Christine Hammacott: Getting to grips with Genre – why understanding your genre is so important

Genre was something set in motion by the ancient Greek playwrights who, followed by Shakespeare, categorised their works into three batches – history, tragedy and comedy. Satire, they used to provide some light relief in the midst of their tragedies. Google will tell us there are five main genres, each with its own rules, for example, length and character types. So, each genre has boundaries, but these are fluid. A story may be set in a dystopian future but have a strong romance at its core.

So, the rules of genre may not be hard and fast, but writers do need to be aware of them.

‘Think of the labels on tinned food,’ Christine Hammacott, graphic design consultant and self-published author of psychological suspense, told the gathered members and guests of the Hampshire Writers’ Society on Tuesday night, ‘you wouldn’t be impressed if you opened what you were eagerly expecting to be your favourite beans or soup, and you got dog food.’

A life-long book lover, Christine worked for a long time in the publishing industry. Determined to be the master on her own skills, she set up THE ART OF COMMUNICATION. Her first book, THE TASTE OF ASH has been a recommendation of the UK Crime Book Club.

‘A crime story can be written in a very light way.’ she points out, ‘Or it can be written in a very dark way.’

Many authors, when asked what their book is about, will launch into a twenty-minute, blow-by-blow account of their entire story. This is not what the question was.

The many writers who announce: their book is unique, doesn’t fit into any genre, need to do some more research – read lots, join Facebook and Twitter groups, sift through Amazon and Goodreads, resort to the Writers and Artists Yearbook and analyse exactly what it is that you have written. You could always talk to Christine at The Art of Communication!

The first thing an agent thinks: Is this sellable? And a publisher? Where does this fit with my current writers? If you’re self-publishing, what words will potential readers use to search for your book on somewhere like Amazon?

‘As writers, we don’t want to be pigeonholed, but we do want to sell our books.’ she reminds us.

Everybody talks about plot, so what is in the content of your book? Think of the theme; the theme being the overriding issue. If you’re not sure, then talk about your book and the theme will soon materialise.

Imagine that you have stepped into an elevator with the agent of your dreams, so you have only until the doors open to pitch your book to them. This elevator pitch is the one sentence that on-line sellers will use in their description of the book. You don’t need to give away the surprise or even the plot. Your pitch just needs to be punchy and promote the hooks, including where and when story is set.

Wherever you pitch your book, reader expectations are likely to be high. Potential readers want to know what they’re getting. You need to get to know the ‘nub’ of your book, talk about what it is ‘about’.

If you are self-publishing, consider your cover. A book’s cover will illustrate the genre to potential sellers and readers. The colour, font, imagery and focal point evoke an emotional response does it make the reader smile or gasp, frown or laugh out loud. For your e-book you can trawl through covers on Amazon, Goodreads, your Facebook and Twitter groups. Browse bookshops, but keep in mind, how your chosen cover will cope as a thumbnail.

Report by L Nightingale.

Legend, Folklore and Taxidermy Kate Mosse

Report by Lisa NightingaleKateMosse2

‘If you are writing; you’re a Writer.’ International Best Selling Author Kate Mosse told us, ‘Say to yourself. I am a Writer.’

Kate writes women’s’ stories. Those that are not about finding a husband or having children – there are plenty of writers doing that. A writer can write in any genre; let the story choose its own genre.

It’s place that triggers her writing finger. Taxidermists-Daughter-mmp-217x327She stands in her setting, whatever the weather, lets her spirit take her and immerses herself in its history, opening her imagination to hear and see the setting’s people.

Using the places that fascinate her in her day-to-day life has always been key to the success of Kate’s writing. ‘Hold the faith’ she says. Keep going until you hit that little spark, the oddment in your research that sets your story off and running.

‘Be kind to yourself.’ She instructs us. ‘Accommodate your real life in your writing.’

Bring it back to your story; find the trip that sets it apart and focus on this, especially when promoting your book.

The sad truth is that for many women in various countries reading and writing is prohibited. The highlighting of their situation is freeing their creativity and they are eternally grateful. The Prize for Fiction which celebrates and promote the very best of international fiction written by women puts their books in the hands of readers.

If you are writing history, you have the freedom to pick your story, but you mustn’t lie. Historical writers occupy two camps – Kate is firmly in the one that believes if you are going to take a historical incident as a setting for your story, then you owe it to those that died there to be true. As a playwright Kate feels the same and urges others to think seriously about their honesty to the facts – otherwise we end up letting in those who would exploit us. She uses the example of Donald Trump influencing the masses who have been led by the incidents and facts of film like The Hurt Locker, which aren’t true.

As for character, Kate knows her stuff – characters and plot are indistinguishable; one leads the other and vice-versa. Characterisation is more about what’s in their heart. This is what drives Kate’s characters. It’s not until much later in telling their story that they will actually appear in her imagination and she can say ‘ah, that was you!’

Kate places character 1 in the story and soon character 2 will present themselves. CitadelIf, in your first draft, a character starts to take over – let them! See where they take themselves. Often, those that you thought would be minor characters turn out to be major players.

LabyrinthThe time slip novels of the Languedoc trilogy allowed Kate to place a character overlooking her setting and gave her the opportunity to love and describe it. The other character, of course couldn’t do that – they lived there! But she doesn’t recommend time slip – it is time-consuming, research heavy (OK for Kate – she loves research) and requires many different drafts.

One genre that she wouldn’t write? ‘Science Fiction,’ she says. She couldn’t do spaceships. But then the setting and place is Kates inspiration and she like to ‘physically feel’ the place. Which of course, is difficult on the moon.

For a list of her books and she urges you to buy from your local, high street book store can be found at