Monday, 8 March 2010

Cross-genre writing insights

Today I’m fortunate enough to have a good writing friend as a guest blogger. Gillian Hamer offers some great insight into writing cross-genre fiction.

Whose Advice ?
When I started writing crime novels, I had it in mind I wanted to bring something new to the genre. Maybe not unique, but something that stood me apart from the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I love detective stories. I will always name Agatha Christie as my favourite all-time author, and stand in awe at the effortless way she winds a plot around numerous characters, so most times you never guess ‘whodunnit’ right up until the big reveal.

But I wanted to try and include another of my loves – paranormal – in my novels.

I decided my first book would include reincarnation, the next the paranormal element of second sight, and the third the ghost of a girl who died in a shipwreck.

I also decided as an added interest each novel would feature some real historical fact. Closure featured a long-forgotten shipwreck off the North Wales coast, The Dream Jar involved a survivor of the Lusitania, and The Charter involved a modern day gold hunt as a consequence of the sinking of the steamer, The Royal Charter.

Yes, perhaps I was being self-indulgent. But I am a big believer that rather than write what you know (which for me would be limited to dogs, cars and DIY!) but rather write what you love. If you have no passion, no drive, for a subject, I fail to see how you can write 100,000+ words that someone else would wish to read.

With each book completed, I grew in confidence. I submitted The Dream Jar to a few agents and got a lot of no letters, but one or two glimmers of encouragement.

With The Charter, I soon got numerous requests for fulls, and in April 2009 I signed a contract with my agent.

BUT this came with a massive proviso. The agent loved my writing. He loved the historical element. But he didn’t think the paranormal added anything to the book. He wanted me to rewrite it, removing all traces of the ghost, and rely on atmosphere to carry the modern day story.

I thought about it, but like so many would-be authors, it was something of a no-brainer. I knew how hard it was to get an agent, how lucky I was. I had to learn to let go of my work and trust my agent, after all he knew the business. His advice was that publishers weren’t keen on cross-genre books. Crime readers read detective stories. Paranormal fans read ghost stories.

At the time, I wanted to object. I love cross-genre. I love Susan Hill and Barbara Erskine (both authors who I am told are similar to my own style). But I agreed, rewrote the book and he submitted it to three publishers.

And guess what, two out of the three said they preferred the original. That the ghost fleshed out the story and they would look again at the book if the paranormal element was written back into the tale.

I began again and the book is now doing a second round of publishers.

The important question is, I think, – whose advice do we trust?

For me personally, I have a handful of writing colleagues whose opinion is spot on, whose editing skills I rely on. I have an agent who admits he got it wrong at first with my books, but thinks I am a talent and wants to promote my work. Of course, I will also listen to his opinion. And lastly, one day soon I hope, there will be an editor who will have their own ideas about my work, new suggestions to make it more marketable.

But ultimately, I think we should all remember that we’re in charge of our own destiny. We have to be comfortable with what we are and what we write. We have to be confident enough and proud enough to show the world what comes from inside us.

For my latest WIP, The Gold Detectives, I am sticking to my guns. A modern day murder hunt, linked to both paranormal element – a psychic investigation – and real historical details – the Roman invasion of Anglesey.

It’s what I love. And it’s what I want to write.

I found this quotation recently by another author, Neil Gaiman, and it is so very true …

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ¬honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

If you want to keep up with my roller coaster journey, see my website and blog http://gillianhamer.wordpress.com/

Good luck and most importantly – keep writing!

1 comment:

pattyjansen said...

And this, Gillian, was the book where a certain reviewer said it was all done-before and wasn't interesting enough.
HMPH

Congratulations