Thursday 27 August 2009

Conjugal & Genre Fidelity – Michelle Lovric

A lot of writers these days will claim to be fashionably non-genre.

Oh yes. And a lot of gondoliers will tell you they are divorced.

Once, when yet another frolicsome gondolier told me he was divorced, I mentioned somewhat wearily that many of his colleagues had told me they were between wives.

The gondolier nodded sagely and offered me this explanation: ‘It goes like this. You eat spaghetti every day. You love, I mean really love spaghetti. But after seven days you get just a tiny bit bored with it, even though you love it. Suddenly, on the eighth day, you want some tortellini. You just gotta have that tortellini. Then you go back to spaghetti quite happily for a while, because you really love it. But eventually you want some tortellini again. Then you have to get a divorce.’

He sighed, ‘And you remember all the good times with the spaghetti. And you are a sorry one.’

Are writers like this?

Don’t we all take holidays on the wild side, saga-writers going on safari as short-story writers, crime-writers romancing the idea of a love story? How many ‘literary’ writers have taken a furtive little roll in chick-lit, under another name? Do the noiristas have Magical Real moments, and think it could all be Otherwise and Otherworldly?

A career historical novelist for adults, I too had a genre-bending moment. I decided to write The Undrowned Child, a novel set in Venice for the 9–12 age band.

I was not betraying my genre to write a novel for children. My infidelity consisted in trying to write a book with a modern setting. And I just could not.

I could not conceive how a child could get into creative trouble with all the hi-tech accessories currently available. Can’t find out a crucial fact? What about Google? Lost in a strange part of town? What is your mobile phone for? Even though I have read and worshipped Creature of the Night, Bog Child, Artemis Fowl etc, I just could not manage the modern world. I knew it could be done. Just not by me. I stubbed my toe after 20,000 words. Reading what I’d written, my lack of conviction had tainted everything: how brutal and stark seemed my setting; how strained and artificially clanged my characters’ so-called contemporary vernacular. My plot stood naked in its banality.

It was a bad moment. A tortellini moment.

And then I too remembered all the good times I’d spent in the cosy embrace of a long work of historical fiction, in which my characters could express themselves with unabashed eloquence and a plot might writhe, somersault and deep-dive without a mobile phone or Google to click in a duh solution.

I remembered all those good times, and I too was a sorry one. And so I deep-dived into history, dragging The Undrowned Child way back to 1899 and 1310.

This is why I suspect that deep down we know where we belong. Don’t we?

In my case, historical fiction, be it for children or adults, is where I belong.

So – are we born genred, just as we are born gendered?

And does what Virginia Woolf said about the sexes apply to writers – that there is more difference among the genres than between them?


Anonymous said...

That makes you sound so old...

Seriously, thank you for the spagetti. Loved the book. Though I do wonder what those parents were thinking, even in 1899, letting two young girls out in Venice on their own. Didn't they need chaperones, for decency?

Linda Strachan said...

Loved this, Michelle! Especially the gondolier's explanation, I can just imagine him saying it - so Italian.

I am one of those who loves to dip into different genres and age levels and would hate to be stuck writing the same genre all the time. I am a bit of a butterfly and like to flit from one to the other exploring an idea and seeing where it goes. Perhaps it is a mood thing - one moment writing soft and cuddly, and the next trying to think of really nasty things that might be happening to my characters in another story. I don't do it as a conscious decision.

Lee said...

Actually, I'm beginning to think the word 'genre' ought to be banished from the language.

Mary Hoffman said...

It's not just Italians! I remember an "older man" who was trying to get into my underwear telling me that one can like cake very much indeed but one day just need some cheese (he was married of course and no, he didn't succeed!)

As someone who has changed genres (and audiences) more than once I suppose I suffer from genre-confusion and need therapy.

But I understand that coming home feeling, Michelle.

Nick Green said...

I know what you mean, Michelle, about the modern world throwing up so many challenges to the writer trying to weave a little jeopardy. (Wasn't it Charlie Butler who said that stories about telepathy seem obsolete now that every kid has a mobile phone?)

On the other hand, you could always give your characters T-Mobile phones. They are amazing - you can get static on them even inside the shop.

Katherine Langrish said...

What is all this about sex and food?
"Shall I compare thee to a tortellini?"
(Or should it be 'tortellino'?)

Nick Green said...

> Book Maven wrote: It's not just Italians! I remember an "older man" who was trying to get into my underwear telling me that one can like cake very much indeed but one day just need some cheese (he was married of course and no, he didn't succeed!)

Nor am I surprised. Perhaps if he had eaten a little less of both cake and cheese, he might have had more luck fitting those garments on.

(And how flattering, comparing someone to cheese...)

Gillian Philip said...

I have a lot of fun trying to get around the modern world thing - especially those darn phones - but I never seem to have a problem finding dangerous situations. I know what you mean, though, Michelle. I like to 'flit', but I also know exactly where I belong. It's just that I like an occasional fling.

Nick, Charles Butler had better be wrong about the obsolescence of telepathy... (after all, if it's good enough for our favourite Doctor...)

Leigh Russell said...

I had a serious comment on your post and then was completely sidetracked by Nick being compared to cheese - what a charmer the old man was! I'm surprised anyone could resist his advances . . . !
I'm definitely 'pigeonholed' as a writer of 'gripping psychological thrillers'. Fortunately it's a popular genre - my publisher has had to reprint the first in my series less than two months after it launched, it's been selling so well. Check out my blog to see why, if you're interested - or take a look at the book itself -

Stroppy Author said...

Love this, Michelle. Though I now realise I am a complete genre-floozy with a short attention span. And with a tendency to run history and present-day side by side, so an two-timing floozy at that. Mea culpa?

Stroppy Author said...

By the way, Leigh, this isn't the place to plug your book. A single mention would have been OK, but this is a bit OTT. Good luck with your book, but a comment on Michelle's excellent post would have been more welcome.

Lee said...

Hi Stroppy (aka Anne), I'm glad you've brought up the matter of plugging your own books, because I always feel constrained by the taint of self-promotion even just by commenting here (and elsewhere). Obviously, blog members are welcome to talk about their own books, but we guests are in a difficult position. Even so-called neutral comments are a way to call attention to oneself, I'm perfectly aware.

OT, but thoughts, anyone? (I also wonder whether there's a place for guest posts, but no, I'm NOT volunteering! I'm not even posting on my own blog at the moment.)