Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fiction Genre Divides as Fiction

Terminology fascinates me. Of course it does. Words are what I use daily to build worlds; words are what I use just as frequently to try and unpack in a professional-sounding manner the worlds created by others. So I’m hardly going to stand make that sort of recline awkwardly here, pretending the way we choose to define things is not of paramount importance.

Yet if there’s anything I believe, it is that the operative word in the above sentence is “choose.” Definitions aren’t Platonic ideals signifying x, just x, and nothing but x, because we’ve plucked them out of the sky pretty and pre-packaged. They are stupendously useful, what with all their help decoding the world and its fictional manifestations; yet were they ever-fixed as the mark in the sonnet of yore, they wouldn’t be half as functional.

That’s not to say we can make words mean anything that pleases and serves us...

Or is it?

Language is a powerful medium, so much so I find I want to swear like a sea-bound sailor to punctuate precisely how powerful it is. But its power is not of the dictatorial kind; it is not by turns tender, inflammatory, heartbreaking because it is peremptory and prescriptive. Rather, it is infinite in application because it can be deployed in an infinity of different ways. Granted, there must be islands of stability in this fluid state of affairs, else we would not be able to grasp tales written yesterday, nevermind years, forget about once upon a time. Still of fluidity we speak, for if words truly meant nothing but the appearance of themselves the enterprise of writers would be rather dull and daft.

Now, genres and their subs may well rank amongst the most stable islands in my nautical metaphor. To writers seeking to chart their place along the literary continuum, they can spell the difference between carefully crafted trope and dreadfully dry cliché. They may salvage readers, pressed for time before the imminent gate closure, from being stuck on a long-distance flight with a book that’ll bore them to the edge of doom.

Instrumentality, however, doesn’t warrant a gag and straightjacket. To dive back into my metaphor: one may build bridges across islands. Apparently, fantasy ≠ magical realism ≠ urban fantasy. My inner inquisitive explorer couldn’t disagree more, and not because the novel in progress attempts to bridge those pesky genre divides. More like, the novel attempts to bridge divides that I have always believed to be a posteriori constructs, useful yet not omnipotent, insightful yet not omniscient.

Genres are cosy, in that soothing milk and whiskey when ill kind of way, yet comfort zones are also meant to be stepped out of. I cannot fail to namedrop Jasper Fforde, whose mind-melting combination of literary satire, dystopian science fiction and detective story defies all common sense to run like a clockwork dream. Jasper, I know, collected 76 rejection slips before being snapped up; myself, I write for publishers of the 77th persuasion.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Dream is Over (Again)

I was -15 years old when The Beatles broke up, so I couldn’t very well shed tears of artistic bereavement for their sakes. I have liked bands since; some I have even loved, particularly in recent times – the present one seems to have turned into the year of gigging dangerously, and I like that. But there’s only been one other band whose music has seeped into my soul with the same hectic, boundless energy as that of the most renowned Scousers who ever breathed. A band without which the year of gigging dangerously, to be perfectly frank with you, would probably not be happening. That band was The Ark, and by “was” I mean to say that as of precisely a month ago, they are no longer.

The break-up, against all odds in such cases as these, was a thing of sheer beauty, hardly deserving such a jaggedly hyphenated accolade. No pointed fingers, no bitter accusations or back-stabbing press releases, just enough maturity to realise that the dream had run its course. To the fans, the gift of an epic farewell tour I can only egoistically wish had included my neck of the woods, and the desire that the end of an era may mark the beginning of another, full of wondrous new possibilities for all of us. Triumphant in their unadulterated joie de vivre to the last, they went and upheld everything they meant to me and others.

I would feel shock at their not being bigger than they were, except bigness is not measured in the pervasiveness of brand names, but rather in the staying power within ears and hearts open to being wooed and won. I would say their songs changed me forever, except what they really did was help me to find a self which I thought I had lost – which is everything. Their happy beat in my step and awakening words in my lungs, I have shouted out my identity to the world loud enough to be heard inside my own head, where it was needed most. Hand in hand with their gleeful take on the life worth living, I rose from the ashes whereto I had burned myself, a beaming little phoenix. I would say I worshipped them, except what they really did was pat me on the back as we jointly revelled in one another’s awesomeness.

I’ve got nothing to say to them, then, except this.

Thank you, boys. Thank you for the laughter of recognition and the refusal to give in to sadness; thank you for the pride and the dancing, the tenderness and the bold choices, the ideals but never the anger. Thank you for saying things that needed saying in a tone that begged to be sung along to, never giving in to pity, always fighting shame with love. Thank you for dreaming in such spectacular Technicolor, and most importantly, thank you for letting us dream by your side.

I would say R.I.P., except you’ve gone and made yourselves immortal.