‘If You Write SF, Deny Your Genre’

Some people may have missed Brian Aldiss’ letter to The (London) Times on October 16 under this heading. He says:

Sir, At the Cheltenham Festival Margaret Atwood said that writers “are
likely to be compulsive wordsmiths” — presumably a way of saying that
writing is for some of us an expression of the life force.

Her life would have been more difficult had she not cleverly denied that
her early science fiction novels, such as A Handmaid’s Tale, were
science fiction. Had she neglected this strategy, there would have been
for her no more literary festivals, no more reviews, no more appearances
on BBC breakfast programmes.

It is a truth widely acknowledged that SF is not worth consideration by
sane minds. Kurt Vonnegut and J. G. Ballard have adopted Atwood’s
gambit. When Vonnegut grew tired of being a guru, he returned to SF and
wrote such brilliant novels as Galápagos. No reviewer spoke its name.
When — possibly because of my age — I was invited on Desert Island Discs
this year, I was told that SF readers were nerds who were poor and could
not “get a woman”.

(I was very tempted to use that last quote as the heading. Just for sport, of course.) Aldiss raises an issue that has plagued numerous genre writers down the years, from Stephen King to Terry Pratchett, who said that magical realism is fantasy for people whose friends went to Cambridge.

But to be honest, I enjoy that outsider status. One of the roles of genre fiction is to kick over the statues. We should celebrate that.

Tate Britain Appearance

Yesterday I gave a very successful lecture at the world-famous Tate Britain art gallery in London, entitled ‘Myth, Memory and the Art of Richard Dadd’. The event was a sell-out, and also pretty ground-breaking on several fronts. I was one of the first – if not the first – genre writer to be invited to the Tate to give a lecture for one of their rightly-acclaimed study days. And personally, it was one of the most high-profile appearances I’ve made.

I only have praise for the staff and academics at the Tate who treated both myself, and the genre, with a great deal of respect. Before the lecture, the audience toured the gallery to see Dadd’s work and many took the opportunity to ask me about my opinions on the artist and his work. After that I gave the lecture, touching on not only my interest in Dadd and my novella about his most famous painting, ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, but also about other authors influenced by Dadd – Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter, Robert Rankin and more. We followed this with an at times intense debate with an art historian about the meaning of Dadd’s work, and a couple of readings from The Fairy Feller novella.

The novella has gone from strength-to-strength since it won the British Fantasy Award four years ago. The limited edition by PS Publishing has nearly sold out, and the added attention from this Tate event has created interest from across the world. Now I need to find a mainstream publisher interested in reprinting it as part of a collection so it can reach a wider audience.