Trying to find a publisher – identifying genre

(Before I begin, Ian Paul, formerly of St John’s College, Nottingham, has a thoughtful post on IS, Syria and the just war on his blog.  I don’t think I agree with Ian on everything, but he writes a very good and thoughtful blog.)

WARNING: The rest of this post is pure advertising and self-justification

It’s quite true what they say, that writing the novel is the easy part.

In the process of trying to find a publisher for “We Do Not Kill Children”, I’ve discovered a certain amount about genres in literature.  Aspiring authors are supposed to study their genre, so they can avoid sending science fiction to an agent who only deals in memoir, and so on.  Many people say you must find your genre (eg gothic romance) and stick to its rules; others claim that books crossing borders are increasingly popular, if they’re good.  How, for example, would anyone categorise “The Time Traveller’s Wife”?

You may think there’s a genre called “fantasy”.  You may have heard of YA (=Young Adult).  But have you heard of NA (= New Adult, ie readers in their 20s?) Have you heard of steampunk, urban fantasy, and grimdark?  Or interstitial?

Now I have.  And I can proudly say that “We Do Not Kill Children” is an interstitial blend of low fantasy with historical murder mystery, perhaps with elements of tragedy of manners…

(Steampunk is basically long dresses and magic but includes machinery; urban fantasy is sexy vampires and werewolves in the city; grimdark is George RR Martin and his successors, and is what its name implies.  Tragedy of manners tends to cover fantasy-type settings without much or any magic but lots of intrigue and witty dialogue, and was pioneered by Ellen Kushner.  Interstitial, in literature or art, just means mixing the genres up.)

With all these subgenres floating about, perhaps you will forgive me for inventing my own, Swords Without Misogyny – a medieval setting with minimal magic, and without the oppression of women that seems to be normal.  I was fed up with stories, either fantastical or historical, where either our noses are rubbed in the misery/irrelevance of women’s lives, or we have to concentrate on one extraordinary woman who manages with difficulty to overcome the expectations of her misogynistic society.  Women ought to have other things to do than combat sexism, and men ought to have other roles than either aiding or thwarting the women.  (Of course there are the stories that ignore women altogether, but I avoid them.)

I was encouraged, in fact I almost fell off my chair, a few weeks ago when reading a blog (Agent Carter: Sexism, Historical Accuracy and Badass Female Characters) by the excellent Rhiannon K Thomas (   Ms Thomas, who is an author of YA fiction, was commenting about a TV series that I haven’t seen.  Agent Sharon Carter is a Marvel comics character, who would have been Captain America’s girlfriend if he hadn’t inconveniently spent the time from the 1940s until the present day in deep freeze.  The series deals with her life as an agent of good 70 years ago, and a prominent theme (apparently) is the sexism against which she has to fight all the time.  Ms Thomas agreed that this was historically accurate, and noted that Ms Carter conquers, but said that it was still distressing to watch, and asked if it might be more feminist to create a world where strong female characters didn’t have to be repeatedly knocked down this way.  “Read my book!  Come to Ragaris!”  I almost shouted.  (Although those of you who’ve read Chapter 1 may point out that so far it’s all male.  The women arrive later.)

So I think there ought to be space for tough women in fiction who don’t have to struggle to be treated as equals.

Until next time… Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Blogger signs off.




  • Malachi Malagowther

    8th December 2015 at 6:59 pm Reply

    I think Tolkien did just about manage strong female characters but only among the elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien. Arwen and Galadriel were unselfconsciously the equal of their male counterparts and Arwen at least doesn’t seem to have been afraid to use a sword. However in the other races the females seem to be increasingly marginalised with women not even supposed to use a sword, hobbit women not even supposed to leave their village, dwarf women not supposed to leave home and Ent females no longer existing.

    I look forward to reading about some feisty young women in Ragaris who leave home to go and seek their fortune. There are hints of it so far but it is a theme that could do with being brought out more explicitly.

  • Clint Redwood

    8th December 2015 at 9:11 pm Reply

    I think that in order to understand Steampunk, you need first to understand Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is a form of usually dystopian science fiction, featuring people dressed in long leather coats, long (often black or hi-vi) dresses, and punk/anime hairstyles. It is often very influenced by Japanese manga/anime culture. The stories tend to be quite character driven, rather than purely plot driven. William Gibson is probably the archetype for this genre.

    Steampunk tends to translate the Cyberpunk genre to the Victorian age, where high technology is available in a retro style. I have to confess to never having read a steampunk novel (although I should), but the Guy Richie Sherlock Holmes films are very much in that style.

    On a different matter, I was going to suggest that Lord of the Rings fitted very much into the category where women are ignored, and for all but one chapter they are. The previous comment points out that Galadriel is a tough character, and while not Celeborn’s superior in law, is by far the important of the two. However, to really appreciate Galadriel, you do have to meet her when she was young and impetious, and single handedly crossed the Helcaraxe (the grinding ice) when she was annoyed about being left behind by the blokes!

    • Penelope

      9th December 2015 at 9:06 am Reply

      Thank you for putting me right about the punk literature. I have not read any William Gibson, and the only (possible) steampunk I know are the excellent Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve – the story where a future London has turned into a mobile predator hunting down small towns.
      I thought Galadriel was technically superior to Celeborn, as being higher-born – she is a proper High Elf, and he is Sindarin. There are plenty of invisible females in the Silmarillion – we are never told what Feanor’s or Fingolfin’s wives thought of their Oath, or whether they accompanied them into exile…

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