two to myself on Sunday to finish writing a difficult chapter but there was always a friend or social media acquaintance to catch up with in the bar and that chapter is still unfinished. And I’m not complaining.

Posted in 2017, Events

Fantasycon 2017 – Heide and Iain’s appearances

Panel at a previous Fantasycon

Panel at a previous Fantasycon

Fantasycon

Fantasycon is in Peterborough this year, from 29th September to 1st October.
If you’re thinking of coming along, it would be great to see you.
It’s a friendly convention, and in spite of the name, you’ll find writers and readers of all types there.
Heide and Iain are making several appearances at Fantasycon this year, so we’ve listed them all for you, to make it easier.

Friday

15:30 “The author as a business” (Heide will join this panel event)
22:00 Iain will be doing a reading

Saturday

10:00 Comedy Writing workshop, run by Heide and Iain
14:00 “Humour in genre fiction” (Heide will join this panel event)
15:00 Heide will be doing a reading
20:30 “Mythology, folk tales & the imagination” (Iain will join this panel event)
22:00 “Collaborative writing” (Heide and Iain will join this panel event)

Sunday

13:00 “Writing Research” (Iain will join this panel event)

A non-Fantasycon event:
20:00 Fiction Fix in the Draper’s Arms, Peterborough

Posted in 2017, Events

Pirate community welcomes LGBT military personnel

Prominent members of the pirate community have encouraged LGBT individuals to join them.
Captain Hector Barbossa declared that pirates have led the way for many years when it comes to diversity.

“The scurvy cap’n of the free world complains about medical expenses to support trans personnel and struggles to understand bathroom niceties,” he said. “Yer’ll never come across any of those issues on a pirate ship. Anyone brave enough to use the head is welcome and the daily rum allowance keeps us all in peak physical condition.”

He has this message for worried US military personnel. “Come and join our merry band. All welcome. Ye’ll get full training on how to talk like a pirate. Arr. And songs about pirates, if the fancy takes ye. Easy to learn, especially with yer belly full o’ rum. If yer wants to bring a warship with yer, that’d be grand. Or a parrot. We likes parrots.”

Posted in 2017 Tagged with: ,