about writing and life and God

Why should fiction be queen?

on August 24, 2012

All my life I’ve dreamed of writing books. Seeing my name on the spines of books lining my bookshelves.

Well, hang on a minute, those of you who know me may say! You’ve got nine books published and with the foreign editions they make a pretty nice line-up on your bookshelves. Are you maybe getting greedy?

Ah, you see the problem is all but one of those books are non-fiction. One is a children’s book about a snail on his way to Noah’s Ark. What I’ve dreamed of writing and publishing is adult fiction.

Somehow, some where, I got it into my head that the topmost thing to aim for in this writing business was fiction. I wanted to write novels. I realised early on that I couldn’t even aspire to that pinnacle of writing – literary fiction. (Because it bores me, I can’t read much of the stuff. I like a good story – in old fashioned terms ‘a rattling good yarn’. I brought myself up on John Buchan, Baroness Orczy, Nevil Shute…)

But oh, I yearned to write fiction. I tried my first novel in my early twenties (fantasy, rejected by Robert Hale, kindly). The second attempt was a Victoria Holt gothic clone (unfinished in the 70s, finished in the 80s, sent out and returned: ‘predictable’). Then there were 8 or 9 more attempts. I even tried Mills & Boon. Bless them, they told me I didn’t have the personality to write light romance. I was ‘too serious’!

But did I listen? On I went, till the mattress was getting lumpy from the mountain of fiction manuscripts shoved underneath it as they returned, unloved and unwanted, from literary agents and publishers.

Meanwhile, I did the day job: editing non-fiction, coaching non-fiction, commissioning non-fiction, and even writing non-fiction – a stream of feature articles, 9 books….

It has taken me a long time to wake up to what had been staring me in the face all these years: maybe fiction isn’t my gift? I know how to do non-fiction. I know how to craft a winning proposal. I’ve pocketed enough advances to show me I can actually do non-fiction.

Yes but… it’s always felt second-best. The day job. When I’ve been dreaming of being a novelist.

  • When did fiction become queen?
  • Who crowned her?
  • Who said if we want to be real writers, we have to write fiction?

These are my first musings on this topic so please cut me some slack and feel free to argue – but I wonder was it school? I remember at age 5 the Milly-Molly-Mandy books. By then I’d discovered Enid Blyton. Later, we were force-fed the classics of English literature. Some I devoured. (I used to wait till my older sister was asleep and creep downstairs in the dark to steal her school text from her bag to read under the covers and then replace early next morning unmissed.) And some, I admit, bored me.

But where was the glorious non-fiction? Where were the role-models for the non-fiction writer? I remember Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes with fondness but apart from the Bible, I don’t remember any other great non-fiction.

I would guess that more non-fiction has been published – and is being published – than fiction. And certainly much more than literary fiction. In any home, you’re sure to find some non-fiction (cookery, do-it-yourself, the Bible or other Scripture, books about pregnancy and childcare, travel… yes, there are loads of non-fiction genres).

Yet fiction seems to retain a certain mystique. “If you’re going to be a proper writer you have to write fiction.”

Today, in fear and trembling, I’m going to come out of the closet. I think my gifting – my anointing – is not fiction. I think I’m meant to write non-fiction, Christian non-fiction. I’m just at the beginning of this journey of exploration but if I’ve got it right, it should be exciting and fun. And with at least as high standards as the erstwhile ‘queen’. Because I’m not going to bow down to the accepted wisdom any longer.

Why should fiction be queen?



One response to “Why should fiction be queen?

  1. Vicki says:

    It’s a very good question and I have to say I am researching my first non-fiction book at the moment and am a little concerned that it isn’t classed as ‘real writing’ because it is non-fiction. I started out writing short stories and the beginnings of novels before fiddling in poetry, so I guess you could say I have always prefered to write (and read) fiction.

    It’s a scary venture, to embark on something out of your comfort zone but I think it does us good. I don’t think it is about which is queen, but it’s about what you enjoy and being able to explore avenues you wouldn’t normally.

    I plan to keep dabbling, and enjoy the learning process and exploration along the way.

    Hope you do too!

    Vicki x

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