Earlier this week, somebody for whom I have enormous respect commented that my fiction has a ‘commercial tone’. I have been reflecting on what this means. I recognise it – I have a sense of which novels have a commercial tone and which a literary one – but it is quite hard to define. Ideas about the priority of the urge to entertain, include and engage over the priority to challenge, stimulate and revitalise are floating around in my head but it is harder to pin down a conclusive set of definitions. Like bees and wasps, you know the difference the minute you encounter them but that difference is much harder to describe: one has slightly brighter stripes, a more segmented body, a more assertive attitude but they both buzz, fly, sting.
Funnily enough, my poetry tends to be described as the opposite: more literary, experimental, ‘difficult’ even. I guess this is not surprising as I have eclectic tastes in everything. Stephen King rubs shoulders with Gertrude Stein on my bedside table. My favourite art works tend to include collages of different materials, voices, tones. I am fond of bees (furry, Protestant work ethic, mythical) and wasps (feisty, in your face, street fighters). Not surprising then that, when I write, I wander along a continuum of tones and voices. So is this a problem to be addressed or a polyphony to be embraced? I will get back to you.
On another matter entirely, I wonder why it is that some people, when I mention the existence of my cat, feel obliged to say ‘Oh I don’t really like cats!’ So? Do they think I am going to chase after them and rub cats all over them in the mistaken belief that they are cat lovers? When people mention their children to me, I don’t feel under an obligation to say ‘Oh, I don’t really like children’ (I do like children very much, but I’m making a point here!). It is Ok. Really. I have not mistaken you for myself and assumed that we have the same likes and dislikes. Nor am I expecting you to shower me with kitsch cat-mugs and tea towels in the mistaken belief that because I have a bond with a particular animal I want to decorate my house with cat paraphenalia. Unless, that is, you are hoping for a slew of cartoon child Christmas cards and ‘Behind Every Parent Is A Successful Child’ t shirts (I have been given the feline equivalents!)
Right, I am lining up the cats here for some cat rubbing action. Watch out!