Imagine the scenario. You wake up one morning and there is an email waiting in your inbox, telling you that today you must choose one genre, one form and one medium for your writing, and stick with your choices for life. What would you go for? Would you stay in your comfort zone and stick with what you know? Or would you go for something completely new, knowing that it's now or never? A tough question, but one that revealed a lot about the Write Yorkshire writers' influences and their motivations for writing.
A big part of me wants to quietly mutter ‘science fiction’ and leave it at that. The problem is, I’d be cheating. If I said science fiction, it would technically fulfil the criteria of the question whilst leaving me all the wiggle room in the world to go down multiple sub-genre avenues, which feels like a cop out.
The more I think about this, the more I realise just how heavily influenced my tastes are by what I absorbed in my childhood. I’m sure I sat on the living room carpet, gazing up at our square television set, and watched all sorts of different things, but the shows, films and books that stuck with me most are the ones that most closely reflect what I like (and what I write) as an adult. As a small child I adored Star Trek; while most of my friends wanted to be popstars when they grew up, I wanted to work on the bridge of the Enterprise. I loved Captain Scarlet and old Burt Lancaster swashbucklers and Three Musketeers films. My weekends were filled with Westerns, gold rushes, heists and draw-downs at high noon. Can you imagine how I felt when I discovered a franchise that bundled spaceships, sword fights and outlaws all into one glorious place? I replayed our copy of Return of the Jedi so many times that the video tape started to wear out. When I wasn’t watching television, I was staying up into the early hours solving mysteries with Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog.
And what am I watching right now? Longmire, Deadwood and Star Trek: Next Gen. I’m playing Red Dead Redemption. I’m reading a Stargate book and I’m writing a retro futuristic science fiction Sherlock Holmes origin story. What I’m beginning to realise about myself is that I’m incredibly predictable and very set in my ways! But crucially, immersing myself in those genres makes me really, really happy.
So, of course it’s going to be prose fiction. It has to be science fiction but more specifically than that, I think it’s got to be the space western. If I had to choose a format to deliver my stories to the world, I’m forced to think about some of the books that give me the biggest smile when I pick them up and run my fingers over them, and I can’t think of anything better than a battered paperback, which is frayed around the edges; not from misuse but because it has travelled around in the bottom of someone’s bag just in case a convenient five minutes to read crops up during the course of the day; it’s also a little dog-eared and creased along the spine because it’s been read more than once, and maybe loaned to a friend.
Successful or not, if those were the things that defined my career as a writer, I believe I’d be very much at peace with my choices.
The man on the other side of the desk holds his pen like a spearfisherman.
- Er… Scott?
Without looking up:
- That’s right. How did…?
- It’s here on the form.
- But why did you…?
Eyes flick yet neither head nor brow moves. I’m thinking bad theme park animatronic.
- I ask the questions. It says here ‘writer’.
- Seriously? Waste.
The puff of nasal derision sets a coil of pencil shaving rocking in its ashtray.
- Three questions. First. Mode?
- As in?
- It also says form underneath. To help the slow ones. Does that mean anything, Mr Writer?
A speck of dandruff stands upright on the shoulder of his grey suit. Defying gravity through static.
- Er… short story?
- Wow. Ok. And why? Keep it brief.
- I suppose it’s a form I enjoy reading. In terms of writing, I like the process of getting something finite down and then tinkering with it until it zings.
Another sigh. Extended for emphasis. Just this side of theatrical. He’s a smoker.
- Clicks? Pops?
- Alright. I said keep it brief. Next. Genre?
- Weird what?
- Fiction. Weird fiction.
- Never heard of it. I’ll just put horror.
- No, it’s not horror. Well, I mean it can be sometimes. It’s like a mix of things. Old and new. Science and magic. Reality and fantasy.
- Hmm. Sounds like you’re hedging your bets.
He picks up the phone. The layer of dust on the black plastic suggests this is a special occasion. The mumbles are impossible to decode.
- You’re lucky. The man downstairs says he’ll accept it.
The way his pencil squeaks, the man across the desk is not in agreement.
- Right. Last one. Medium?
- Keyboard? Word processor?
The abused pencil creaks again
- Medium. As in method of delivery.
- Oh. Er… Book? Hardback book. With a classy cover and maybe some illustrations.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- That’s it. That’s all I need. If your proposal is accepted, you’ll hear within a week. If not…
He walks me to the door. Hooves clack like jawbones on the linoleum.
- …they love a wannabe writer down the salt mines.
I hate this question so I indulged myself in a nice sulk before I sat down to write my answer. I really dislike being restricted but I also have habits/preferences so I can answer this question... only because I'm being forced though!
I'd have to choose poetry as my form, because it's my natural and most used form (script I would miss you, I promise!). I just find it comes more naturally to me and I usually try to write an idea as poetry before I try another form. Plus I really enjoy writing it and reading it, so it makes the most sense!
Genre is the worst one to choose. I love personal poetry and nature poetry and experimental poetry and historical poetry and ALL THE POETRY! All for very different reasons, of course, but there's so much fun to be had within genre and the way it's presented in poetry, especially as it can be so challenging to communicate generic conventions via such a, usually, short work. I have a tendency to write about the water, as I've always loved it and found a huge amount of peace being near it, but I think personal poetry has the edge. It's so cathartic to be able to write about the things that hurt the most, or to amplify the joy of an experience by immortalising it.
Mode is the easiest choice, while there's a million amazing ways to get your work out into the world, my top choice has to be a shiny, new, published anthology. (That new book smell!) Either a collection of just my own work, or with other writers, there's something about holding a physical book with your own writing in it that is utterly magical. It's the best feeling ever and I'm not passing it up in favour of anything. Although having said that, I really, really love blog writing too…
I think if it came down to it, and those were the only ways I could ever write again, I'd really miss other forms and genres but I'd also be quite happily in my element. Realistically, I couldn't complain!
I’m going to start with form, as I have no qualms about choosing this. It’s going to be the short story. It’s a form I absolutely love to write in, mirroring as it does my preferred approach to everything in life. I like to garden in pots and raised beds; I like to teach one-to-one; I prefer a night out with one or two close friends to a massive party - basically, I like to do my life in bite-size chunks, otherwise I get overwhelmed and paralysed by possibilities. So the short story is the perfect form for me to write in. About two to three thousand words would be perfect. Thanks.
Genre is a bit more difficult. In order to narrow my choice down, I had a think about which genre I’d be saddest never to write in again. I can’t say I’d be too bothered by never writing another romance (I’m far too much of a realist), sci-fi is at the limit of my capabilities (I’m not a technophobe, I just have very little imagination in that direction, and to be honest, still marvel at mixer taps), and I don’t have the sort of methodical brain that could plot a really good whodunnit. On the other hand, if I was never allowed to write another story that in some way dabbled in the realm of the supernatural, I’d be pretty gutted. I love to write about human relationships, history and psychology, and writing about ghosts allows me to do that in a way that I find entertaining and exciting. I love my ghosts, and I would be sad to see them go. So I choose ghost stories as my genre.
Medium? Predictably, it’s going to be a traditional book. Preferably a lovely thick anthology, brand new, with that gorgeous ‘new book’ smell. I’m not too bothered about having my name on it but if I have to, can it be in massive gold letters, right on the front?
So there we are. If the rest of my writing career consisted of creating anthologies of spooky short stories, I’d be a very contented writer indeed.
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