Neither Mickling nor Muckling was the weird saying that my late mother-in-law used to utter every now and again. At the time I wondered what it meant (Billy Liar fans feel free to get rancid tomatoes at the ready) but I think I have a pretty good idea these days.
This week I handed out three different manuscripts to three good friends. None of the manuscripts was remotely like any of the others. I’m one of those annoying, mercurial types who can’t stay focused on one thing for long; instead, I dip into pools of knowledge and interest all over the place – science, history, archaeology, literature, philosophy – a little of everything and mastery of none. And I’m moody too, so while I seem to be my usual cheery self every day, underneath that I’m sometimes melancholy, some days introspective, some days just plain vacant. So I suppose it’s only natural that my writing brain functions in the same way. The project I work on today might be a quirky romance, but next week I might start a horror story. Sometimes it will be a big cross-genre mash or completely defy classification at all. And often, something that I thought was amazing when I wrote it will annoy the hell out of me and end up deleted the following week.
Which got me thinking. By writing this way am I actively scuppering any chances of actually writing for a living? The publishing world is so fond of genres and pigeon holing and people in general seem to like things where they can say: yes, this fits just here. I recently read a tweet from another writer saying that she wondered if she was unsellable because her work was cross-genre, and although I can think of lots of successful examples of work in that vein, I can probably think of more where it represented problems getting the work accepted for a long time.
If you write lots of stories in lots of genres, do you risk alienating readers too? If someone loves your quirky romance (just let me dream for a moment, will you) and they go looking for more (ok, I know it’s a stretch – indulge me) and they download your next book to find it is some paranormal weep-fest, will they be so disappointed that they will never read anything you present to them again? Can you build a following of loyal readers like that? Can you sell books like that?
But then, can you change what you do? Are you a slave to your writing brain, the one that won’t stop nagging you when that ghost story pops into your head, even though you’re in the middle of a kids’ book? I’m certain I can’t be alone in this confusing camp.
So, I suppose what I’m really asking is this: is there is a choice to be made here? Do I slap the metaphorical bottom of my writing brain and tell it to start behaving itself, or do carry on doing what I do and I accept that I’m destined to annoy the hell out of people for evermore?