Oh, so you’re a writer?’
I’m still getting used to this label myself and it makes my heart beat a little faster as I reply, ‘I am.’
‘Wow! That’s fantastic. So what do you write?’
‘Oh, what kind of fiction?’
And this is when my heart beats even faster but mainly due to panic as I struggle for a specific answer. ‘Women’s fiction?’ I say with an upward inflection, which either makes me sound unsure or Australian.
‘Oh, so Chick-Lit?’
My mind races. What is the definition of Chick Lit again? I can never remember. Which books and authors fall into that category? I do a quick book-audit in my brain. Bridget Jones? Sophie Kinsella? Marian Keyes? I would be honoured to stand alongside these. ‘Er yes, Chick Lit. That’s it. I write Chick Lit.’
‘Oh. Right. I don’t really like Chick Lit. I prefer something a bit meatier.’
I’ve had this conversation many times; different versions of it but all leading me to the same conclusion. Genre labels are a bit of a pain. They are woefully inadequate but our human brains desperately crave them as we try to comprehend the world of books. Personally, I think Marian Keyes’ novels are about as meaty as they come and over the past few years they have been re-defined to reflect this. Still, in the ‘buy it now-140 characters-snap decision’ world we inhabit, it’s a problem and a thorny one at that.
Start digging very far into a debate on Chick Lit and it’s not long before your feminist credentials are called into question. It has been criticised for being sexist and dismissive but this argument is countered by those who say that we shouldn’t get bogged down by the term.
I can see both sides of the argument. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the label. After all, male writers aren’t defined in the same way. The term, ‘Lad Lit,’ has been bandied around but never really stuck and somehow doesn’t sound as patronising as its female counterpart. Then again, if readers who love the books aren’t bothered, why should I be? The point is that everyone is different. We all approach life from a different angle. Not every woman wants to be a feminist and not every woman likes a book with a pink cover. Debate it by all means, register your opinion but don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal; finding books and authors that you love. If a genre label helps you to do this then crack open the Bubbly. Its work is done.
It also depends on how you discover books. Way back when I was a bookseller working on the venerated Charing Cross Road, I discovered Louis de Bernieres’ Latin American Trilogy. I tried to explain how brilliant they were to my then boyfriend (now husband).
‘He writes in such a fantastic way. It’s so full of wit and truth but it’s got this really brilliant magical element too,’ I gushed, thinking that I had discovered something unique.
‘Well that’s Magical Realism for you,’ my boyfriend observed.
‘That’s what?’ I asked, my bubble of inspiration burst.
‘Magical Realism. You know, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie.’
‘Oh. Right.’ I was crest-fallen. These were my books. This was my author. He didn’t fit a genre. He transcended it. We had spent quality time together. I understood him and he understood me. How dare people pigeon-hole him in such a way? But of course, I was missing the point. Not only had I discovered a new author, but a whole new world. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and fell in love again.
So genres have their uses and not just as a way for booksellers and publishers to direct us, but so that we can find our way through myriads of wonderful books. Problems arise when the genre is too broad and thematically different books are thrown together or when as in many cases, a book falls into lots of different categories.
In the interest of research, I thought I’d pin down once and for all where my first book, Not Quite Perfect fits.
Is it centred on women’s life experience and marketed to females? Yes. That’s a tick to women’s fiction. Okey dokey.
Does it address issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and light-heartedly? So people tell me. Okay, well it’s Chick Lit then. Alrighty. If you insist.
Does it have a primary focus on romantic love between two people with an ultimately satisfying ending? Maybe. And is it set after the end of the Second World War? It is. That’s Contemporary Romance then.
So, to recap, Not Quite Perfect is a Chick Lit-Contemporary Romance-Women’s Fiction book or as I like to think of it, some words I wrote down about two sisters’ lives with a little bit of romance, quite a lot of humour and some tear-inducing sadness. Not easy is it?
In truth, the key thing is the story and whether readers engage with that story and its characters. Genres exist to help readers find books but they’re not the be all and end all. The most important thing is to get lost in a story that you enjoy and keep getting lost in stories whether they are Chick Lit, Crime, Literary fiction or any other kind of writing that you relish. It’s about reading, enjoying, sharing and discovering. It’s all about the books. I think that’s one thing on which we can all agree.
This post first appeared last year on http://www.Novelicious.com