How do genre authors settle into which genre they’re going to write? Well, I don’t think they choose straight away.
One of my favourite authors, Stephen King, is known as a horror writer. Yet he’s written a very good fantasy series. Even his horror books run the gamut from shock horror to chilling ghost stories. His short stories are in all kinds of genres.
I have read now about other authors writing all sorts of genres until they settle down to one, but I didn’t realise this when I began. I thought you just knew what kind of writer you were, but I couldn’t seem to find my voice.
I tried all kinds of genres. My first book was about a bunny rabbit, when I was seven, but it can’t have taken, because I’ve never ventured into anthropomorphic animals again.
In my teens I tried gothic romance. I was obsessed with Victoria Holt and Georgette Heyer at the time, so I had a go. It didn’t turn out great, I have to say, though I was very happy with one scene. And there was one particular character that stayed in my mind…
I tried science fiction, but couldn’t get any further than a short story. I then had a go at fantasy. This was after I discovered Lord of the Rings, but before Game of Thrones. I was off work with a torn ligament and every day I’d go to a park and write. I still have the book. It wasn’t a great book. The plot was rather dull, and a lot of the characters borrowed heavily from Lord of the Rings. And yet, and yet….it taught me I could write a whole book. It taught me how to write something that long, and what I’d need. And I had a few characters, just three, that didn’t come out of Lord of the Rings. They were all mine, and I liked them. I kept them in my head.
I had a go at a ghost story. I actually really liked that ghost story. I may go back to it one day.
All the time I wrote the occasional crime short story, but I never thought about writing a full length crime book. I loved crime, I read it voraciously, but I didn’t think I could write it. I didn’t think I could manage the kind of complex plot a crime novel required.
When I started thinking about The House At Baker Street, it was just a short story, a character study of Mrs Hudson. Then one day, an idea for a plot jumped into my head. I had the idea for the central case, and it was a good one. I loved it. I wanted to write it, and I wanted it to be mine. I didn’t want anyone else writing that plot.
And once I thought up my first crime plot, they kept coming. Complex, thrilling plots, full of clues and red herrings and subtleties. All those years reading crime fiction finally came to fruition. I let my mind wander, and it came back with story after story after story. This was my genre, I realised. I had tried them all, but in the end, I’m a crime writer.
But all that time spent trying other genres wasn’t wasted. Because those scenes and characters I liked in my other books have found their way into the books I write now. Only, instead of fighting dragons they fight crime.