Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 1 November 2007

A dung beetle's guide to the universe

One of the things that has concerned me for a while is the fact that very little of my work is easily classifiable. It certainly isn’t mainstream, but neither does it fit neatly into the big genres of, say, science fiction or crime fiction or even romantic fiction. My wife – lovely woman – suggested my work was slipstream fiction. It sounds cooler than cross-genre and not as pompous as fabulation.

It's becoming more and more popular in music: fusion, cross-over artists. I suppose they have a similar problem, if it's not this and it's not that then what is it?

The term slipstream (something of a play on mainstream) was coined by cyberpunk (Now would that be a sub-genre?) author Bruce Sterling in an article originally published in SF Eye in July 1989. He wrote: "...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility." The complete article is available here.

I like the sound of it but then I think 'slipstream' is a cool word, like 'osmosis' or 'quincunx'. It's a fun word to say unless you have a speech impediment. But I digress.

Labels are handy things. I like it when I go to the supermarket and there are biscuits in the biscuit isle. But they can be vague too. I mean, what they hell is curry-flavoured when it's at home? Or meat-flavoured? The Web loves labels only it calls them tags. I'll name that tune in one. Ah come on!

Even if you have the luxury of a film's tagline, how can you possibly do justice to five years' work in a single pithy sentence or two? Take my first book, Living With the Truth, in which a man gets the chance to spend two days with the personification of truth, what would the tag line be for that? How about:

Everyone wants to know the truth. Yeah, right.

Okay, it's not quite Be afraid. Be very afraid but it has some punch to it.

What I'm on about is categorising. Where on the bookshelf would you put my novel, in the humour, literary fiction or science fiction? It has elements of them all. I keep describing it as a cross between Douglas Adams and Franz Kafka and I can't seem to wriggle free from that no matter how much I try. It begins, like The Trial, with a man alone in his flat. And then comes the proverbial knock on the door. Only it's not Ford Prefect here to advise his friend that the world is about to be demolished, rather it's Truth, like something straight out of Monty Python, simply bursting to tell Jonathan where all the wrong turns in his life have been.

Or how about the third novel, The More Things Change, where a frustrated writer runs into God in a park, goes home, finds a wife he never had when he left, loses his memory, loses the wife, writes a bestselling one-hit-wonder before spending forty years sitting on a park bench acting like some character Beckett might have imagined only to discover that none of the above ever actually happened in real life? And, no, it's not all a dream. Oh, and if you don't have at least a cursory knowledge of Samuel Beckett then ninety percent of the subtle in-jokes and references will go straight over your head.

What can I say? I just wrote the ruddy things.

It is so human to want to organise things, to get ones ducks in a row, to see the butterfly in the inkblot when all it is a stain. (I would call you attention to Exhibit 1, my site logo). I have written four novels. They are new (which is implicit in the word 'novel') and most are over 50,000 words (the arbitrary benchmark for them not to be novellas). I can live with that. I never think of them as any kind of novel other than my kind of novel. I wish someone else wrote novels like me so I could pop out and buy a couple where I don't know the ending. If they do straddle a genre or two, for those who give a toss about such things, it simply means a bigger chunk of the marketplace might be interested in actually listening to what I have to say. That's a good thing. Right?

I get the need to organise things, that there should be a logical trail from Kate Bush to Tori Amos to Regina Spektor, but I don't often see a quirky-singer-songstress subcategory listed anywhere and they do all right.


Yvonne Perry said...

Classifiable? Even with hundreds of genres to choose from, I have a hard time selecting just one for any book I've ever written. Since there is such a crossing and overlapping of categories, some contests charge a fee for each category in which a book is entered. The same book may fit a category where there are hundreds of book competing. The book might have won had it been submitted in a different genre where fewer books were submitted. One never knows how many books are competing in a given gener, so unless you want to pay the entry fee several times over, I suppose we should be happy to win "finalist" in any category.

Yvonne Perry

Carma's Window said...

Labels have their purpose. I think they give a person an idea of where to start.

Frankly, I don't want to be hemmed in by a label. People keep asking me what's your niche? I haven't found it yet.

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