Saturday, 14 May 2011

When Genres Attack!

Last night three authors and a literary agent kept a crowd enthralled as the long awaited smack down called 'When Genres Attack!' took place. P.M. Newton, Kirsten Tranter, James Bradley and Sophie Hamley took to the stage in a sometimes heated but always interesting discussion on genre fiction, literary fiction, genre TV and the way we read.

We had very little idea how this event was going to run. It had all stemmed from a Twitter conversation that I'd had with Kirsten and P.M. Several months ago I'd been using my morning effectively by asking Twitter followers who should go toe to toe in a literary cage fight. I suggested P.M. Newton and Kirsten Tranter as they had just both been nominated for the same Indie Award. Kirsten tweeted back that they'd just wind up in the corner of the cage drinking wine and discussing Battlestar Galactica, and an event was born. Very quickly James and Sophie were on board and we chose Friday the 13th of May as the most appropriate date.

The discussion began with the panelists defining what 'genre' meant to them (almost simultaneously workmen started jackhammering outside the store, but we managed to endure the noise). This then lead into a discussion of whether literary fiction was itself a genre - the response was a resounding yes. The night really wound up being a discussion along this line, where does genre fiction end and literary fiction begin? Is literary fiction just as constrained as genre fiction is supposed to be? Why are people snobbish towards genre books but open to genre TV?

Some of the points made were:
-There is an idea that genre is churned out in an industrial way. Charles Dickens is still stigmatised because of serialisation.
-Science fiction 'literalises metaphor'.
-Australian literary fiction tends to be Sydney/Melbourne angst stories.
-Genre fiction can get close to the truth, for example: The Wire.
-Literary fiction is highly generic.
-Reading genre fiction and watching genre TV are socially different.

We also got some great insights into the works of these three writers and what they thought about genre as readers and as writers - and what they thought of the way that their books were categorised. James thought that his book, The Resurrectionist was incorrectly marketed in the UK as a 'Gothic thriller', while Kirsten's book The Legacy has just been released in Spain as 'a mystery'.

Our authors tended to differ mainly on genre TV, a certain Joss Whedon seemed to be loved and loathed in equal measure. Kirsten defended Midsomer Murders by saying that it is so aware of itself that it skewers the crime genre, P.M. spoke at length about The Wire and said that crime novelists should watch it and learn lessons on how to create long-term stories.

The evening could have run for much longer as there were many topics we simply didn't have time to cover. Afterwards there was much mingling and drinking, and conversations lasted until well after closing time. As with any worthwhile genre story, ours is not yet finished - plans for a follow up began before last night's event even started. Watch this space!


  1. Thanks for a great night, Mark (and those bus stop directions!). It was an inspirational and intellectually fulfilling evening. The wine was nice too!

  2. I'm so glad you found the place ok and had a good time. It was lovely to meet you and hopefully we'll see you at the next one!