“What are your books about then?”

cropped-bannerwp5.jpgOne of the questions I’m often asked when people find out I’m an author is: “What are your books about?”  Such a simple question. I’ve tried many variations of answers. None are more than two sentences and usually I give only one because people’s eyes glaze if you try to give them more. I’ve so far failed to find a sentence that comes even close to properly describing the themes and subject matter of my novels. So… here is a longer answer for anyone who can cope with more than five second sound bites.

I have four groups of novels and novellas. The Daniel Series. The West Cork Trilogy. The historical with Prairie Companions and Skellig Testament. Romantic erotic in the novellas. The standard genres don’t fit any of these well so I try to avoid them in descriptions.

The Daniel Series: Thrilling erotic romance based on non-conformist idealistic characters, Lauren, Bonny and Daniel Dawes.  They are deeply drawn complex, compelling and real. The thriller element is based on the espionage activities two of the three are involved with. Historically accurate, these books reveal truths about Ireland and the Troubles, British collusion and secret service corruption. Other themes are sexual roles, love’s meaning, family issues raised by the four children, Dee, Kathy, Christine and David, that feature from birth to young adults. (These are NOT Irish ‘troubles’ books!) Irish readers tend to be offended by the stark glare of the Irish myth busting, anti-clerical, anti-tribal values of my protagonists. They live unconventional lives but are highly moral and strong in their defense of individual freedoms. Set in richly exotic locations in Ireland, North and South;  England; France; Italy and Canada.

The West Cork Trilogy also features the characters from the Daniel series but they are secondary to the main characters. Surviving Beauty and Beauty’s Price  feature a supernaturally beauty: Regan. We follow her life from age eight to young adulthood. The theme is the exploitation and abuse of her beauty perpetrated by her father who sells her image on the internet. Other subjects attacked are clerical child abuse and political apathy and immorality. All this is seen through the eyes of DI Jim Burrows who rescues Regan and with his wife Biddy offers her a new future.

Blue Sky Orphan features Bonny, Lauren and Daniel again but again in supportive roles. The main character is a high flying and feisty pilot, Emma. Again, the sub theme is family sexual abuse survival. Emma has buried her history and as this begins to surface she begins to take increasingly dangerous risks. Her husband Peter along with Bonny Dawes will help her survive this.

The Prairie Companions follows the intrepid pair Clara and Pat from England in 1905 to their adventures on the great Canadian prairies as wheat growers. This saga is character led like all my books. It’s also a romance as the companions, Pat and Clara, seek sexual freedom among the native Cree people of the plains. There is a link with the Daniel series and the trilogy as Pat is Daniel’s great aunt and he meets her in 1967 shortly before her death. All these novels have story lines that link characters or events.

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Abandon Genre?

Let me declare an interest first: The limitations, (self-imposed or inflicted by big publishers,) that writing within a genre inflicts on my creative process, was one of the principal reasons I went Indie.

Genre is a thing most writers grapple with either during the creative process, or more usually after – when they are trying to wedge their work into one of the strictly enforced genre groups dictated first by agents, then publishers and finally by retailers.

My writing has always been defiant of an easy fit within in one or even three genres. I choose to avoid thinking about genre at all during the creative process. I follow the plot and the characters in a process of imaginative living and visualising that takes many twists and turns and does not conform to any genre specific rules.  That results in, thriller like scenes, physiological drama, free-flow internal dialogue, poetic literary description of places and people, sexual and sensual frankness and challenging perspectives on politics, history and society. There may be themes in each novel and subtexts that explore a given idea, but usually when I begin a new novel – I’ve no idea where it will go and certainly no idea what genre slot it might be crammed uncomfortably into.

Please don’t get the idea I’m complaining here. I think the advent of Indie publishing and the freedom afforded to writers by the explosion of eBooks and the possibilities offered by Createspace and other on-demand publishers, is the greatest liberation ever offered to those of us compelled to follow the uniquely human impulse to tell stories. However; even here in the brave new publishing world, we must face the task of ticking the menu-buttons to indicate what genre our efforts must be labelled with. I tried the catch all: Literary fiction. I tried: Thriller and it’s sub headings.  I tried: Family Saga. I tried: Historical Fiction. I even included: Lesbian romance. All this after the novel was completed, never during the writing.

Here I come to the argument of this essay: How much should we as writers allow concerns about genre to dictate how we write and what we write? There are obvious exceptions. Those who describe what they write as: Science Fiction, or perhaps: Erotica, or: Crime –  might think those genres present no impediment to them as writers. I would argue that even within these fairly clear genres, too, much concern about staying within prescribed boundaries limits the creative process and results in work that is less satisfying for reader and writer than it could be – if genre were not considered during the writing.

I am therefore suggesting, that we as writers, need to be braver about stepping outside the traditional boundaries of genre, at least during the creative process. I’d love to see these genre categories destroyed completely but I can see how that revolution might have downsides too.

Perhaps a compromise might be a whole new genre: Outside Genre or No Genre. Come on Amazon, let’s have that on your listings.