Claire King


Pens at Dawn

Posted on: March 8th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

...a highly civilized institution among barbarous people

“Have at you scurvy knave, with thy grandiose vocabulary!”

“You cad! You scoundrel! I shall put to death at once all those foul words with which you tarnish my literary delights.”

“Literary delights? I scoff at your arrogance, you mendacious varlet! Thy feet are stuck in the swamps of the past.”

“You are a turncoat and a bounder! The only true way is the way of paper, the way of the trade publisher! You cheapen the great literary tradition!”

“You cheapen yourself, Sir, with your ignorance.”

“My ink will be the death of you!”

“Oh, we shall see about that!”

Enough already! Enough of the in-fighting! Are we not all writers, united by this desire to write down stories that other people want to read?

I’m not opposed to reasoned debate, of course, but what is all this ‘Mine is better than yours’ that the literary community seem to have become embroiled in? I call out two big BORING bitch-fests:

1. Self-publishing/Indie Publishing versus Trade publishing.

Yes. These days there are different ways to go about getting your work out to your audience. Will one make you more money than the other? Who knows?Time will tell. In the meantime why not just take whichever route tickles your fancy and follow the example of Amanda Hocking – as someone who has recently been held up as the darling of indie authors because she has achieved phenomenal success, Amanda could easily have jumped on the ‘My dad’s army is bigger than your dad’s army’ bandwagon. Instead, in her post here, Amanda steps neatly out of the ‘which is better’ debate. Full credit to her.

2. Literary Fiction versus Genre Fiction

Do we really need to choose one or the other? Can we not have our Dickens with a side order of  Whipple? This topic was recently brought to light again, albeit inadvertently, by BBC2 programming for World Book Night. The programming seemed to be intentionally balanced – a programme about commercial genre fiction followed by one on the best new talent in literary fiction. So far so good. But it couldn’t be that simple.

Cue Sue Perkins interviewing Lee Child. Lee Child being very balanced and nice about everyone, until, inexplicably, he uttered words along the lines of ‘we genre writers could write literary fiction, but literary authors could not write genre fiction’ (my paraphrasing).*

Now, I’m mostly a Lit-Fic kinda gal, but I have read Lee Child and think he’s a cracking writer. But why? Why would he say that?

I have a suspicion that this is about clans. Here is an example of my childhood paradigm (long since broken, hence why I feel comfortable with using it as an example):

English people are better – they are good and clean, whilst French people smell of garlic, and poo into holes in the ground.

But within England – The North is good and hardworking, those living south of Nottingham are soft southern Jessies.

Within the North, of course, Yorkshire is good, Lancashire is bad.

But when we say Yorkshire is good, we mean the good, hardworking people of Sheffield, not the poncy posh lot in North Yorkshire: Bronte Country = rubbish, Full Monty Country = ace.

But within Sheffield, you know, there are the posh bits, and the decent bit. Oh and the scummy bits. Those of us in the middle, we’re the salt of the earth, us.

But not that estate over the road, that’s full of losers.

On our street,  actually, a lot of them are stuck up or ignorant. That’s why family’s important.

Except my brother, he’s crap.

And it’s the same with writing.  But can’t we rise above all that and as writers, turn our attention away from each other and towards, say, those people who think it’s a good idea to shut down our libraries?

I’m just saying.

* He also suggested that literary fiction tends to use big words where small ones would do. This caused my husband to write this blog post and associated big-word-ometer.

16 Responses

  1. Lora says:

    Thank you for this! As someone who writes both literary and genre fiction, I can definitively say that Child is full of nonsense.

    I enjoyed your example of England and clannishness. It brought home how idiotic this entire argument is. Thanks!

  2. Brian Meeks says:

    I didn’t know there was such a battle between different types of writers. It all seems very petty to me, but what do I know, I write my blog in my own little world.

    I enjoyed your post. 🙂

  3. Ruth Fanshaw says:

    This made me laugh several times. 😀 Kinda reminded me of Flanders and Swann’s “A Song of Patriotic Prejudice” which is about just this sort of thinking. It’s probably on YouTube somewhere… 😀

    Yes!!! Let the writers unite! Are we not all brothers and sisters? 🙂

  4. Jenn says:

    What a good post. I think it is probably much worse online than it ever is in real life though. Some forum and blog readers take every expressed opinion or preference as an attack on their, slightly different way of doing things and need to leap in to defend themselves against imaginary slights. You are right, it is so boring.

  5. Nettie says:

    It all reminds me of the Life of Brian sketch: “Are you the People’s Front of Judea?” “No, we’re the Judean People’s Front, bleep off!”
    Lee Child annoyed me greatly on that show too. I ‘friended’ him of facebook to see what he was like on there and perhaps, politely, make a point. It seems he befriends everyone while posting absolutely no status updates. Hmmm.
    I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote apart from one thing: the Weegies are better than the lot of you. 😉

  6. Beth Kemp says:

    Lovely post, thank you. I’d be very upset if I weren’t allowed to read both literary and genre fiction, and Child’s comment is just too defensive. Very primary school.

    I agree with Jenni that it gets even more exaggerated online, but then arguments always have. People feel safe behind their monitors to attack, while also taking offence more readily.

  7. Loved your post Claire and agree, we should all support not squabble. We all write because we love to and want to share our stories with others. If people can say nothing good, as my mother would quickly snap, ‘say nothing at all!’ Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Mike Clarke says:

    Isn’t this a manifestation of a wider debate in the arts and society about valuation — financial versus aesthetic? And perhaps writers feel this more and articulate it better because conflict is their stock-in-trade?

    Think of the concealed jealousy and loathing at the writers’ retreat in Tamara Drewe for an amusing example of writerly competitiveness.

    Writing is unusual because there are probably fewer barrier to entry than almost any other profession so that means it’s always going to be ultra-competitive to get the access to capital and distribution networks that publishers provide. That may explain a lot of the insecurity and defensiveness.

  9. Katie Knight says:

    Loved this, as I’m from Lancashire, I’m bad already! I have been surprised by the clans in writing – why? probably naive ignorance on my part, but horses for courses, write and read what you want and as long as you enjoy it – who cares.

  10. Pete says:

    I think it’s a reflection on human nature generally. Commercial photographers can be ‘sniffy’ about other types of photography. Strategy consultants, investment bankers, you name it, all have hangups on other parts of their ‘professions’.

    I’m not an expert but ‘genre’ writing seems to have more accepted ‘rules’ or ‘conventions’ (I don’t know what the right word is) so it can be easier or harder to write within those constraints depending on the personality of the writer but that doesn’t make anyone a ‘better’ writer. Thrillers sell and make good movies. I like them. I like lots of other books too. I don’t really care. A good book is a good book.

    The problem with authors infighting is that it detracts from the real fight which is get more people reading more books when there are so many other forms of entertainment on offer. Look at the decline of music sales in the digital era as an example of failing to recognise changing trends.


    p.s. My childhood paradigm was extremely familiar although as a Lancastrian, I think your parents may have misled you 😉

  11. Jean S Scott says:

    Wonderful use here of analogy with the English geography example. LOVED it. Good points all well taken and I agree with you. Being published is a dream, no matter how it happens!

  12. D.J.Kirkby says:

    What a great post! I applied to become a full member of the RNA in January. However, because Without Alice had been published by an Indie I am still waiting for them to make a final decision about whether I can be granted full membership; even though my publishing contract meets the criteria I was given by the membership secretary. I am very confused by this reaction to a genuine Indie publisher (not self and not vanity which are not eligible for full membership). I do think Indie publishing is not as acceptable as we wish it to be. I am going to read your husband’s blog post now 🙂

  13. Wonderful post!!!

    Love to see you tackle the subject of “how” people can rise above such contentious attitudes…

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