Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
There is one question guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of a certain type of creative – ‘What kind of stuff do you do?’ And it is a perfectly sensible question, which, once answered, provides you with one of the most useful things you can know about your own work. Musicians will invariably try and invent their own genre, claiming nobody else sounds like them; describing it as electro-swing-glitchhop-disco-gypsy-funk-prog, and actually sounding a bit like somebody playing Pink Floyd guitar solos over an Orbital album while an asthmatic didgeridoo player hacks up a lung. Artists will refuse to be drawn into even the most modernist of niche, while authors, not allowed the luxury of making stuff up, because marketing, will sigh and call it Literary Fiction (despite not wanting to be that highbrow/pretentious) since their story is neither Crime, Romance nor Thriller. Unless they write Young Adult dystopian fiction, in which case they go straight to GO and collect 200 pounds.
All people really want is a comparison to things that people are already familiar with – so the Pink Floyd/Orbital comparison is still the most helpful. I’m a musician as well, and have long since resigned myself to describing my music as like Billy Bragg – but if he’d sung for a tenuous alliance between Tangerine Dream and Motley Crue.
After finishing the first draft of my first novel – Weekend Rockstars – and sharing it around friends in publishing, I had hoped that they would tell me what genre it was rather than me having to figure it out myself, but alas, they were no help. One piece of excellent writing advice, if you are looking to make a career of it, is to choose a genre and write to the conventions, embrace the tropes, follow the formula and fame and fortune will be yours. But I just wanted to tell a story, which I did, and thought a good one. I just didn’t know where it belonged.
As I dug my way through the second draft, I realised that my protagonist needed a group of friends to mirror his experience, and as that group developed I realised something else. I was writing a Richard Curtis movie. I was writing a rom-com. This was not the great British Novel I had envisaged, this was fluff, rom-com is fluff. Romance is not serious fiction.
But hang on, would anybody read all the way through 1984 without Winston’s ill-fated affair with Julia? Without Marius’s borderline stalking of Cosette, would we carry on through Victor Hugo’s lengthy descriptions of the Paris sewer system in Les Miserables? Tolstoy’s tragic Anna Karenina would be nothing without unrequited love. The best fiction I have ever read is romantic fiction – and there’s some decent gags in all three of those. Rom-Com is serious literature.
Once I had reconciled that, everything fell into place. I was perfectly happy to put Weekend Rockstars in the Romantic Comedy section, and Gap Years, my third novel, will be joining it there. It’s a coming of age story, told in two first person narratives, with some jokes, some sex and some huge dollops of angst. I’ve tried very hard to call it Contemporary Coming of Age Romantic Fiction, but lets be honest, that reeks of electro-swing-glitchhop-disco-gypsy-funk-prog, and belongs in the bin. What you really want to know is that it’s a bit like David Nicholls, with a dash of Nick Hornby, and Richard Curtis could probably make a movie out of it.
19 year old Sean hasn’t seen his father since he was twelve. His mother has never really explained why. An argument with her leads to his moving to the other side of the country.
Martin, his father, has his life thrown into turmoil when the son he hasn’t seen in nearly eight years strolls back into his life immediately killing his dog and hospitalising his step-daughter.
The one thing they have in common is the friendship of a girl called Rhiannon.
Over the course of one summer Sean experiences sexual awakenings from all angles, discovers the fleeting nature of friendship and learns to cope with rejection.
Martin, meanwhile, struggles to reconnect with Sean while trying to delicately turn down the increasingly inappropriate advances of a girl he sees as a surrogate daughter and keep a struggling marriage alive.
Gap Years is an exploration of what it means to be a man in the 21st Century seen from two very different perspectives – neatly hidden inside a funny story about bicycles, guitars and unrequited love.
Dave Holwill was born in Guildford in 1977 and quickly decided that he preferred the Westcountry – moving to Devon in 1983 (with some input from his parents).
After an expensive (and possibly wasted) education there, he has worked variously as a postman, a framer, and a print department manager (though if you are the only person in the department then can you really be called a manager?) all whilst continuing to play in every kind of band imaginable on most instruments you can think of.
Gap Years is his third novel – following on the heels of Weekend Rockstars and The Craft Room, and he is currently working on the fourth (a folk horror set in his native mid-Devon) and a sequel to Weekend Rockstars.
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Many thanks to Dave Holwill for his guest post and to Rachel’s Random Resources for other content for this post and organising the tour it is part of.