Sunday, May 22, 2011

More Musings on the Nature of Genre Labels...

I've copied this from my regular blog spot over at Dark Central Station...seemed to go down pretty well.

So yesterday I took part in an authors’ event in Waterstones, Manchester. It went pretty well – the small audience seemed very keen, and I even sold a few advance copies of my new book The Concrete Grove.

My literary hero, Ramsey Campbell, was in the audience. He sat right in front of me so I was aware of his critical gaze as I read…no pressure there, then! Then, during the Q&A session, Ramsey very rightly pulled me up about an offhand comment I made in a recent interview where I said that I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with being labelled a horror writer.

This, and my garbled answer to Ramsey’s question, got me thinking again about the use or otherwise of these labels and how they often put people off buying certain books rather than encouraging them to try something new.

Let em explain. I’m suspicious of marketing terms and labels, and to me that’s what this is all about: marketing. As a writer, I want to get my work to the widest audience possible, and I’m starting to think that genre labels are maybe counterproductive in this respect. Horror as a genre label was mangled in the 1980s, when a boom in horror novels led to a lot of crap being published under the horror heading. So what we have now is a perception problem – Joe Public sees horror as being all about slashers and serial killers and blood and guts. I spend a lot of time trying to convince people who claim not to like or read horror that (a) they’ve either already read horror without realising they’ve done so, or (b) they’d actually like it if they tried it. I’m usually right. I hear the phrase “Oh, so that’s horror?” a lot. Another one I hear is “That’s not horror. I read that so it can’t be horror.” A couple of people I know continue to insist that Stephen King doesn’t write horror, because they read Stephen King and they don’t read horror…

See what I mean?

It’s a perception problem.

I love horror. I am proud to write horror. Unfortunately a lot of people (including some who write it) simply don’t understand what the horror genre is, or what it can offer; they are unaware of the unlimited potential of the genre. Rather than seeing this potential they see (or even create) its boundaries.

It isn’t all blood and guts and hockey masks. Sometimes, it’s art, occasionally it’s great literature. Sometimes horror can even change your life. It certainly changed mine.


Steven Chapman said...

I know what you mean, Gary. It’s annoying to get dismissed as soon as you mention the word horror (or any genre, I suppose) just because it’s considered taboo or not to someone’s taste. I’ve had people not only ignore my work when I mention the dreaded H word but also ridicule me or back away slowly...

I’ve also heard people say similar comments about Stephen King and the likes.

“I don’t like horror but I like Stephen King, he does ‘nice’ horror.”

What King books have they been reading?!

Also, kudos for talking to Ramsey Campbell – no matter how garbled. He’s a legend!

Gary Mc said...

Cheers, Stephen. Oh, I know Ramsey pretty well - he's not only a legend, but he's a terrific guy. He and his wife, jenny, are lovely people.

The subject of this blog posting seems to have kicked off a lively debate in several :-)

Unknown said...

Did you not feel like the naughty pupil in front of the Headmaster. I would have been a nervous wreck if it was me having The Godfather sat in front of me.