People often ask me “what do you write? Fantasy fiction, isn’t it?” I’d love to give a crisp, widely-understood answer, but life doesn’t fit into a genre box, so why should literature?
When I first started writing, I had no concept of genre; I just had a story that was fighting to land on the page. Saxon’s Bane, my first novel, had the possibility of a ghost but the supernatural elements were ambiguous. There was just a whiff of sulphur amongst the roses. My agent, the stellar Ian Drury at Sheil Land, called it ‘dark fantasy’ though Solaris published it as ‘horror’. Of all the reviews (and there were some gratifyingly good ones) I was particularly proud when Ross Warren described Saxon’s Bane as ‘the book to thrust into the hands of any know-it-all who claims that genre fiction cannot be literary’.
Ian Drury describes Draca as a ‘crossover between literary fiction and subtle horror’. I’ll live with that, although only one of the three principle characters sees a supernatural explanation for events as the plot unfolds. Everyone interprets the world in different ways. One character sees a dark malevolence where another sees coincidence.
Calling my writing ‘Literary Fantasy’ sometimes prompts the question “do you mean ‘Fantasy Fiction’?”
Well, yes, but ‘fantasy fiction’ is a very broad term. All writers build worlds, but I set Saxon’s Bane and Draca in a world the reader would recognise. It’s not Narnia or Middle Earth.
I’m straying into historical territory. I’m just finishing a manuscript set in a world that is redolent of fourteenth century France. So the next label in my collection might be ‘historical fantasy’. That’s one that people recognise; everyone’s heard of Game of Thrones, though this story is more Guy Gavriel Kay than George R R Martin.
But genre labels are like clothes; they conceal as well as attract. My questions for readers will always be ‘is it a good story?’ If the characters are so real that you’re sad to close the book and let them go, then I’ve done my job as a writer and’ I don’t care what label a publisher puts on the book.