Jane vs. Jane

I was reading Kara Jorgensen’s blog this morning, and it got me thinking. Today, she posted on “10 Bookish Confessions”, giving a list of ten facts about herself and her relationship with books (reading as well as writing them). Now, I’m not going to follow suit and give you one of those Lists of Ten, fun though they may be – some other time, perhaps. No, what got me thinking was the first item on her list. (The second item, her book-related charm bracelet, didn’t get me thinking, it brought a slightly greenish tinge of envy to my face. It’s just too cool.) Anyway, the point was: “My favorite classic is Jane Eyre.”

CharlotteBrontePortraitAnd that started my train of thought on Jane-Eyre-People vs. Jane-Austen-People. Jane vs. Jane. Just to be clear on that, Jane Eyre was not, repeat NOT, written by Jane Austen. Got that? NOT. I don’t know how often I’ve heard someone say “Jane Austen? Oh yeah, I love her books. Jane Eyre is great.” Uh, no. Yes, they’re both Janes and have something to do with romance stories from the 19th century, but that’s where the commonalities end. Jane Eyre is a fictional character created by Charlotte Brontë in the middle of the 19th century; Jane Austen is a writer who created fictional characters (including a Charlotte or two) at the beginning of said time period. But for some reason ignorant people (i.e. anyone not a rabid fan of either of those Janes) keep muddling the two.

IMG_20150427_123501Which is a travesty, because those two Janes are very different. Actually, Charlotte Brontë, rumour has it, disliked Austen’s writing (I know – how could she?). That should tell you right there.

I don’t mind Jane Eyre. I’ve read it a time or two (or three), and own a couple of the movies – I like the one with Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton; I have it on VHS, taped off the TV when you could still do that, and definitely would like to get a DVD of it. But I don’t love it like I love Jane Austen. Now, I know or have heard of several people who are absolutely crazy about Jane Eyre. Mr Rochester is their romantic ideal. Personally, I could take him or leave him – leave him, more likely. I don’t go for all that capital-D Drama, the overwhelming (and capital-P) Passion, the capital-everything-plus-boldface ROMANCE. I’m not sure what it is, but Jane Eyre is just a little too intense for me. I always skip over the first few chapters of the story, because I can’t handle accounts of child abuse, and I get the idea (that Jane’s had a horrible childhood) without reading every detail of it, thank you very much. So I usually start reading or watching at about the point where Jane becomes a governess, and finally has some control over her life. She’s a great character, of course – what a woman of strength! And what an ending! “Reader, I married him” – that line is almost as quotable as “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

Jane_Austen_coloured_versionAlmost, but not quite. At least for me. Actually, those two lines are quite indicative of the differences between the two Janes. See, one of the things that make me love Jane Austen’s novels so much is her sense of humour. Austen is funny. I mean, the first line of her most famous book is a piece of tongue-in-cheek satire! The Brontës, on the other hand, take themselves and their characters very seriously. Jane Eyre is nothing to laugh or even quietly chuckle at – her story is serious, heart-gripping, adrenalin-pounding, sweeping passion. Evil relatives, pathetic death scenes, hot-tempered despotic men, a catastrophic house fire, physical exhaustion to the point of nearly dying – it’s got it all. In Austen, the worst catastrophes you get are along the lines of a cad running off with a girl, another girl hitting her head when jumping off a rock wall, or a third having to ride the stage coach alone without a servant in attendance. Her death scenes invariably take place off-screen, and the only case of debilitating physical exhaustion is Fanny Price getting a IMG_20150427_123745headache from having to walk through the park in the heat. Austen’s heroes are always gentlemen, calm, rational and self-controlled. None of that Rochesterian “I must have you for my wife or perish!” stuff. Austen’s writing is full of what the Marianne of the 1995 Sense and Sensibility movie would disparagingly call “polite affections” – but Marianne would have found herself completely at home in Brontë’s world.

I can’t really make any definitive statements about the readers who love the Victorian Jane more than the Georgian one; whose imagination prefers crinolines and a bearded, autocratic Edward Rochester to empire waists and a smiling, civil Edward Ferrars, Mr Darcy or Mr Tilney. I only know that for myself, I’ll take Ciarán Hinds’ Captain Wentworth over his Mr Rochester, Jane Austen over Jane Eyre, because that’s the kind of person I am.

But I’m glad that both those Janes exist. Our world is richer for them.

Life, the Universe, and Jane vs. Jane. We each can choose our own.

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Friday Frivolities

Steve was complaining about not getting enough screen time lately. Also, about my terrible habit of procrastinating instead of writing. Well, I said to him, what do you want me to do – write, or put up a blog post with a picture of you? I can’t very well do both. He chose the latter. Which goes to show just how seriously I need to take him when he grumbles at me about my procrastination.

IMG_20150424_092134So here he is, looking dapper in front of my screen. Now that he gets double screen time – in front on my screen, and displayed on yours – hopefully that’ll keep him happy for a while. It’s really hard to write with those bearly grumbles coming from the corner of the room.

In other news, it’s a gloriously sunshiny spring day, which makes me feel happy. I know, you don’t really care – but I don’t really have much else to tell you today. Unless you want to hear about my frustration with the bank, who is making me go through an incredible rigmarole to get them to stop sending me paper statements for my line of credit? No, I didn’t think so. Sunshine and stuffed bears it is.

Life, the Universe, and Friday Frivolities. Have a lovely weekend!

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Once Upon an Austen Novel

IMG_20150420_090752We watched the new Pride and Prejudice the other day, the one with Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen. And it struck me just how much of a fairy tale that particular interpretation is.

I’d never really noticed that before. I watch Austen films very firmly with the books in the back of my mind, and because I know that Austen’s stories are a form of realism – they were “contemporary fiction” in her day – I expect the movies to be the same, i.e. to portray the Regency period in the most accurate light possible. And that lens of expectation has, so far, coloured every viewing of the story; I thought that what I was watching was a “historic movie”, and I was interpreting everything I was seeing accordingly.

But this time, the lens shifted. Maybe it’s because it was so recently that I watched the new Cinderella movie? You see, the 2005 Pride and Prejudice reminded me of it. A glorious big-screen romantic extravaganza, with poor girls on a farm and a rich man in a palace, emotions running high and gowns swirling wide, and of course the obligatory happily-ever-after.

On Saturday, we watched the movie on Netflix, which has the European version, the one that ends with Mr Bennet’s permission for Elizabeth to marry Mr Darcy – just so you’re forewarned, that variant deprives you of the saccharine candlelight-suffused American ending, in which Elizabeth invites Mr Darcy to call her “Goddess Divine”. Urrh, yeah. But that’s the thing (which had never occurred to me before): for American audiences, they had to tack on that ending to bring it to the proper “Happily Ever After” conclusion, because the story as they tell it here is a fairy tale.

Hey, don’t get me wrong: I’m an absolute sucker for happily-ever-after; I would have been disappointed when I first saw the movie in the theatre if it had ended with Mr Bennet chuckling to himself in his study without my getting to see Elizabeth and Mr Darcy radiating happiness together. I mean, the “Goddess Divine” line makes me gag every time – it’s so completely anachronistic and out of character – but I put up with it to see it stated, in no uncertain terms, that the Darcys are happy, and will remain so, well, for a long time after.

Not ever after, because this is a real story, not a fairy tale, but… Wait. It actually is a fairy tale. In English-speaking culture, and particularly in North America, Pride and Prejudice has taken on folklore status. What was a piece of realistic contemporary writing about the people in Austen’s own social sphere – ladies and gentlemen, the leisured, land-owning classes – doing what they usually did, which was try to find spouses to perpetuate their lines of wealthy landowners, has become a folk tale of a poor beautiful girl marrying the rich handsome prince – landowner-gentleman, whatever.

Every time I’ve watched the 2005 movie, I’ve worked really hard to look past those fairy tale elements and the details that proclaim (quite loudly) that this version is not a “historically accurate rendition”. And I really have had to work on it – apart from the above-mentioned gag-inducing line, there is the anachronistic hair styles (girls with their hair down their back! Agh!), people walking around in their night shirts (that means they were in their underwear, folks!), Darcy and Elizabeth shouting at each other, Mr Bingley visiting Jane in her bedroom… All completely out of line with the early 19th century upper classes. And then the odd gowns, which are kind of a cross between peasant garb, Regency empire waist, and mid-Victorian, to go with the men’s hair, which ranges from Georgian ponytails to Mr Bingley’s, umm, Tintin do. But most puzzling of all are the “dream sequences” – the dance at the Netherfield ball, when Elizabeth and Darcy suddenly revolve around each other in an empty ballroom; the scene in the Hunsford parsonage where Elizabeth watches in a mirror as Darcy walks in (in his nightshirt!), gives her the letter, and then vanishes again as suddenly as he came.

IMG_20150420_090924All of which says quite clearly, if you stop clutching your novel-induced blinkers, that we’re not in Austen’s England ca. 1813, but in that nebulous time and place called Fairy Land, Once Upon a Time. The gowns and flowing hair are not unlike the ones in Cinderella, and even the colours of some of the mise-en-scene are reminiscent of the fairy tale – there is Jane being innocent and ethereal in a pink and blue Little-Bo-Peep outfit; the walls and furniture of Longbourn not unlike those of Cinderella’s home in fairy land… Fine, there’s no fairy godmother waving a wand – but mysterious scenes of people popping in and out of rooms that bring about dramatic changes in characters’ attitudes, stunningly filmed sunrise or sunset scenes, sharp contrasts between messy Longbourn with pigs at its back door and palatial Netherfield and Pemberley – it’s all there. Pride and Prejudice has become a fairy tale for American audiences, and the 2005 movie plays up that aspect of the story to its fullest.

I must say that, having come to this realisation, I have a new appreciation for this film. It’s very different from the definitive 1995 miniseries (which will always remain my favourite), but this very fairy-tale quality it brings to the story has its own charm. My two literary passions meet in the middle – and that’s not only interesting, but kind of a good thing.

Life, the Universe, and a Jane Austen Fairy Tale. And Mr and Mrs Darcy lived happily ever after.

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Cross-Gender Writing Part II: Eleanor Harding Bold

IMG_20150415_133204You know how last time, I was saying that I hadn’t ever run across a well-written fictional woman from the pen of a male Victorian writer? Well, now I have! The lady in question is Eleanor Harding Bold, from Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers.

Actually, I had alrady met her several years ago during a course in Victorian lit.; I just forgot. But then last week, I took the DVD of the miniseries out of the library because I wanted to watch Alan Rickman play the marvellously slimy Mr Slope (or marvellously play the slimy Mr Slope, either way. It was his breakout role, from 1982; he’s so young there! Actually, he is what he should have been as Snape; I read somewhere that J. K. Rowling envisioned Rickman when she was writing Snape, and I’m sure if that’s true, it was him as Obadiah Slope she had in mind. The name alone suggests it – Slope/Snape). Anyway, so I was watching The Barchester Chronicles, and found myself thoroughly enjoying the characters, especially Eleanor.

From what I remember of the books, the film adaptation is reasonably close to Trollope’s original, definitely in plot line – so this is not the case of a late-20th-century feminist rewriting of the character, but comes straight from Trollope’s own imagination, ca. 1853. In both the books that make up the plot of the miniseries, The Warden and Barchester Towers, Eleanor features prominently as a key character around whom much of the action revolves, but it is in Barchester Towers (episodes 3-7 of the series) that she really takes on depth.

Very briefly, Eleanor Harding is the 20-something daughter of Mr Septimus Harding, a clergyman around whom the action of The Warden and quite a lot of Barchester Towers revolves. At the end of TW she marries Dr John Bold, only to have him die on her in the space between TW and BT, thus freeing her up to be the motivating love interest in yet another book (Trollope can get away with that – it’s totally believeable that a doctor in Victorian times would catch a fever from one of his patients and die before he is even thirty). So there she is, dripping, as they say, black lace and bombazine, and looking oh-so-desirable in her charming widow’s cap (one I enjoy about the miniseries is the accuracy of the costuming – lovely. That cap clearly demonstrates where the term “widow’s peak” for a particular hairline comes from). Slimy Mr Slope is all over her, sucking up to her very oiliy – not only is she pretty, she’s got money. Then there is the very amusing but shallow Bertie Stanhope, who is also after her money (but at least admits it freely), and last but not at all least the serious, steady and studious Mr Arabin, another clergyman, who isn’t sucking up to Eleanor at all because he doesn’t think she could ever be interested in him “in that way”, pretty and charming as she is. Trollope being a comedic writer, not a tragedian, you can probably figure out how it ends.

One of the interesting things about Trollope is that in these stories, he writes several characters of great depth – and they come in either gender. Mr Harding, Eleanor’s father, is the key figure, and he is a thoroughly good man, caught up in trials and tribulations of circumstance – but also of his own making: it is his innate honesty and integrity that cause him the greatest difficulties. If he was only willing to take a bit, to exploit some people and enjoy a little ill-gotten gains, he would have no troubles at all, and The Warden would have no plot. In Barchester Towers, it is in part Eleanor’s character which causes some of her own problems. In her case, it’s not so much her integrity and unwillingness to compromise her principles which cause her troubles, but like her father, in her sweet and gentle way she is unwilling to let others boss her around, tell her what to think, and dictate her life to her.

Mr Slope, as I mentioned before, sucks up to Eleanor, but he is a man who is thoroughly disliked by her family, for good reasons. Eleanor can’t really stand Mr Slope herself, but she is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, and when her brother-in-law tries to interfere and tells her to stop associating with Mr Slope, she gets absolutely furious and refuses to promise any such thing – not because she has any intention of marrying Mr Slope (eew!) but because she hates being bossed around. She almost messes up her relationship with Mr Arabin because she thinks he’s on her brother-in-law’s side, telling him off in no uncertain terms for his supposed impertinence in trying to tell her what to do (which gives him an admirable opportunity to prove himself a good guy by admitting that she is right). However, when Mr Slope tries to propose to her and won’t take “no” for an answer (shades of Austen’s Mr Collins!) she resorts to a resounding “box on the ear” (slap across the face), which finally gets rid of him. Eleanor is capable of giggling with girlfriends over people’s silliness, of a deeply loving relationship with her father without falling into Dickens-style saccharine tones, and of being thoroughly conflicted about how to deal with what life throws at her (a conflict which, in fact, makes up a great lot of the plot of the story). Eleanor Harding Bold, in other words, comes across as real.

And that, folks, is my discovery of a well-written female character by a male Victorian writer’s hand. They do, apparently, exist – I’m glad.

Life, the Universe, and Cross-Gender Writing. Check out Eleanor Bold – I think you’d like her.

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Cross-Gender Writing

As I mentioned last time, reading Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde got me thinking about what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, cross-gender writing: when an author writes a character who is of the opposite gender from their own.

Interestingly enough, both of Fforde’s series I’ve read so far, the Thursday Next novels and the Last Dragonslayer ones, feature a female protagonist. They’re great books – don’t get me wrong: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them (in fact, I’m still thoroughly enjoying them, as I haven’t finished reading either series). But one thing that stuck out to me about the Thursday in First Among Sequels is that she is, pretty much, a tough chick. Oh, she’s a loving mother and wife, very much so. But there is a certain kind of – I just have to say it – manliness about her. She’s a kick-butt leather-wearing gun-toting girl (who, at age 52 and after two pregnancies, still has a “devastatingly good figure and boobs to die for” [p. 346 of FAS]). Thursday’s calling in life is to go adventuring in the BookWorld; regularly pulling a gun with an EraserHead is all in a day’s work. Thursday is a man’s woman.

Now, one of the things that got me started on this train of thought quite some time ago was a post by Christopher Bunn on this very matter from the opposite angle. He’d noticed that a lot of male protagonists written by female writers are, kind of, women’s men, particularly when they appear in romance stories. (He then set out to write his “Sleeping Beauty” adaptation, Rosamunde, in part as an exercise in doing a female voice. Go read it and decide for yourself whether you think he succeeded; it’s a great little book overall, well worth reading.)

So when Christopher said that about female writers creating men in their own image, I started mentally sifting through some of my favourite literary characters, and I have to admit he is right. Many of my favourite literary males were written by women, and perhaps the reason they’re my favourites is that they’re idealised women’s men. Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey is one – he is eminently swoon-worthy, and never more so than in his romantic pursuit of Harriet Vane. Lord Peter is by no stretch of the imagination girly – but he is sensitive, cultured, caring, yet strong and intelligent… everything a woman wants a man to be, with none of those inconvenient traits like not wanting a woman to depend on him or being more concerned with the task at hand than with the woman’s feelings at the moment.

On the flip side, quite a few of the manly women written by male writers are, pretty much, what a man wants a woman to be (or so I imagine): tough, independent, beautiful/sexy (see “devastatingly good figure and boobs…” above), with none of those inconvenient traits like wanting a man to listen to her feelings or having physical issues like getting cramps once a month or morning sickness resulting from some passionate bouts of lovemaking.

IMG_20150409_170414

Steve and Horatio – a Bear’s Bear and a Tiger’s Tiger

This “writing characters in the image of one’s own gender” even extends down to children. Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching is one of the best characters he created (and he created many) – and she is one tough little girl, with an utterly unsentimental attitude to life (the very first time we meet her, she takes out one of the baddies with a cast iron frying pan. Bam!). Come to think of it, she is a childhood incarnation of another brilliant Pratchett character, Granny Weatherwax. You couldn’t imagine either of them cooing over babies or kittens (Granny has a couple of feeble cooing episodes in the first book in which she appears, but that flaw was speedily expunged from her personality). In fact, Granny’s friend Nanny Ogg, who is yet another tough broad, does coo over her pet cat Greebo – but he’s the roughest, meanest, nastiest specimen of feline you could imagine, so it’s a big joke. All of these women are far more likely to slap a crying person upside the head and tell her to pull herself together than to give her emotional support and a warm hug. They’re loving and care deeply about people, but it’s tough love – more the kind that is (stereotypically) doled out by fathers than by mothers.

Cooing, cuddling, and anything resembling emotional softness or sentiment, on the other hand, are castigated by both Pratchett and Fforde as “wet” or “soppy” – the girls (and it is always girls) who are prone to such exhibits are mercilessly made fun of. Yes, they do exist in the books – in Pratchett’s “Witches” series it’s Magrat Garlick, in “Thursday Next” it’s Thursday5, and in both cases they’re described as New Age hippie types who like to weave floral wreaths, wear unbleached cotton, and are annoyingly fond of hugging and emotional encounter groups; part of their character growth consists in getting over their emotionality – to become, in short, more of a manly woman.

A while ago I promised you a post on Charles Dickens, which I have yet to make good on. However, for now, here’s one of the points I wanted to make about Dickens: he can’t write female characters – they’re either perfect angels of light or corrupt, demonic slatterns. Dickens is in good company among his fellow Victorians in that; in fact, I have yet to read a male Victorian writer who could write a good woman. Sickly sweet, or evilly corrupt, those seemed to be the only two registers male Victorians had at their disposal for writing females; all the believable literary women were created by woman writers. (That’s not to say there aren’t well-written women that sprang from the pen of a male writer in the 19th century – just that I haven’t run across them. I’ve yet to read Tess of the d’Urbervilles – perhaps she meets the requirements? But then, she dies. I’m not sure that qualifies her for well-written – if you can’t be believable and live, well…)

I can’t really speak much to the issue of the believability of males written by females – I’ll have to take Christopher’s word for it that many of them don’t quite read true. But I think I know what he means, because I can see it in the mirror image of the female written by the male.

However, none of this means that I have a problem with those literary heroines. I love identifying with Tiffany Aching’s frying pan prowess or Thursday Next’s accuracy with an eraser gun (which reduces bad guys down to their phonemes). BAM! POW!

But it’s something to keep in mind, particularly as a writer – do I create my characters in my image, even just the image of my gender or of what I wish the opposite gender was like? Perhaps, to a certain extent, it can’t be avoided. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing – maybe in reading about and identifying with what an author of the opposite gender imagines or wishes a character of ours to be like, we can come to a deeper understanding of their perspective. Perhaps in having characters of one gender created in the image of the opposite one the gap between the genders can, in one spot or another, be bridged.

Life, the Universe, Manly Women and Womanly Men. Pass the frying pan.

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Thursday Next: Stories About Stories

IMG_20150409_121001I just finished Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next: First Among Sequels – book five in a series which is, incidentally, included on the Goodreads’ “Cosy Fantasy” list I mentioned last time. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been quite a few years since I read the first four books (starting with The Eyre Affair), so I’d forgotten a lot of the story – and even if I had remembered it, I don’t know that I appreciated Fforde’s work quite the same way then.

Just to briefly bring you up to speed, Thursday Next (that’s her name, not a reference to a day of the week) is a literary detective. She lives in an alternate-reality England, where part of the secret service’s job is to make sure nothing goes wrong inside the realm of fiction, otherwise known as the BookWorld. She hops in and out of books, interacting with the characters, who are actors putting on the story whenever a reader picks up the book – in their off time, they might be quite a different person than they appear to be when we read their stories – and Thursday’s role as JurisFiction agent is to keep order in the BookWorld.

Fforde’s stories are a feast for book nerds, especially if you’ve done any formal literary studies. That’s what I mean by possibly not having appreciated Thursday Next quite the same way when I read the earlier books – for one, I don’t think I was nearly as familiar with literature then as I am now and so would not have known as many of the books as Fforde is referring to (now, I get about 75% of the references); and for another, I wouldn’t quite have got the allusions to literary theory, or understood just how postmodern the stories are, let alone got as much of a chuckle out of that as I do now. They’re heavily self-referential – stories written about stories about the writing and reading of stories and so on; and they most emphatically do not take themselves seriously (for example, in the BookWorld, there are occasional chunks of back-and-forth dialogue without speech tags – and the characters themselves lose track of who’s talking: “Wait, who just said that? Was it you or me?”).

One of the aspects of First Among Sequels and the book that follows, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, is that they’re great commentaries on literary theories. Here, take this part:

“Reading, I had learned, was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work – the writer might have died long ago.” (p. 52, First Among Sequels. New York: Viking, 2007)

In the story, that refers to the fact that the BookWorld isn’t real, and only becomes so when a reader picks up a book and imbues it with their imagination. But actually, this is an excellent description of Reader-Response Theory (my favourite lit theory), and presented in a context which is a heck of a lot more interesting to read than dusty academic papers.

But don’t worry – you don’t have to have spent the last three years wallowing in capital-T Theory or have read your way through hundreds of linear shelf-feet of literary classics in order to enjoy Jasper Fforde’s stories. They are, above all, cracking good (and hilarious) stories.

Now, what I really set out to write about here, sparked by Thursday Next, was something entirely different – namely the issue of writers creating characters not of their own gender. Males writing female protagonists, and vice versa, and the effects thereof – Fforde writing Thursday Next, Pratchett writing Tiffany Aching, Sayers writing Lord Peter Wimsey… But I think I’ve drivelled on enough today, so I’ll save that for some other time.

Life, the Universe, and Thursday Next. It’ll make you think differently about reading.

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Cosy Fantasy – Or Is It Cozy?

SeventhSon_CVR_XSML I have a problem with my books: Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse, I don’t know what genre to stick them in.

People ask me what kind of books they are, and I usually say “fantasy” – but then I always feel compelled to qualify: “Well, it’s light fantasy,” or “It’s kind of a romance,” or “It doesn’t have any orcs in it.” Because, you see, when someone classifies a book or movie as “fantasy”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, and I suspect for most people, it’s Tolkien. Well, he did start the whole thing, really. Yes, yes, I know about George Macdonald’s Phantastes and that there were other fantasy writers before Tolkien. But he is the one who made the genre popular and who is unfailingly copied. Fantasy fiction, for the most part, means pointy-eared elves, vicious-looking orcs, and pseudo-medieval knights in more-or-less-shiny armour. There has to be at least one sorcerer and plenty of swords, and a dragon or other mythical creature is pretty much mandatory – that’s the essence of “fantasy”.

But my stories haven’t got any of that. Not a single pointy-eared person in sight. To date, in Ruph nobody even owns a sword, let alone has drawn it; and as for dragons, they’re mentioned once, in Chapter 6 of Cat and Mouse, but only in passing, when Cat is wondering if they’re real or just as mythical as in our own world (the jury is still out – Nikor, the librarian, thinks they might exist, but he doesn’t really care, as long as he has a good way of shelving the books about them).

So, the Septimus series is definitely not classic fantasy (nor epic, nor high, nor whatever other flattering epithet one might bestow on Tolkienesque fiction). So what is it? Well, there’s romance, in the first couple of books at least. But, then again, the books aren’t “romances”, either. No ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or lust in the dust (nor anywhere else, for that matter); no perpetual belly-aching about “he loves me, he loves me not”; not even the high-class tension-filled relationship dance of an Elizabeth and a Mr Darcy – this is not “boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy has to overcome obstacles to get girl, boy gets girl”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that storyline (I lurv me a good romance) – but Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse don’t really run along those tracks.

They aren’t fantasy. They aren’t romance. I’ve also had readers comment that Seventh Son feels like a Young Adult novel – but Cat is twenty-eight, hardly your typical YA teen protagonist. So, really, not YA either (which is at best a somewhat controversial category, anyway – is a YA a book for teens, or about teens? Just like the Ruphian dragons, the jury is still out on that one). And then there’s mystery in those stories, but nobody dies (or at least not mysteriously), and Cat is not a Ruphian equivalent of a gum-shoed, pipe-smoking and/or mustachioed sleuth who has to figure out whodunnit. So not mystery, either.

CatMouse_CVR_XSMLBut what to call them? Because really, the Septimus books are fantasy. And they are romance, and mystery. Just not your typical example of either of those genres. And when I thought about how to describe these stories, a term popped into my mind: Cosy Fantasy.

You see, one of my favourite genres to read is Cosy Mysteries. You know, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers (to name just three of the queens of the genre): mystery novels which usually deal with a limited cast of characters (often in the typical English country house setting), have very little violence (and what there is of it, usually happens off-stage), and above all, focus on people and their relationships.

And that’s exactly what the Septimus series is like – but in a fantasy setting. So I coined this phrase, Cosy Fantasy, to describe my books – and then I found out that I’m by no means the only one who has come up with that descriptor for this kind of stories. Goodreads, for one, has whole lists of books that fit into that category (which is exactly where I’m going to go next time I’m looking for a good new read).

But here’s another snag: how to spell it? Is is Cosy Fantasy, or Cozy Fantasy? Goodreads, again, has two lists, one under each spelling – and they’re different lists. I have a feeling the Cosy Fantasies are the British ones, and the Cozy ones the American-published. Yet another dilemma – I’m publishing my books in Canada, though US venues (Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords), with British spelling… Cosy, or Cozy?

I think for the time being, I’ll stick with Cosy, to go with the rest of my spelling. But if you would rather cosy up with Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse under the name of Cozy Fantasies, please do.

Life, the Universe, and Cosy Fantasies. All that matters is that you enjoy them.

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Filed under Cat and Mouse, Seventh Son, The Septimus Series, writing