Wednesday, 16 October 2013

I Hate Literary Fiction as a Genre!

I realise that what I am about to type is probably going to get me into trouble, especially when you consider that I am currently looking to try and get my story/book accepted by an agent, but I'm sorry, I stand by my title.  I hate literary fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, I read a lot of books and some of them would probably be considered as literary fiction. And often I enjoy these books. I have nothing against serious books, or intelligent books, or realistic books, or books about educated upper class people living in the 19th century, having sex with their maids whilst avoiding being killed by a jealous or/and often more powerful rival. 

What I am against is the idea of literary fiction.  The idea that it is – or should be – a category. A genre, something separate to, say, books about vampires and monsters or books set in space where emu's have taken over the world or books revolving around a sincere and often tragic love story. Since finishing my first story/book and having started with my second new story/book I have decided to try and see if what I have written is good enough for someone to consider.  The first step I have discovered is trying to get an agent and I am surprised to find that quite a lot of them are asking for what is classed as 'Literary Fiction'.  What bothers me about this is, who am I to say that what I have spent months and months writing and re-writing should be classed as the above?  I hear the words literary fiction and instantly think that whatever falls into this bracket is often considered what some would call a 'Classic'.  To give it a visual comparison, if 'Downton Abbey' is considered high-brow, a classic, enjoyed by millions the world over, what would you call 'Dallas'.  As far as I can see they are essentially the same program.  Families with money, arguing, fighting, killing and sleeping with people that they shouldn't, whilst constantly vying for power, etc.  I know this isn't an exact comparison, but I think my point is made.  Essentially they are the same story, the scripts, actors, country and time are different, but what makes Downton Abbey any better than Dallas?  (In all honesty I don't watch either of these programs, but my wife and her friends do and they will talk about them for hours and it all sounds very complicated).  But if what I read from others writers blogs is to be believed, it seems to me that the publishing world is changing at a daily rate and becoming ever more paranoid about its future and that is the only reason that I can see why there seems to be a renewed attempt to turn it into a genre of its own. But I'm sorry I think this is wrong, dangerously wrong.

And I’ll tell you why:

- In my humble opinion books should not be gated communities. Culture is always at its richest when it is mixed up. Genres never help this.

- Literary fiction is synonymous with serious fiction. By turning serious fiction into a genre you are automatically devaluing every other type of book.

- Genres are straitjackets. Genres say this is what you can and can’t write about. A genre imprisons imagination.

- If Hamlet was a debut novel, written today, a literary publisher would sit down with Shakespeare and say ‘there’s some really great stuff in here William, but to be taken seriously you should probably get rid of the jokes, and all the murder stuff, and the ghost. Literary readers don’t like the supernatural.’

- Genres make for worse writing.  People always talk about writers selling out but I bet just as many are being a different kind of fake. The kind of fake that wants good reviews, and credibility, and a gold star from teacher.

-Genres create rules. And the only rule a writer should follow is truth. The truth of their own instincts and imagination.

- It is outdated. We do not live in a bubble. Our minds aren’t VIP rooms that only allow Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence passed the velvet rope. They are filled continuously nowadays with a riotous carnival of influences whether we like it or not. TV shows, pop songs, graphic novels, films, blogs, tweets, pop-up advertising, Youtube videos, Tumblr quotations, the news, our Facebook friends, the postman, our dreams and nightmares.

- It is about snobbery. It is about that worst aspect of human nature, the one that says ‘I read this type of book because I am this type of person which is a better type of person than the type who reads fantasy books/thrillers/romances/whatever’. It is book fascism.

- It goes against creativity. I don’t know how other writers work but I feel at my most creative when I am busting convention. I have tried to write several books previous to the one I have just finished and the reason I think that I never really finished them or got passionate about them was because I felt I had to write in a certain style to even be considered as a serious writer.  Many people tell me that because I have written a book means that I am a writer, but I disagree, until someone reads it and says to me you could maybe sell this and make a living from writing, I am not a writer, I am just a person who writes.  I'm okay with that and maybe, just maybe I might be lucky enough to make a living writing one day.  But I have learnt the hard way that to confine myself in to writing something that I think someone else might read because of the style in which it is written is wrong.  It's not who I am.  And I would be lying to myself and to any possible readers who might one day read my stuff.  So when I wrote my last story/book I let myself go with it, I let the story take me to places that I never even imagined and at no point did I worry whether what I put down on the page was considered high brow.  I just wanted to write a good story and hopefully have others enjoy it.  Once I gave into the idea of writing for writing, instead of doing it to fit into one specific category because I assumed that it would be classed as a more credible read I found it was easier to write.  I can honestly tell you I have never felt so energised or passionate writing anything before and I honestly think that energy came from allowing myself to be free. About forgetting about being a ‘literary’ writer or a ‘commercial’ writer or a ‘fantasy’ writer.

- People who put fences up between things damage culture. People who say there are certain types of films/plays/ballets/paintings/books for certain types of people put people off those things. And the last thing anyone needs to do is to put people off books right now.

- Art and stories should be inclusive. You know, like Shakespeare – playing to the groundlings and royalty. I think what we need to remember is that we all love telling or hearing stories around a campfire. We shouldn’t leave people in the cold.  At the end of the day, for those of us who write, I would like to believe that we do it because we simply want to tell a good story and have someone else enjoy that story.  Whether the story we want to share is any good is for others to decide, but please don't ask me if what I write is classed as 'Literary Fiction', because if I was to respond with a 'Yes, yes it is literary fiction.' I can't help but feel it makes me sound like a bit of a pompous wanker.
If anyone else does read this, please feel free to tell me what you think?
Well that's me done for today.  Look after yourselves people, but above, stay cool.
Pip  x