Genre is Not a Dirty Word

Image: book store with genre shelf labels

Photo by Ian Collins Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

I’ve encountered quite a few fantasy and science fiction authors – famous and popular ones at that – who, when asked about their decision to write in the genre, say something along the lines of “oh, well, I just write what I write and someone slots it into a genre later, I don’t think about what genre I want to write in”. There’s often this additional implication that ‘genre’ is a dirty word – that is the oppressive tool of publishers and bookshops. Books get hemmed in and categorised by this evil notion of genre, and their authors get pigeon-holed as ‘fantasy writers’ or ‘crime writers’.

Frankly, I never understand this. I love the word genre.  Continue reading

History in the Potterverse and Other Magical Worlds

Image: Hogwarts Castle

Hogwarts Castle, Wizarding World of Harry Potter (by Jeff Kays Flickr CC BY 2.0)

If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, the name Bathilda Bagshot might be familiar to you. You may even recognise her as the author of Hogwarts, a History, a book to which Harry’s friend Hermione regularly refers in the series. Whenever the characters need to know something about the ancient castle they go to school in, Hermione is there, spouting “historical” facts from Bagshot’s work to help them solve their problems.

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Sex Scenes in Fantasy Novels: When Do They Work?

Image: Orchid at the Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens

Orchid at the Pittsburgh Botanic Gardens

Growing up, most of the fantasy novels I read didn’t have sex scenes. Perhaps they had a little romance, maybe some kissing, but nothing I would classify as a proper sex scene, or even an illusion to a sex scene. A few, of course, did have scenes that were a little raunchy… but I remember finding those awkward and out of place. Continue reading

The Danger of Believing in Witches

Image: witch burning

In a few more days it will be Halloween, and I’d say there will be a good many witches wandering the streets. You know the look – a pointy crooked hat, a black cloak, a long warty nose, maybe even a broomstick. The kind of thing you’d see in a rendition of The Wizard of Oz or Hansel and Gretel. Fantasy stories are so often populated by witches that we barely bat an eyelid at their mention. We dress up as them, sometimes even wish we could be them, and fantasise about receiving our letter from Hogwarts. What we rarely give a thought to is that a few hundred years ago, a witch was more than just something from a fantasy story… and it was one of the last things you’d want to pretend to be.  Continue reading

Learning a Fantasy Language? Apparently There’s an App for That

Image: Galadriel's Lament (image by Roberta Cortese, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I work part time at an institute that runs classes in a whole range of foreign languages. Real-world languages, that is – like French and Arabic and Japanese. On our feedback forms at the end of each course, we ask students to suggest any new languages that they would like us to offer in the following year. One day a colleague came to me, confused, with a feedback form in hand, and asked:

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Public Declarations of Love: Fantasy Romance vs Romantic Comedy

Image: kiss scene from the film Never Been Kissed

So I just got back from Germany last week – a trip home that unfortunately involved about 22 hours in a plane. Most of those hours were spent in an awkward half-sleep fostering a sizeable collection of neck cramps. The rest were spent bingeing on movies.

On flights, I usually find myself watching one of three things: romantic comedies, Bollywood epics, or YA fantasy films… because these are things I enjoy, but also simply because my boyfriend point-blank refuses to watch them with me. Those hours of solitary viewing are a chance for an uninterrupted dose of romance, melodrama, and teenage heartbreak, without any judgemental eyes looking on.

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How the Last 300 Years Have Changed Fairy Tales

Movie Poster: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

In high school I remember having to sit through a Disney cartoon rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1994) for a unit we were doing on fairy tales. It told the usual story – Goldilocks comes to the bears’ house, tries the porridges, the chairs and the beds, falls asleep, and then runs away when the bears come home. Unfortunately, in this version they extended the story. Goldilocks and the three bears become friends. Then an evil circus man captures the bears and Goldilocks must save and free them. Oh, and since it’s Disney, they also add an obligatory annoying sidekick animal to provide some comic relief. I think it was a rabbit.

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Burning, Starving and Maiming: Nursery Rhymes Without Happily Ever Afters

Original Illustration from Struwwelpeter

We all know fairy tales can be a little violent and frightening, despite the fact they seem aimed at children: wolves eating people, children getting poisoned or abandoned by evil stepmothers. However, a year or two ago I was made aware of a German children’s story – a kind of nursery rhyme – that I found more disturbing and amusing than any of the fairy tales I’d heard. And, since I’m in Germany at the moment, I got to thinking about it again. Continue reading

The Power of “What If?” Premises in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Image: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There’s no doubt that a really good “what if?” scenario – a fascinating premise that envisions a society or world with a pivotal difference to our own – is a big hook for a speculative fiction book or film. An intriguing premise will almost always entice me to go see the film at the cinema, particularly a science fiction film.

On the whole, science fiction does these “what if” scenarios really well (especially dystopian sci-fi), and the concepts are memorable. I’m sure many people could guess which popular science fiction films the below scenarios refer to: Continue reading

Confessions of an Audiobook Convert

Image: iPhone with Headphones on Bookshelf

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be looking forward to mundane things like morning commutes and chopping onions, solely because that meant I could binge on an audiobook… well, I wouldn’t have told you you were crazy, but I’d probably have nodded and smiled and filed you away in the weird person trying too hard to sell me something category. I’d have maybe agreed to give the whole “listening to a book” thing a try, but it would have been grudgingly and with scepticism.

In fact, I’d say I had a definite prejudice against audiobooks, even though I’d never listened to one. Why? As an aspiring author, I’d started going to readings.

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