A Change of Genre

Stolen Lives is finally finished!

As those of you who were following my blog will know, at the beginning of 2015 I undertook a complete re-write of my first novel, Stolen Lives. It is ironic how the book’s title came to haunt me, as during the final few months the project had quite literally stolen my life: I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t eat – all I could do was worry about why I was unable to finish the effing thing. And then, just when I thought that I had, my agent asked me to rewrite the freshly rewritten draft. I am man enough to admit that I openly wept when I read that particular email. . .

Stolen Lives cover

Anyway, all that is behind me, and for my latest project I have decided to change genre and write something within the field of speculative fiction. I have only a vague idea at the moment of what this will be – a sort of fantasy/horror crossover, with elements of a mystery/detective story woven in – and a working title: The Jackal and The Noose.

So, why have I decided to change genre?

Firstly, my third crime novel is due out in November, and the fourth is already finished, so I am one book ahead on my crime series and can afford the time to dabble in a different genre.

Secondly, while not a massive fan of fantasy literature per se (I find much of it slow and poorly written, although I have always loved Michael Moorcock and Mervyn Peake) I was a keen player of RPGs as an adolescent and young man (Call of Cthulhu and Warhammer Fantasy mainly). Also, the first professional writing I did was for Mongoose Publishing, a company which sells supplements for the D20 roleplay system (for whom I wrote The Awakening, a campaign book for the Judge Dredd RPG, and a number of scenarios which were published in the company’s magazine).

Thirdly, most of my close friends are fans of fantasy literature, and I promised them years ago I would write them a book in this genre.

So, how to begin a fresh project in a totally new field?

The first thing I have done is contact my literary agent to discuss the feasibility of the idea. My agency has a specialist who handles the sale of fantasy and horror, so a quick email exchange with him has revealed that this new book will need to be much longer than anything I have written before.

My previous four books have all been around the 80,000 word mark, but my agent has told me this is far too short for most publishers of fantasy and estimates 120,000 words to be the bare minimum.

I don’t think this will be too much of a problem (*touches wood). Although my four previous books were short, this has always been because I only used 30-40% of what I actually wrote. Like most writers, I have discovered that the real process of “writing” a novel comes when you start binning entire sections of it. On Stolen Lives I eventually wrote more than 750,000 words of which I used only 77,000, although that was an extreme case.

Anyway, I have started the project by making lists of what I do and don’t want from my book.

What I do not want:

– talking trees with walnuts for eyes, friendly dragons, muddle-headed wizards or youngsters who discover they possess magical powers.

– gratuitously unpleasant scenes of rape and/or mutilation as seen in some recent fantasy books. Those who have read my work will know how dark the tone of my writing normally is, but a less-is-more approach definitely works better and is far scarier. H.P. Lovecraft scared the pants off me without ever depicting the severing and removing of someone’s penis or the gang-rape of a tavern wench.

What I do want:

– a strong female lead who is neither a prostitute nor a princess/noblewoman

– a gritty, urban setting that will be vaguely recognisable as 17th century England (so buff coats, lobster-pot helmets and matchlock pistols).

– short chapters that end with a significant decision or event taking place

– to use the fast-paced prose style I have developed over the course of my four crime novels, with description kept to a minimum and the prose focused on characters and their decisions.

I’ll post again when I have some idea of who these characters will be!

All the best

Matthew

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