Sunday, October 18, 2009

The art of ignoring it.

Blechta here to introduce our guest blogger this Sunday, Canada's own Susanna Kearsley who also writes as Emma Cole. She wrote her first noval on a dare from her sister and realized that writing was all she wanted to do. Her second novel,The Splendour Falls, won the U.K.'s Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize in 1993. As Emma Cole, Susanna writes crime fiction. Her book in that, ahem, genre is Every Secret Thing published in 2006. Read about her crime writing exploits at and her more "literary" exploits at You won't be disappointed!


Let's rewind a few days.

It's Thursday morning and I'm sitting at my kitchen table trying to compose this post, because I've been following the discussion here about the dishearteningly condescending behaviour of a certain CBC broadcaster and guest on a certain Sunday talk show, and I feel compelled to say something about it...but I'm trying to decide whether I really have the energy to wade into that quagmire of the "literary" vs. "genre" fiction thing, because for starters William Deverell has already said much of what I think (and more succinctly) in his essay on Canada's "National Snobbery Disorder" in the National Post last month, and because Peter Robinson has himself already given a rather neatly prescient reply to the CBC broadcaster's slur, in the wonderful second-last paragraph of this 2006 interview.

So it's Thursday, and being late in the morning on a school day, my seven-year-old son is home for lunch and sitting across the table from me, eating his grilled cheese sandwich, and while I'm sorting through my thoughts and feeling Righteously Indignant on behalf of all genre writers, my son starts telling me about his morning.

He's in second grade this year. In second grade, the kids have started splitting into little tribes. The halcyon days of kindergarten, when they ran and played together like a herd of buffalo around the fenced-in playground, are decidedly behind them. There are bullies. There are cool kids. There are loners. And my son is having Issues.

"Mommy," he asks me, "what do you do when someone doesn't want to play with you?"

I give him half my attention. "Well," I say, "you just ignore them. Play with someone else."

"But I want to play with Cecil and Percival." (Not their real names, you understand, but since nobody calls their children Cecil or Percival these days -- at least not in my neighbourhood -- I feel fairly safe in using them to hide the true identities of the boys in question) "I want to play with them," my son says, "but I asked them if I could and they said no, and they were mean to me." He frowns at the injustice as he takes a bite of sandwich and he asks, "Why don't they like me?"

"Well," I say, with a little more thought this time, "that's just how life is, sometimes. Not everyone you meet is going to like you. And that's OK, because there'll always be enough people who DO like you, that the people who don't like you don't really matter."

"Oh." This is a radical thought for a seven-year-old, that it might be OK if not everyone likes you. Seven-year-olds, much like writers, harbour a deep need to be universally liked. But he trusts that I know what I'm talking about, and when I take him back to school after lunch he's looking happier.

"Mommy," he announces, "I'm not going to try to play with Percival and Cecil anymore. I'll play with Hubert." (Again, not his real...well, you know). "Hubert," my son says, "is fun."

"Good for you," I applaud him. And watching him go, I reflect on the lesson I've just tried to teach him, and how it applies to this great literary divide that I've been thinking about. Because I know that, as a writer of genre fiction in Canada, no matter how many times or how nicely I ask the Cecils and Percivals of CanLit if I can play with them, the answer will most probably be "no".

I'll likely never be considered for a Giller or a G-G, or get a grant from the Canada Council, or be invited into the Order of Canada. But I'll get over it. Not everyone out there is going to like me. That's OK.

I've got a wonderful, supportive bunch of fellow genre writers round me who don't need to be convinced by constant argument that what I write is worthy of respect; who know that when the best of us are at our best, our writing rivals anything the Giller can reward. And that's enough for me. Those people on the CBC can be the mean kids on the playground
if they have a mind to.

I'll stay here and play with Hubert. He's more fun.


Rick Blechta said...

Thanks for the link to Peter Robinson's infamous Quill & Quire interview!

Jan Morrison said...

Thank you Susanna and thanks to your son. The "Hubert is fun" is exactly how I feel when I stop worrying about all the establishment monoliths and decide to just write what I like. And you know there is an upside to this. Mystery writers might not get the Gellers or the GG's but they get the readers and that is pretty darn swell eh?

Susanna Kearsley said...

I agree, Jan. And it just takes too much energy, sometimes, to try to change the mind of book snobs. I'd rather be writing :-)

And Rick, you're very welcome for the link. I love that comment. I remember teasing Peter about it afterwards and he said he hadn't thought the interviewer would actually print it! Glad he did.

Thank YOU for inviting me to be your guest poster today. (Though I'm sad to inform you my Kearsley books aren't really "literary" -- they're suspense, with strong historical and romantic elements, so squarely in the genre camp, I'm afraid...)

Hope your Montreal weekend went well.

K M Britt said...

Rather read a good mystery than any other book.

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