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Genre - just a marketing tool

It might be argued that all stories - whatever the genre - follow a similar pathway, an opening up of an event or series of incidents between characters, who are strangers to us at the beginning of the tale and mean something to us by the end, ie when so many questions raised have been answered, and there's been some transformation - if the story has worked. Sometimes stories are set in the world of crime, a parallel universe edging that in which most of us live; or an historically fictional world, again with similarities to history we've been taught; or a fantastic world in which people we become familiar with - whom we either like or fear - have magical powers; or up in space where wars can be fought without offending any known national political figures, and dreams of future technological panaceas can be indulged.

Colm Toibin recently gave genre fiction a serve - and I'm not talking food.

'I can't do thrillers and I can't do spy novels. I can't do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don't find any rhythm in it. It's blank, it's nothing; it's like watching TV,' was his daring challenge to others' tastes.

My premise is that among the best single-genre stories are those that actually have relevance to our lives as lived - and it's only a marketing device, a sales push, to classify them in genre categories so that readers who have read a crime story and liked the suspense, or a fantasy tale for its sense of possibility, or a space-age adventure instead of staring at the stars in the night sky, will look for the same again - without thinking much about what qualities many books classified as general, or 'literary', share with books of one genre or another. Christine Williams

What are your thoughts on the subject of genre?

So, the Irish writer Toibin reckons that genre fiction is rubbish and he only reads literary fiction. Personally, I find it difficult to comment as the stuff I write is neither. It doesn’t fit any particular genre as far as I know and to call it literary would be an offence to my working class sensibilities.

I look at all those popular books that people, who like reading as if they’re watching television, read. I don’t get it. I think, ‘Why don’t you just watch Netflix?’

I’m certainly not a foodie, but I have some standards. That genre stuff, it strikes me, is like McDonald's. Really, if you ate that stuff every day, the way you only ever ate McDonald's, you’d get seriously ill. It’s true, ‘they’ made a film about it. But people like McDonald's because they know what they're going to get. I guess that’s why people like genre fiction.

Is it just a marketing tool? I suppose so. But writers deserve an income too. Well, most of them. Jim Piotrowski

In an increasingly cluttered literary space, it can be difficult to discern if a particular book will suit a reader’s taste. Genre writing caters to self-aware readers who know the type of books they will enjoy. If one enjoys Indian food, why shouldn’t one be able to browse nearby Indian restaurants and sit down to a meal one is likely to enjoy? Genre writing allows a reader to access a whole selection of tantalising morsels prepared by the same chef.

While there is certainly a marketing element involved in genre writing, there is art there too. Some authors may be the equivalent of a McDonald's, serving fast content with low nutritional value. But others take the time to craft works they know their readers will love. Eileen Rawlinson


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