I’ve always wanted to be a writer
My Creative Writing PhD was one of the best experiences of my life, but as well as giving me some amazing skills, it left me with some pretty serious hang-ups about genre.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and when I was fourteen and read Lord of the Rings for the first time, it was game over. The first movie came out around the same time, and I was hooked. What was this world of danger and cosiness? I wanted in. It helped that I was brought up just down the road from some significant Tolkien landmarks – Sarehole Mill, where Tolkien was inspired to create Middle Earth from the scenery, and the University of Birmingham’s clock tower, which supposedly influenced Sauron’s Orthanc tower.
So, when I decided to go to university, picking a subject was easy. Creative Writing. I went on to do a Masters in it too, and then a PhD. Throughout my time at two universities, studying the craft and power of words, there was a subject that came up a few times. It’s something that I have repeatedly discussed with my own writing coach, too, who had a similar experience to me. It was this: Literary fiction is what you should be writing. Genre fiction is not respected in the same way.
The other day, while musing over this tricky subject, my writing coach asked me the following:
Would you rather win the Booker Prize or spend years writing fantasy?
Well, for me, it is the latter. But it’s not a decision I have taken lightly. I love literary fiction, and some of my favourite authors are experts in it. I have filled my bookshelves with literary fiction, and my first completed novel (let’s not mention the half novels that went before), written for my PhD thesis, was literary fiction too. But here’s the secret I have only had the guts to say aloud recently…I prefer writing fantasy. And that’s okay.
Fantasy first gave me that fire in my belly while I was reading. The first time I read Terry Pratchett, I could have wept with joy, the world-building was so much fun that all I wanted to do was turn the page. When I visited Hobbiton in New Zealand, I did weep with joy. It was real, and it was right in front of me. So, university was confusing for me. I saw other people hand in fantasy writing and get a negative response, and decided not to do the same. And then, when I had finally finished writing my first novel, handed it in and took a breath, I thought about what was next.
I realised that I wanted that feeling back. I wanted the fire, the joy, and the fun of creating a world and stepping into a life that had a little magic in it. The Finery (Fly on the Wall Press) flew out of my fingers and onto the page, and I rejoiced at the ease of it. Writing my first novel had been like pulling teeth (apologies for the cliché), but this experience was entirely different. Since then, I have tried my hand at literary fiction again, always harking back to that strange advice I was given at university. Again, a similar thing happened. I wrote 30,000 words, did a huge amount of research, and found myself floundering, unengaged and struggling. So, I took a break for National Novel Writing Month and began to write something I thought was fun. The Birth of Ida appeared before me like magic, its fantastical witchy plot weaving across the page. No, it would be best if you were writing literary fiction, I admonished myself, trying once more. The Dedworth Shame, my fourth novel, turned out to be all kinds of fantastical.
I am very proud of my first novel, The Second Space. It is a work of literary fiction that took me four years to write, and it speaks to many women’s experiences. But, I am just as proud of the novels that followed. They have a space on my bookshelf too. The Finery, in particular, is a book filled with joy, despite the difficult subjects broached. It follows centenarian Wendowleen Cripcot as she takes on a totalitarian government, flanked by an underground rebellion. It introduces the reader to Wendowleen’s world with the same comedic tone as Pratchett, filling the pages with the pleasure of a fantastical setting. My literary education has given me the skills to write, so I’ll use them to give others the gift that fantasy gave me: joy, intrigue, and the desire for a pint of ale at the Green Dragon.
(c) Rachel Grosvenor
The Finery (Fly on the Wall Press, £10.99, eBook £5.99) is available from all good bookstores from 25th August 2023
About The Finery:
Tyranny is in the air in the city of Finer Bay, and Professor Wendowleen Cripcot would like to be left alone, thank you very much. The memories of the last one hundred years are quite enough to be getting on with, if only these young upstarts from the government body, The Finery, would stop trying to control her every move. With the eyes of a dictator upon her, there are not many places to hide…but Wendowleen has never been one to back down from a fight (just ask her pet wolf), and insurrection is brewing underground.
Pre-order your copy online here.