The joy of genre bending

Nicola Avery
Opinion - Books Friday, 23 November 2018

Publishers should be more open to fiction that cannot be easily categorised, argues Nicola Avery


As a new author, I fully understand the frustrations we create for ourselves (and potential agents and publishers) by mixing and crossing genres. In doing so, we are deliberately breaking the comfortable rules of the conventional and distinct genre categories, creating a marketing nightmare for publishers who want to know their audience, and for booksellers who want to know where books should be shelved.

However, cross-genre pollination offers a wonderful fusion of possibilities for a writer. I know, because I've done it.

In my first book, Whispered Memories, I wrote the type of story I wanted to read. A book that covered everything I was interested in, believed in, experienced, wanted to experience, loved or loathed. I created characters who lived among the storylines and tested them, making them work their magic to become believable despite the challenges of the plot. I gave myself no rules, no constraints. I wrote from the heart, and for the reader who I knew was out there, somewhere, looking for such a storyline and one that intentionally crossed and mixed genres.

Whispered Memories gave the reader a multi-dimensional love story, past life and reincarnation, repeating tragedies, lost and found loves, murders, unsolved mysteries, the paranormal and spirituality, history, and a ghost or two - to name a few genre ingredients.

Did I think it would sell better because of this mix? To be honest, my "marketing/sales head" was not on at the time. It was the desire to finish what I had started and to type the words "The end" that drove me, not the desire to be read. It took me time to get Whispered Memories to print and into the hands of the readers I wanted. But it was worth it. Their enjoyment was all I needed to justify the next book: Within the Silence.

Within the Silence is a dark thriller with a paranormal element. It too crosses genres, giving the reader mystery, crime, thriller, murders, tragedy and spirituality played out against a backdrop of Majorca and Wimbledon.

Why do I cross and mix genres? Because I need to. My characters are complex, and I need them to have scope. As their lives develop, I need them to be free to do the impossible, the unpleasant, the beautiful, all free of stereotypical genre confines.

Why do I think readers like the mix? I think they, like me, want to be transported somewhere when they read, to be connected to a subject, an idea, a thought, to find characters and situations they can relate to, or are interested in. To laugh, to cry, to become emotionally moved, to disagree, agree and question. My books are really like a mixed box of chocolates, with no sweet index. It is up to the reader to test and taste, dipping into the genre mix and, I hope, finding something within the box they like - and then to ask for more.

Understanding this allows me to get creative, to challenge my readers, shock them, embrace them, take them out of their comfort zones, indulge them as I indulge myself, and entertain them. Isn't that what we writers want? We are the storytellers.

Should publishers be more open to writers who feel compelled to cross and mix any number of genres? Yes, why not?

We already have successful authors doing this, like Diana Gabaldon in Outlander, which mixes historical fiction and time travel; or Stephen King, who mixes dark fantasy with western, science fiction and horror. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas mixes adventure with crime, thriller and SF; and Kate Mosse's Labyrinth blends adventure, thriller, suspense and historical fiction. The list of well-known authors goes on. Perhaps for them, as tried and tested authors, they have been given new genre writing opportunities that we, the new writers, can follow.

With the rise of internet authors and digital indie publishers, the face of traditional publishing is changing. There are now unlimited opportunities and alternatives. A new breed of writer is emerging, with fresh potential and fresh ideas.

Now would be a good time for change. Encourage the creativity and don't stunt it with constraints such as genre categories in bookstores or on internet platforms. There are a lot of new voices out there, just waiting to be heard.

Within the Silence by Nicola Avery (Browne Raven Publishing) is out this week.

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