Horror? Fantasy? Mystery?…and does it matter anyway?

It seems to me we get hung-up on categorising books. Some people it seems, won’t even consider buying books labelled ‘paranormal’ or even ‘dark’, yet many who do are pleasantly surprised. Why? Because mystery, intrigue and some scary bits, stimulate all of our senses — and have done for thousands of years. You think the Minoans, Mycanaeans and Greeks didn’t scare themselves witless with stories of monsters and heroes and things that went ker-thunk in the night? Well of course they did.

Human nature is unchanging and those stories are at the root of all our stories today. Stories either oral, cinematic or glowing from your kindle, are just forms of drama. Often I see reviews beginning with something like, ‘I didn’t think I’d enjoy this because it was listed as paranormal, but I loved it!’ Or ‘ Horror and fantasy aren’t usually my cup of tea, but this was really engaging.’ You have to smile. We listen to scary/dramatic stories every day — from our friends, the radio and tv news and from our children when they relate some incident from school. We cry and we gasp and then pass-on the story to the next person who we innately sense will thrill to the drama of it. That’s what we do.

Increasingly we like our detective stories to be gritty and set in far-flung destinations - (remote noir it’s called…I think of Iceland)- our fantasy to be gorier and overtly sexy —( think Game of Thrones)- and our horror to be utterly visceral -(think the Japanese original of The Ring) but I wonder whether the escalation of the key elements of these story types has led to a kind of polarisation in book-buying habits.

Some people, while secretly desiring the midnight shivers they might get from reading horror, are just not game to try it. No wonder when you look at some of the book covers. Same goes for fantasy — while there are notable exceptions, there’s a lot of winged creatures and shape-shifters populating the genre. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But consider the job of the publisher today: he or she (and the reading committee) has to decide whether or not they actually like a book, and then categorise it and then sub-categorise it and then consider the likely hardcover, paperback and e-book markets — (all very different) and then how to correctly target precisely the right readers, predominantly through social media platforms and P.R. Phew! My personal preference?

I like books with a bit of everything. I like horror made scarier by the familiarity of the setting, I like murder mysteries but with a lighter touch to make them real, and I like fantasy that stirs the imagination with that ‘ you know, it could almost happen’ appeal.

And of course it will be no surprise to you that I like the timeless good vs evil concept which speaks to our humanness and the conflict imbedded in our DNA- the black vs white, the ying and the yang and the whole Stones vs Beatles thing. Wrap all those up and who cares whether the story is labelled as a mystery or a fantasy or a horror? Good stories should be all of those things artfully crafted to entertain us and lead us to recommend it to a friend whom we just know will enjoy the drama of it — regardless of the category the marketers might have chosen.