Writing In Different Genres

The word “genre” was never in my vocabulary before I tried to sell BREATH OF AFRICA to agents and publishers.


I am now aware that it provides a convenient means of categorising the misty art of writing books, so that those middlemen can put the volumes onto certain shelves to attract relevant readers. It sounds logical enough. And that’s okay if you’re the sort of writer who chooses the genre before setting out on the journey.

But I wonder how many authors are like me, and feel compelled to allow the words to flow, the characters to develop minds of their own, and everything else takes a back seat?

The word “literary” comes in and out of fashion. I was advised not to submit my precious work under that banner at the time. What was I to do? The book was about Africa, and it was set in the past. Historical Fiction seemed to be the obvious choice. I included historical notes and even a Glossary for the benefit of my readers. I stuck with that choice through agonising years and 70+ rejections. Although I received encouraging feedback from some, there was no hint of an explanation why no contract was forthcoming, other than the standardised “it was not right for us”.

I can now visualise dozens of historical fiction editors sitting at their cramped desks piled high with manuscripts steeped in the Middle Ages, Victorian times, and anything in between. They come across an African manuscript, glance at the blurb, see the period is the 1950s – 1980s, and plonk it without further ado onto the rejected pile.

So when is a historical novel not a historical novel?

The answer came in a flash of enlightenment.

“Perhaps you should submit it as Contemporary Fiction, Jane?” This from a wonderful Authonomy friend, “I see there’s an advert in Writing Magazine – why don’t you try it?”

And the rest is history.

I have also been advised that once you have written a successful book (and I use that word with hesitation … it depends what you mean by success), you should keep to the genre in order to build on your following.

But what if you’ve lived with that book so long and so intensely that you need a change? And there’s another utterly different one clamouring to come out of you?

Never one to avoid a challenge, I’m breaking the mould before it has even had a chance to set.

It is the present time – give or take a few years – but the era is of no consequence. Set somewhere in England, my novella I LIFT UP MY EYES is nothing to do with Africa or history. It deals with emotions and situations familiar to people the world over.

But there’s one tiny thing in common with the first – yes, the genre is Contemporary Fiction.

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I LIFT UP MY EYES, published by Crooked Cat Publishers, will be launched as an e-book on Tuesday 7th October. Look out for it on line on the day. I’ll publish the link when I know it. Meanwhile, you’re all invited to the on-line LAUNCH PARTY – sign up and enjoy the frolics!

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