Philip Whiteley's Blog

March 18, 2016

Genre/non-genre, that’s the decision

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:57 am

Before you choose, decide, sang Peter Gabriel once. At the age of 15 I was not really sure whether this was nonsense, tautology or aphorism, but of course it’s the last of these. He’s a clever chap, that Peter Gabriel. We’re making decisions all the time, big and small; they merit careful reflection and – this is my favourite, favourite theme in fiction – we don’t always realise how big a decision is at the point of making it. A couple of hundred years ago Søren Kierkegaard made similar points to Gabriel but in far more words, most of them Danish.

In my guest blog at the brilliant Lover of Books blog, published as part of the Urbane week, I discuss the big decision every writer has to make as regards obeying the conventions of drama and what has been proven to engage the reader, versus experimentation and trying something new. There’s pressure on authors not to stray too far from an established formula, but, as I write in the blog:

Do we really want every romantic comedy to have a fairly transparent secret that He has concealed from Her (or the other way around), to be revealed 40 pages from the end causing a break-up resolved when He (or She) is urged by the Best Friend to ‘Go Get Her/Him’, as prelude to the Big Kiss at the end in the airport lounge? Is it not more intriguing to have one situation resolved, while another thread comes loose? The reader wants to be taken by surprise sometimes, by plot or by a person; to have a character who is compellingly vivid and also unpredictable, like Boris in The Goldfinch, or Aoife in Instructions for a Heatwave.

I’m sending out the new opus, Marching on Together, to a reader panel this spring, and I’ll be curious to read the reactions. It’s further from the romcom genre than Close of Play. Think maybe Last Orders meets Fever Pitch with a little bit of Atonement. But it will be different from all those books, because I’m not Graham Swift or Nick Hornby or Ian McEwan. I certainly don’t support Arsenal, for starters. I’m different. Not as accomplished, but no one would write anything if they took great effort to convince themselves they couldn’t.

Will it be any good? I think so. Ultimately you, the reader, will choose. But before you choose, decide.

  • Close of Play, was published by Urbane Publications in April 2015. It was shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize in summer 2015. Three free copies are being given away by Sonya Alford at the Lover of Books blog; just click on the link above. Marching on Together, also by Urbane Publications, is due March 2017.
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