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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Writing – Affection for the genre

I’m fortunate in that I enjoy reading books in almost any genre – whether that’s crime, science fiction, fantasy, horror, western, romance or thriller. Not to mention all those sub-genres! To me, the genre doesn’t matter so much; it’s the story that counts.

Recently, a correspondent who was re-reading my genre fiction writing guide (Write a Western in 30 Days – with plenty of bullet points!) asked me how I gained my affection for the genre.

The quotation he had in mind is:

‘A good writer can get published in almost any field. They’ve studied their craft of storytelling and know the requirements implicit in each particular form. Less accomplished writers might contemplate trying a western, as it seems ‘easier than a contemporary detective novel.’ That approach is unlikely to work. To write a western, you need to have a strong affection for the genre. You don’t have to be a fan, but you should respect its roots. If you don’t, then it will show in the prose and storyline – and it will get rejected pronto.’ (p11)

Being a child of the 1950s, my diet of fiction from television was a plethora of western series – Cheyenne, Wagon Train, Laramie, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, and Range Rider, among others. Then there were plenty of western movies in the theatres besides at least two western series on TV in any week. At the same time there were many comics either wholly dedicated to Western characters – Pecos Bill, Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers or they featured in other comics such as Comet and Eagle and the Buffalo Bill annuals. In the Eagle I discovered O Henry’s short stories and then went on to books by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand and Zane Grey and so on. And at school, we studied Jack Schaefer’s Shane.
Those western tales usually contained a moral core, where good triumphed over evil. The morality was black and white – as were the images. Moral ambiguity gained prominence with the Spaghetti Westerns in that particular genre. Of course grey characters and storylines existed before this – on the big screen in all genres.

Before I left school I was writing stories and drawing comic strips. My writing took me in another direction, however, towards science fiction and fantasy and then I was drawn to crime thrillers.  But I always hankered after writing a western one day.  Briefly I ran a fledgling literary agency and placed one lady’s excellent book with a publisher; I tried getting publishers interested in two good writers, one who had written the sequel to Shane no less, but to no avail, so sadly I packed that in. 

In those young teen days I couldn’t afford to buy books on a regular basis so made use of the local library; the hushed aisles were filled with hardbacks, not paperbacks. Over time, reading taste changed and included Dracula, Frankenstein and science fiction, the latter mainly within Gollancz yellow dust-jackets. My interest in the western tended to centre upon history books of that period, rather than fiction.
At about the same time I also enjoyed the modern adventurers on TV: The Saint, The Persuaders, Danger Man, Gideon’s Way, The Champions, The Prisoner et al. I discovered the Saint books when Hodder began publishing them as uniform paperbacks and particularly enjoyed the 1930s stories, Simon Templar’s character somewhat removed from Roger Moore’s portrayal.

I discovered Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler while being hospitalised with an upper respiratory tract infection, having been landed from my ship to the submarine base, HMS Neptune: at my bedside stood a small bookcase stocked with several books by these authors. And at sea I read the new breed of violent westerns epitomised by George G. Gilman’s Edge character.
Looking back, it is difficult to determine how my affection for various genre fiction authors came about. Genre authors write good stories, I suppose, and I’ve always liked a ‘good story’. It is so much easier these days, thanks to online stores and blog reviews, to be made aware of different authors, ‘new’ to you. The downside is now the choice is bigger than ever! Naturally, browsing in book shops, twirling the whirligigs of paperbacks, reading the few weekly book reviews in the newspapers all helped me identify unfamiliar but possibly interesting books. And there are phases I passed through – western, occult fiction, true war books, spy novels, detective tales, thrillers, and science fiction.

As a writer, I believe we scribes should read broadly – both fiction and non-fiction. My affection for genre fiction is still strong, but of course I read outside that label too, and always have done so.
KOBO books


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