Back in the mists of time shortly after my first book, Not Quite Perfect hit the Kindle top ten bestsellers (ah, those halcyon days), I wrote a blog about genres and how I was never really satisfied in my quest to define the kind of books I write. You can read the full post here: (My name is Annie Lyons and I write down words for people to read)
At the end of this article I concluded that Not Quite Perfect was, ‘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.’
Now I like words as much as the next writer but even I could see that I needed something snappier; a punchy little word or phrase to summarise a book, which can make you howl with laughter one minute and reach for the tissues the next.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not denigrating the terms ‘chick-lit’ or ‘romance’ or ‘women’s fiction.’ These work well for lots of authors and have worked for me too. It doesn’t matter how readers find your books and if these genres have brought them to my stories, I’m grateful.
It’s just that personally, I find these genres a bit limiting and not entirely accurate in defining what I write.
For one thing, it sounds as if I’m writing exclusively for women. Which I’m not. I have been approached by lots of men (not in that way), who have expressed genuine surprise at how much they’ve enjoyed my stories. Nearly all of them go on to say that they wouldn’t have normally picked up my books. Whether we like it or not, the terms ‘romance’ and ‘women’s fiction’ inevitably put men off. I’ve also encountered men who’ve asked if I write, ‘chick-lit’ in voices which belittled and dismissed my writing achievements out of hand. Don’t worry. I just asked them how many books they’d written and order was restored. You get the point though.
Gender politics aside, I struggle with the all-inclusive term, ‘romance’. There’s an element of romance in my stories, as there are in many books, but this isn’t the driving force. I write about parents, children, families and friendships; I write about grief, anger, divorce, dementia and secrets; I write about singing, cake, community, kindness and dogs called Alan. I want to make you laugh and I want to make you cry (sorry about that). I want to explore what makes us happy, what makes us human and reassure you that the world is a good place. There’s darkness but there’s also light. As Leonard Cohen succinctly put it,
So I am over the moon that there’s a new, gender-neutral genre (try saying that quickly) on the block and to my mind it sums up these subjects perfectly. It’s a shiny beacon of hope in the form of, ‘Uplit’.
‘Uplit’, I hear you cry? Yeah, okay, maybe it’s not perfect. It might make you think of those upside-down lampshades from the late nineties. Or as Matt Haig (whose books are often placed under this umbrella) pointed out on Twitter, as an anagram of ‘tulip’ but then, who doesn’t love a tulip?
Regardless of the awkwardness of the word, I’m delighted with the definition. These are books which have kindness at their core, which deal with sadness and devastation but which also offer hope and seek to find the good which still exists (it does, trust me) in our communities.
For me, this underpins everything I was trying to say when I wrote ‘The Choir on Hope Street,’ and ‘The Happiness List’. They are both set on the same street and tell different stories of communities pulling together, of unexpected kindness and friendship and the hope this can bring.
It makes me think of that image of the house in the film, ‘Up’, containing the bereaved elderly man and the little boy as it’s lifted by hundreds of balloons. There’s sadness in this moment but also joy and a soaring hope.
In the end, readers need signposts to find the books they love and if ‘Uplit’ is the one that brings them to my stories, I am completely fine with that.