When I started writing the Herring Seller’s Apprentice my plan was just to write a novel. Obviously it would be a novel that would win the Booker Prize, but beyond that I had few clear plans for it. As the book progressed and the bodies started to pile up, it occurred to me that I was probably writing a crime novel, but I still had no particular intention myself to become a crime writer. I remain mildly surprised every time I go into a bookshop and find my book firmly in the Crime Section.
I’m not complaining. The people who review crime novels seem a really nice crowd – well-read, knowledgeable of the genre and enthusiastic. I have had marvellous support from crime web sites such as It’s a Crime, Reviewing the Evidence Eurocrime and Tangled Web. I also rather like being able to reply, when people ask me what I write, that I write detective stories. Few people admit to not liking crime novels. It’s a respectable, unpretentious field to be in.
Some reviewers, including the excellent Grumpy Old Bookman, have noticed that there was more going on in Herring Seller than the humorous-crime that met the eye. He wrote: “the ending of the book, like much else in it, is capable of more than one interpretation. So, as I said at the beginning, tricksy stuff. Keep your wits about you while you smile”. Indeed. If “devious” was a recognised genre, that’s more or less where I would want to be.
When I started writing the second book, my plan was just to write a second novel. Obviously it was a novel that would impress Richard and Judy and would make me disgustingly rich, but otherwise my ambitions were modest. I noticed half-way through that nobody had been murdered yet, and concluded that this was therefore probably not going to be a crime novel. This made me feel guilty in the light of much of the above. I have promised a number of people that I shall return to a life of crime as soon as I can.
So, the questions for you are as follows. When you all set out to write, did you plan to write in a particular genre? Do you write in a genre that you always enjoyed as a reader? Do you feel that genres are a valuable marketing tool (“if you liked Agatha Christie, you’ll sure as hell like me”) or something that restricts what you write? If you do change genres, should you also change your name – and, if so, entirely (e.g. John Banville/Benjamin Black) or just a bit (e.g. RN/Roger Morris)?
As I contemplate what my third book should be, I’d really like to know the answers.