The curse of genre and what’s wrong with the runt of the litter

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I won’t choose a book to read because it is of particular genre. I won’t read a book because of a label dangling from it which screams THRILLER, ROMANCE, HORROR or whatever else. The label means nothing to me. I just want to read a good book – preferably, a brilliant book. I want a book to make me think, laugh and cry, get angry, care for someone in the story and keep thumbing through the pages until the end. And after that I want to remember, reminisce and wonder: what a fantastic piece of fiction I have just devoured.

And, naturally, I want to write that book too. Many of them, to hell with genre.

But it seems people like the clarity of genre. The readers reach for their favourite genre before -if ever- they contemplate something outside their comfort zone. Publishers want that clarity, too. I’m such a lucky, bum-in-butter writer to have landed myself a publisher – the dynamic, feisty Accent Press. They gave home to my DI Marsh detective crime series and now to my new cosy crime trilogy, The Shire Mysteries. But they didn’t accept every book I shoved in front of their noses. Oh, I did have to deal with a rejection and I am still reeling from it. Remember Paula Goes to Heaven?

At first, I rejected that book myself – abandoned it like a prodigal mother leaving their new-born baby on the step of a church, hoping God takes care of it, because that baby isn’t quite perfect, not quite viable. It took me more than a year to go back to fetch my abandoned manuscript. I have been re-writing it, working hard to make it better. And I have been asking myself what is wrong with it.

It’s the genre, you see. That book does not belong to any distinct genre. It could be classified as women’s contemporary fiction but for the supernatural elements. It could be humour, but it is quite tragic in places. I could be paranormal fantasy, but it isn’t – not entirely. So, I think it’s the ambiguity of genre that renders it flawed. My heart bleeds for I love that book as I love all the others. But the others are happy and they thrive in the world. This one – this one is unwanted. I will make it better and I won’t give up on it, but sometimes you start doubting yourself and your commitment to that runt of the litter.

It is a little bit like that, isn’t it? Like with puppies. Most people want a pedigree dog with all the trademark characteristics its breed is supposed to possess. But, you know, cross-breeds can be wonderful. They ARE wonderful! They have it all: pointy ears and curly tails, shaggy coats and white socks. And they have as much bounce and give as much joy as your average Labrador, poodle or Yorkshire terrier out there. The same with books: their genre – their breed – shouldn’t matter as much as their unique bookish personalities and what they have to say.

I thought of that when reviewing Ruth Rendell’s A New Lease of Death yesterday. It is categorised as crime fiction. It may well be, but it is so much more diverse. Psychology, society, family, prejudice, vulnerability – everything is there. Narrowing it down to a sequence of steps to detect the killer wouldn’t give it justice. Summing it up as a damn-good book would.

I may be wrong. Maybe it is important for a book to belong to a particular genre? Maybe classifications in fiction are as helpful as classifications in biological sciences? Are they?

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My author’s evening at Story Town Corsham Literary Festival – 19th October

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You are all cordially invited to my author’s evening at the StoryTown Corsham  Literary Festival this Friday, 19th October, at 19:30, Corsham Library, to celebrate the release of Thicker Than Blood, part 3 in the DI Marsh Mysteries .

Launching Thicker than Blood (the DI Marsh Mystery Book 3) at Corsham StoryTown Festival

I am chuffed to be invited to the first ever Corsham Literary Festival, Corsham StoryTown, to share extracts from the third book in my DI Gillian Marsh detective series, Thicker than Blood, and to chat about books and my writing in general.

Signed copies of Thicker than Blood (to be published on 18th October, Accent Press), and other books in the series will be available at the event.

The event will take place at Corsham Library, Springfield Campus, Corsham, on Friday, 19th October 2018, at 7:30-8:30pm.

Everyone living nearby or willing to travel is most warmly welcome to drop in!

 

Recipe for a short story in Russian

I’ve always felt this natural affinity with Russian culture and literature (not the most popular thing to say in the current climate, I admit, but culture has nothing to do with the present regime in Russia; regimes come and go, culture endures despite their efforts to thwart it). Ever since I discovered that Anna Legat, the greatest prima ballerina of all times, happens to be my namesake, I have been having this irrational fantasy that maybe – just maybe – my dad’s ancestors hadn’t arrived from Germany, but from the glitzy St Petersburg, wearing tutus and humming tunes from Swan Lake. And that may explain why I felt so at home with the characters from Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.

There is nothing to rival the breadth and the depth of the Russian soul captured by some of the greatest of Russian writers. You feel swept away and carried into the depths of every story, only to come up for air at the end of it and be instantly pulled in again by the next one.

There are several master strokes to each story one can only hope to emulate.

Firstly, each story has something to say, something to contemplate, something to register at the back of the reader’s mind. It is usually a deep philosophical question which is very cleverly reduced to a small, everyday occurrence that somehow manages to burst out of the straight jacket of triviality. It leaves you deep in thought.

Secondly, the plot yields to the character. People come to life in these stories. They are all sorts of them – such richness of personalities and their quirks and secrets; their delusions and their simple-mindedness, their vulnerabilities and their killer-instincts. It’s all there, throbbing and competing for air. The landscape – the famous Russian landscape – isn’t a setting; it is a character too. It plays its part to perfection.

Thirdly, humour. It is only ever so subtle. It lives in the undertones of the language (excellently captured by Chandler), in situational comedy and in the characters’ minds. It also lives in the shadow of the darkness and fear that are never too far, squatting in that bigger, grander house next door.

Fourthly, the silence and the understatement have their role to play too. The stories don’t quite end. It’s up to the reader to conclude them in her mind. The stories rely on an intelligent reader who can take them further.

Bobok is probably my favourite, but then I am biased towards Dostoyevsky as one of my idols (no, not as the flawed, prejudiced human being he was, but as an amazing writer). It is a story of a little man overhearing the dead in a graveyard. The dialogue brings them all to life! This quote makes you think, The wisest person of all (..) is the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month – an unheard of ability in this day and age. In the olden days a fool understood at least once a year that he was a fool, but nowadays – not a hope!

My First Goose by Babel left me covered with goose-bumps! Try it to learn about the survival of the fittest in Bolshevik Russia – read it.

Whilst Chekhov’s The Lady with the Little Dog made me think that life was too short to waste it, Lermontov’s The Fatalist made me reflect on whether any of it really mattered because as he put it, After all, the worst that can happen to you is death – and death is inescapable.

But then again, just contemplate the afterlife for a minute, as in The Greatcoat by Gogol, and that may put even death in its place. Perhaps revenge lives just that little bit longer than death? And if revenge does, then why not everything else?

Don’t let life get away from you

don't let life get away from youLife Without Me is just about that – Georgie is trying to take a grip on her life that is slipping away from her. But taking a grip when you’re in a coma is easier said than done! Then again, there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of…

 

 

Five star review of Swimming with Sharks

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Swimming with Sharks has earned itself a fantastic 5* review from none other than Deborah Swift, an acclaimed historical fiction writer.

What a treat!

A friend lent me this book and I enjoyed this quick crime read whilst sunning myself on a beach in Greece. I particularly liked the character of DI Gillian Marsh and think she’ll be an interesting detective to follow as the series develops.

The story doesn’t go where you expect it to go, which keeps the reader guessing as to what has happened to Nicola on her dream holiday. There were some interesting minor characters who all had plausible motives for murder, and a fast paced denouement. Ideal beach read for those not swimming with sharks!”

Deborah Swift

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Sharks-Gillian-Marsh-Book/dp/1783759658/ref=cm_cr_srp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Nothing to Lose – a great story for mystery fans.

I am absolutely delighted with, and grateful for, this fantastic new review of Nothing to Lose. Thank you, Sue Dawson!

“I had not read the first DI Marsh book but that wasn’t a problem as apart from a couple of times when it was obvious that certain characters had a background together this is a stand alone novel.

Gillian Marsh is a single mother that is doing her best to hold down a demanding job while keeping track of her daughter as she moves from the family home to start her university life, never an easy transition.

Gillian’s next big case at work as a DI is when a quite country road becomes an inferno as 4 vehicles collide. The how and why is told in several backstories that weave in and out of one another in intriguing ways and although I had an inkling of what had happened near the end it wasn’t until the very end of the book that the whole story came together in a surprising way.”

SueDawson

https://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R3OTE4ZCOKTCEJ/ref=cm_cr_srp_d_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1783759631

Swimming with Sharks by Anna Legat – a brilliantly written mystery

“This was a brilliantly written mystery. I was caught up in the story from the start. The author crafts a suffocating psychological thriller with Nicola Eagles, a timid, gauche woman as the victim. The author keeps us so tightly inside Nicola’s head it’s nearly claustrophobic but it fits the story perfectly.

We are given glimpses of her surroundings – the lush, tropical holiday resort, the people who interact with her, her deepest fears, her most intimate thoughts – but we are shut out from anything else. So when DI Gillian Marsh is called to investigate Nicola’s disappearance, we have no idea what really happened. It’s a rare author who can keep me guessing until the end – and the ending was a shocker.

DI Gillian Marsh is an interesting character, and I will be more than happy to continue to follow her adventures. But what drew me into the book and kept me there was the author’s mesmerising prose. I started reading for the mystery, and finished with the impression of having lived a whole other life in Nicola Eagle’s skin. Fascinating.”

Jennifer Macaire

 

Paula may have made it… to Heaven

My summer writing project is at an end. The first draft of my comedy novel, Paula Goes to Heaven has been completed. Just in time, as I am about say goodbye to summer holidays and re-enter the land of the living (and go back to work to earn a living – sad face).

Dead as a dodo, Paula emerged from my debut novel, Life Without Me. She was the heroine’s wayward and rather wicked sister who inadvertently committed suicide. It was really meant to be a cry for help, but Paula got carried away, and then there was no going back.

She is now on her way to Heaven, though her route to paradise isn’t as straight and narrow as she would like it to be. For one, she is re-directed to Hell and instructed to abandon all her hope. But Paula never does as she is told. Plus, she has a child to deliver from Evil.

While I am waiting for my first draft to undergo a cooling-down period before editing, I have been playing with the cover. With my new graphic tablet (that’s me finally catching up with technology!) I have mocked up two provisional covers, jut for fun. Which cover looks better?

Life Without Me – trailer

Life Without Me is a prequel to Paula Goes to Heaven. It introduces Paula in all her earthly prima donna glory.

Life Without Me is currently on special at £0.99/ $1.25 kindle and £7.99 paperback on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Without-Me-Anna-Legat-ebook/dp/B00TF70FWC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1501150413&sr=8-1&keywords=anna+legat