What we mean and how we are seenFarah Mendlesohn looks at the thorny subject of genre from how we perceiveSF to Literary publications.4. ColumnsCubicle EscapeeSharon Sadle escaped her cubicle on September 22, 2005. What follows is hernew column for Incorporating Writing, as Sharon travels into the heart ofAmerica.5. ReviewsReviews April 2006--------------------------------------------------1. Editorial
"Probably every writer wants to think that they're an individual, with anoriginal furrow to plough"
What do you do for a living?Editorial by Chaz BrenchleyWhen people asked at parties what I did, I used to say I was a typist. Thatwas back in the old days, though, near enough thirty years ago, when we didstill use typewriters. These days I'm more honest, necessarily, because'data entry operative' would be just too dull for words. So when I'm asked,I admit to being a writer. The next question, always, is "What do youwrite?" Novels, I say; novels and short stories. And then again there's theinevitable follow-up question, "What sort of novels?" and I find myselfconfessing once more that I live down the dirty end of genre. Crime,horror, fantasy, I say. And no longer bother to assert that genre fictionhas as much (or, yes, as little) literary merit as any other form ofwriting, because they won't hear that. They're thinking Christie, King andTolkien; they think they've got me taped.As it happens, they're wrong on all three counts. People have said of mywork - with some justification - that my crime fiction borders on horror,my horror fiction is really a kind of dark fantasy, and my fantasy is asopaque and mysterious as any crime novel. All of this - of course! - isdeliberate. The other thing that happens at parties, my arms fly around allungainly as I describe a triangle with crime, horror and fantasy at itsangles, and myself camped out somewhere in that desolate margin between.The hinterland, I say. It's my natural home.Probably every writer wants to think that they're an individual, with anoriginal furrow to plough. Even once we get past the romantic-loner image(if we ever do, if we ever see the need), the creative impulse is almostalways solitary; you want to find a territory that no one else has touched,and stake it out entirely for yourself. Which can be unfortunate - or atleast uncommercial - in the contemporary publishing business, whereeverybody wants the same as last week, the same as the other guy, safesales and no risks, no innovation.See? I told you. Romantic loner, riding his hobby-horse out into thewilderness alone. But my point is that I'm not as alone as I used to be.Genre boundaries are breaking down. What tops the mainstream crime lists inthe UK these days is serial-killer thrillers, by and large; and hooray forthat, but the distinction between the best of those and genuinepsychological (as opposed to supernatural) horror is a shaving off afraction of a doubt. When I was first approached about guest-editing thisissue, the word was that they wanted it to focus on crime and fantasy, asthough those were two distinct genres; and so they are, except that I havefriends who write crime stories set in a fantasy environment, and friends