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Q: What’s the difference between a crime writer and a non-crime writer?
A: Not much. When I first started writing fiction, I naively thought being categorised in a particular genre would be constricting. What I failed to realise was it would also be bloody handy. My first novel, The Mistress’s Revenge, was about a woman driven so crazy by the end of a love affair that she starts stalking her ex lover and his family. When people asked me (as they always did) what kind of book it was, I breezily told them ‘Contemporary women’s fiction’. ‘Oh,’ they invariably replied. ‘You mean chick lit?’ That’s when I realised how much readers love genres – and how even if you don’t categorise yourself, nine times out of ten they’ll do it for you. And not always accurately.
When The Mistress’s Revenge was published in Holland, it was marketed as a psychological thriller. It was dark. It had an undercurrent of menace. Crimes were committed. In Indonesia on the other hand, it was marketed as a romance with a pink, flowery cover (leading me to wonder whether the publisher had ever actually read it, and feel bad for readers who picked it up hoping for a bit of warm and fuzzy escapism).
The point is, readers and publishers really like genres. So it’s bonkers really that it took me another two books to work out that, actually, I quite liked them too. And not just because, without a convenient label, it was so hard to describe the types of books I wrote. I’d also realised by this time that genre writers have more fun. No really. Looking around at other writers, it was obvious the ones who ‘belonged’ in crime, or romance or fantasy, were having a wail of a time attending conventions, appearing on panels, fraternising with other writers in their genre in secret Facebook groups. Being in a genre was like being in a really cool club. My writer friend, Amanda, and I tried to establish an AGA writers (Association of Genreless Authors), just so we could have conventions and fun too. It didn’t take off.
But then something weird started happening. I noticed that most of the books I was reading were crime books, and the writers I was gravitating towards were crime writers. And then, something even weirder happened. I wrote a book called The Broken that wasn’t a whole heap different from my first three books, except I decided to call it a psychological thriller because it’s dark and sinister and because it made it easier to talk about, and no one called me a liar, and the police didn’t come to arrest me for misrepresentation. And then I wrote Dying For Christmas, which was definitely a crime book. And now First One Missing, which is also definitely a crime book. Except that as well as having crimes in them, those books are also about families and relationships and love and betrayal and lots of other things that could also place them just as easily in other genres, or back in general fiction.
So what I’m trying to say in a very roundabout way is that genre is fluid, and the same book can be interpreted in any number of ways, and books are seldom just one thing but can be lots of different things all at the same time and writers wear many different faces, even within the same book. I’m loving being classed as a ‘crime writer’, mostly because crime writers are such a welcoming bunch and always the last ones left in the bar. But - and don’t tell anyone this - in my own head, I just write ‘fiction’. Interpret that as you will.
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