Wednesday 29 January 2014

What's in a genre?

Much is said about the value of writers deciding on a genre and sticking to it so that readers know what to expect and get what they expect when they choose an author or a book. It never seemed to be an issue for me as I’ve always loved historical fiction and also loved to write it. My family ancestry and love of Australian history seemed to be the perfect inspiration for my novels.

However, lately I’ve had some questions about the genre of my writing. Two things have sparked this rumination for me. Firstly, I’ve joined a couple of on line Historical Fiction groups, and been intrigued and a bit disappointed to find that so many of the readers are drawn to pre Australian colony history, such as the royals of England or battles from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It seems almost that Australian colonial history is too young to rate.

Secondly, I recently attended a writer’s conference and heard speakers talking about the growing trend in ‘rural’ fiction; the apparent attraction of Australian rural settings, small town conflicts and romances, girls on horseback swinging stock whips etc. I came home and downloaded quite a few on my Kindle and have been working my way through them. I find them quite enjoyable; mostly standard romances but the girls wear riding breeches and can round up cattle or hold their own in the local horse races, rather than being dressed in gorgeous gowns or holding their own in the board room.

The popularity of TV series such as McCloud’s Daughters seems to back up this fascination for country life. Is it that it appeals to readers and viewers because it represents the ‘sea change, back to nature’ dreams that many city dwellers have? Or is it that writers and film makers are acknowledging that many more country people read because they are not so distracted by city recreations?

I’m not sure about any of that, but I have been wondering whether I ought to ‘rebrand’. As I listened to what speakers listed as elements of rural novels -  small town interrelationships and intrigues, coming home themes, animals, fighting the elements, local history of towns, strong female protagonists – I wondered if my novels would fit better into this genre than into historical fiction. Australian colonial development, the issues faced by those on the land, the kind of work required, the struggle to survive against the elements, the relationships, intrigues and conflicts of people in small communities, seem hardly to have changed in 200 years in this country. As I write my stories I’m very aware that some current news broadcasts about agricultural life and the issues rural people face could be included my stories.

I'm not sure how much ‘rural’ fiction any of you read, or how much you've seen with any Christian content, but would be interested to read your thoughts about it. Is it more attractive than historical fiction? Does an escape into a rural setting appeal more than an escape into history?  Can the two be combined effectively?
Carol’s novels are based on her family ancestry in Australia from the First Fleet and include the Turning the Tide series; Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets and Truly Free. Her earlier novel Suzannah’s Gold has been re-released by EBP and will soon be followed by the re-release of its sequel, Rebecca’s Dream. You can see more about Carol and her novels on her website
Her novels can be found at EBP
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  1. Interesting thoughts and questions, Carol. I don't know much about either historical fiction or rural fiction, but could your books fit in a sub-genre called 'Australian historical fiction'--or even perhaps 'historical rural fiction'? Nothing like pioneering a whole sub-genre of your own!

  2. Hi Carol,
    I think of your books as both historical and rural too. I think if you were to branch off into the rural genre, you could do so easily, as your historical settings have often taken place in rural, Colonial landscapes anyway. Yes, now that you mention it, I've noticed that authors such as Fiona McCallum have made that modern rural genre popular lately.
    I've always written my books and then tried to figure out which genre to fit them into, rather than choosing the genre first and then writing the book to fit into it. This post has made me think a bit about that too.

  3. Hi Carol,

    Small town and country settings have always been big in the contemporary and historical romance genres, in both the Christian market and general market. Love Inspired romances often feature cowboys, Texas, Montana and other small town settings that their readers love.

    Rural stories, sometimes called farm-lit, have become popular in Australia in recent years. These stories usually fit in either the contemporary romance or contemporary/womens fiction genres. The rural setting is like a sub-genre of a bigger genre, in the same way a regency romance is a sub-genre of the historical romance genre. Iola has written a couple of excellent posts on our blog that defines genre.

    Some readers prefer historical stories, others prefer contemporary, and many read both. I'm a romance reader who reads most of the romance sub-genres. I'm much more likely to read a book labelled as historical romance than historical fiction. This is because I like a strong romantic plot rather than a big focus on the historical elements in the story. Other readers will prefer historical fiction and tolerate the romantic elements in the story.

    The fascination with contemporary rural stories may die off or continue to grow. I'm hoping for the latter because my contemporary romance, Falling for the Farmer, definitely falls in the category of rural-lit or farm-lit.

  4. Thanks for the responses, ladies. Good food for thought.

  5. While I think that genre is important, I also think that a strong plot and great characterisation transcend a lot of genre considerations. I wouldn't write yourself into a corner, Carol, by rebranding in such a way as a potential reader is put off. Ultimately I think the historical aspect of your stories is the more prominent aspect than the rural. Historical with rural elements, and in some cases, romantic elements.

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  7. Thanks Annie. It's good to get others' ideas.

  8. Carol, i love the historical aspect of your stories. And as i read your post i began to imagine you writing a time travel... Or flash back novel... Today's issues on the land somehow linked to a historical event or family. Hehehe. I read both historical and rural lit. I enjoy the rural reads for the familiarity because i grew up in the country and i also enjoy learning more about Australia's early years through reading fiction. I don't think rebranding is necessary, but if you want to have a go in another genre, why not? If it doesn't feel like a good fit for you go back to what you know. Just keep writing because i enjoy your books :) xx

  9. I have read a few rural Carol but on the whole tend to avoid those with the girl in the akubra hat pics. I think you write what you feel most comfortable with and it will find readers.

  10. Thanks for the encouragement Michelle and Dale.


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