Should writers stick to one genre?

fiction-genres-1I have heard it said that the most successful writers generally stick to one genre. Think of Stephen King and horror for instance, or Agatha Christie and murder mysteries. Does dipping one’s toes in multiple genres result in a jack of all trades, master of none outcome? Personally I think not.

For example, Anthony Horowitz is both a very successful children’s writer and a writer of whodunnits for grown-ups. Should JK Rowling have accepted that she will only ever be a fantasy writer? I’m grateful she didn’t otherwise we wouldn’t have the Cormoran Strike detective series. Interestingly, I note that Rowling was aware of this problem, since she gave herself the Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Obviously some writers prefer to stick to a particular genre and that is fair enough. I however am more narratively promiscuous. I have written children’s adventure novels (Uncle Flynn, Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge), children’s science fiction novels (the George Hughes trilogy), and children’s fantasy/horror (the as yet unpublished The Faerie Gate). Thanks to the urging of my youngest son, I’ve even recently dabbled in children’s animal fiction (Echo and the White Howl – watch this space on that front).

In addition, I have written novels for grown-ups in genres including science fiction (Children of the Folded Valley), thrillers (The Birds Began to Sing) and horror (The Thistlewood Curse). I have other unpublished works in the above genres, as well as fantasy. At one point, I even released a teenage romance (Love vs Honour).

In the end what unites my work is not genre but recurring themes, which I have spoken of several times on this blog. Religious oppression, mistrust of authority, abuse of power, existential crisis, paranoia… All of these and more crop up in the above works on a fairly regular basis. The treatment may differ, depending on genre and readership, but for some reason I feel the need to return to these themes time and time again.

Then again, I am not the only author who wrote again and again of particular themes. For example, Charles Dickens wrote constantly of lost father figures, no doubt a result of his own father being imprisoned for debt. I would also argue that Dickens wrote in a variety of genres. The point is, by having themes rather than genre as a unifying factor in my work, I am at least in good company.

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