Crossing the genres

Kylara Vatta from Trading in Danger, Elizabeth Moon Eowyn, Lord of the Rings,  JRR Tolkien Carina Mitela, PERFIDITAS, Alison Morton

When I started pounding on my keyboard, I just wanted to tell a story. There’d be adventures and Romans, a heroine, a love interest, good guys and bad guys, a ton of action and romance, friendship and enmity, comradeship and purpose. And, eight books later, that’s what happened.

But there was a problem…

The publishing/book trade rather likes distinct genres; they suggest that the fiction book-buying public likes to know what it’s getting – a thriller or a romance or a historical or a science fiction. I had to decide in 2012 what slot or genre my first book, INCEPTIO, fitted into if it was going to be marketed successfully. Which shelf would it be on in the bookshop?

The first choice was romance or thriller. But the speculative Roman elements gave it a strong historical bent, so was it historical fiction or alternative history? Could it be adventure fiction or perhaps coming-of-age? And as it involved modern Praetorian Guards, would it slip into the military fiction mould? Whatever it was, it was going to run all over a number of categories…

What is cross-genre?

Essentially, fiction that blends themes and elements from two or more different genres. In contrast to single genre, it offers opportunities for opening up debates and stimulating discussion in ways that single genre books wouldn’t. ‘Genre-busting’ is a more dramatic term used occasionally in reviews, blurbs, marketing and on retailer product pages. And one that’s becoming more popular in the publishing world.

Some examples of cross-genres

Adventure thriller
Action comedy
Comedy thriller
Comic fantasy
Comic science fiction
Crime fantasy
Dark fantasy
Historical crime
Historical romance
Military science fiction
Paranormal romance
Romantic comedy
Romantic fantasy
Romantic suspense
Science fantasy
Science fiction Western
Urban fantasy
Combine (mash up) any two, three or four as you like!

Why cross the genres as a writer?

Creative people don’t always feel comfortable working within the confines of an established category. Some of their best stories fall between the cracks. Many an author has written a terrific, well-crafted story with emotional punch; their agent loves it, their publisher loves it but they don’t know how to package and market it. But quality cross-genre fiction has the huge advantage of potentially reaching more readers by appealing to multiple audiences.

Today, thanks to the rise of online booksellers and the easy access to digital publishing and driven self-publishing, there’s plenty of room on the infinite virtual shelf for books that defy conventional categorisation. Readers, not publishing conglomerates, are the gatekeepers and can feast on new and exciting story concepts which have few boundaries. I’ll often get a review that starts, “This isn’t my usual reading, but…” or “I wouldn’t normally read out of my usual genre, but…”

Althist/crime  Historic/fantasy Literature/horror Historic/crime Romcom/crime Scifi/comedy

The essentials of successful cross-genre fiction writing

Choose one genre as head girl/head boy. Using a primary genre and following its traditional conventions gives the story a main framework and will make marketing easier. It also helps you focus as you develop the plot, especially if you are a pantser rather than a plotter. When you bring in other genres, keep an eye out for their conventions or you’ll annoy readers who know those genres well.

Use your essential writing skills and your previous writing experience. Just because you are spreading your story across different conventions doesn’t mean you can skimp on good writing,  editing and research. But if you’ve successfully written in another genre, e.g. science fiction, and decide to write historical romance, you already have well-developed world-building awareness and skills which are essential in any historical fiction. And you are aware that conventions/rules apply to every genre.

Ensure your characters are strong, deep and flexible enough not to be tethered to any one genre.  Characters should be able to stand on their own two (or four) feet. Of course, they will need to follow some genre conventions, but ask yourself this: if you were to pluck your character out of the novel and set her/him down in an entirely different place/time/circumstances, would the reader still care what happens to her/him?

What happens in practice?

Well, I plumped for ‘thriller’ as the main category for my books, adding ‘set in an alternative historical timeline and with a dash of romance’ where I could. So I market  the Roma Nova series as thriller, alternate(iv)e history, historical fiction, romance, adventure, espionage and anything else I can think of.

  • Thriller – action, tension, huge problems, a quest, fights, fast-pace
  • Alternative history – ‘what if’, speculation, other worlds, imaginative settings and politics, strong conventions (Downside is that a vast number of ‘althist’ stories feature Nazis/Second World War or the American Civil War.)
  • Historical fiction – Romans, historical foundation to the social and political setting, Latin names
  • Romance – (of course) there’s an epic love story with plenty of bumps along the way but the characters are more realistic with emotional relationships and the high stakes that go with it.
  • Adventure – each book has a slight gung-ho, ‘into the unknown’ element and who knows what might happen to the heroine?
  • Espionage – the characters are mostly involved in intelligence, undercover and special forces operations
  • Anything else – swapping gender roles, which is fun!

Crossing and mixing genres gives you not only creative freedom, but a marketing edge. You can write a vast range of posts on your own blog, appear on different genre groups as a guest, gather knowledge and expertise in many fields, widen your writing skills and offer something extraordinary to your readers.

What’s your experience?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series.

Download INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Jan Edwards researching 'Golden Age' crime

Today’s guest, Jan Edwards, is an award winning author with titles that include Winter Downs (Arnold Bennett Book Prize) and Sussex Tales (Winchester Slim Volume award).She also has a BFA Karl Edward Wagner award. A Sussex native, Jan now lives in Norths Staffs.

Her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies across the UK and USA. She was a script writer for the Dr Who DVD and book Daemons of Devil’s End. Jan is also an anthologist with the award winning Alchemy Press, co-owned with her husband Peter Coleborn. Their latest anthology is The Alchemy Press Book of Horror.

Jan tells us about writing In Her Defence, how she came to write the Bunch Courtney Investigations, and why Golden Age crime?

Over to Jan!

“Vintage Golden Age crime has always been a favourite read, so it’s not surprising that my Bunch Courtney Investigations ended up in that vein. The first in the series, Winter Downs, established Bunch Courtney and DCI Wright as the ‘phoney war’ ended and 1939 became 1940. The latest case, In Her Defence, has moved on to May 1940.

Though In Her Defence echoes something of our modern dilemma, it was not intentional. Because the main news items for May of that year 1940 were Churchill becoming PM, Dunkirk and the internment of enemy aliens, they came naturally to the fore. Murder remains the key issue along with a running theme for Bunch of the testing of old friendships and of course her abiding obsession with all things equine. It’s also a fascinating period for social change as Bunch watches her cloistered, pre-war, life rapidly dissolving. She knows that it will never return.

I am often asked how much research I carry out into the war years, and the answer is quite a lot. I’m a bit of a research geek and do get a huge kick out of tracking down minutiae so it is never a chore. I can spend happy days seeking details that have been largely forgotten and my internet search history can be colourful.

For In Her Defence it included the names of popular brands of rat poison; SOE training manuals; 1940s auction prices paid for stock; the various colours used in ration coupons; guns and their ammunition; common makes and models for a butcher’s van; agricultural machinery;  or ‘Donkey stoning’ a doorstep.

Knowing what it is I need to add in is usually a matter of seeing some small snippet and following it to the next shiny thing. Very little of the information unearthed ever finds its way onto the page but it’s always an eclectic list. I throw nothing out because it could still prove useful. I suspect the goal is the same for any historical writer; to have their characters convey the reality of their workaday world but without leaving tedious info dumps for readers to trip over.

Another question I am asked a great deal is the precise location of the Courtneys’ country house. I have written a number of Sherlock Holmes stories so I took a leaf from Conan Doyle’s book and have been vague on the exact location. Storrington and Brighton exist of course, but though I drew on places known to me in my Sussex childhood the village of Wyncombe does not exist. Why? Because when for argument’s sake, you set a pharmacist in a chemist shop in any large town few people will question it. Being raised in a tiny Sussex village I realised people would tell me with great certainty that in Loxwood or Kirdford or some other hamlet it was never so – possibly because they are the son or daughter of that very chemist! Hence Wyncombe came to be out of sheer cowardice on my part.

So what next? I love writing about Bunch Courtney, and she has many more cases to investigate alongside Chief Inspector William Wright. Books 3 and 4, which are already well under way, will be taking Bunch and Wright into 1941. There is also a short DCI Wright story linked to Book 3 that may emerge as a giveaway, so watch my blog for news on that.”

Thank you, Jan! I share your fascination for research and for getting that research right.

In Her Defence is out on 4 April 2019 and will be available to order in paper and digital formats from all major suppliers, including Amazon  US /UK/ AU, Indie Bound; Book Depository; Wordery; Waterstones.  Also on Apple, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo and others.

Connect with Jan on her website:

Twitter:  @Jancoleedwards

What’s In her Defence about?

Bunch Courtney’s hopes for a quiet market-day lunch with her sister are shattered when a Dutch refugee dies a horribly painful death before their eyes.

A few days later Bunch receives a letter from her old friend Cecile saying that her father, Professor Benoir, has been murdered in an eerily similar fashion. Two deaths by poisoning in a single week. Co-incidence?

Bunch does not believe that any more than Chief Inspector William Wright.

Set against a backdrop of escalating war and the massed internments of 1940, the pair are drawn together in a race to prevent the murderer from striking again.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

The political author's dilemma

Bit of a tricky one, this.

Whatever genre you write, something of you, the author, creeps into your work. Perhaps it’s shades of your opinion, your wishes or even your frustrations. Perhaps you are writing a story that you wish you were living in a far, far away place and time.

At the very least, your ways of expression imbue your story. Your language and selection of vocabulary will slide in, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. And your choice of worldview, the slant you put on events, will be there.

Now that’s all fair enough; you are the creator of your book and its world. Some readers will love it, some it will leave cold, others will hate its guts (Hopefully, not too many of those!). We would be a very boring people if, sheep-like, we all liked the same thing or the same book.

Coryn Redgrave as Sir Walter Elliot (BBC)

Inside the book, characters can express every kind of view – political, moral or social. They can outrage, amuse, annoy and give joy to the other characters. An author can have enormous fun playing around with characters and their ideas.

One character I would have LOVED to have written is the pompous and self-absorbed Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall (Persuasion, Jane Austen). I have to admit there are aspects of him in Lucius Mitelus Superbus in PERFIDITAS. 😉

So, that’s the book world where you can do virtually anything. But what about you, the author?

As readers have bought your book and paid to come to an event to see you, it’s your duty as well as commercial sense to be pleasant and approachable. I love chatting to readers, and I can talk about the world of Roma Nova until the cows have come home, been milked, slept and gone back out to the fields the next day. This is a total pleasure for me, but for some shyer authors it can be difficult as they are often incredibly modest and self-deprecating about their work. But that’s part of the author’s job and readers are often curious about the writer’s life and ideas.

Being anything but authentic as an author is not a good idea; it’s deceptive and unfair to your readers. They want to read about and meet a real person. I imagine it’s quite hard work keeping up a false persona and you’re bound to come unstuck at some point. But an author doesn’t have to reveal their inside leg measurement, number of fillings or how often they did their child’s homework for them. They can sift what they want to tell readers, but what they make public should be true and genuine.

But should they express political views, especially in these febrile political times?

My EU hat in 1999. I won a competition with it!

Passionately held values and ideals are part of anybody’s personality; they are often what makes somebody unique, or at least remarkable. Many things contribute to these – upbringing, education, experience at work and in relationships – and however careful an author is publicly, something will slip through. That’s being human.

However, expressing strong views whether it’s about Brexit, American elections, financial scandals, climate change and other large-scale events can be a double-edged sword. Some readers, whether in Real Life or on social media, will like you standing up for a cause, some will disagree and some quietly unfollow you. Others will buy all your books, or vow never to touch another one. That’s the risk.

But if you stay neutral on everything, you run into the danger of looking characterless; a person of no view and no emotional side to them. And the second possible risk is that you may look rather bland and as if you bury your head and have no interest in the world around you.

Given the inflammatory nature of social media, and some of the unspeakable people who lurk there, I can understand the reluctance and sincere wish not to become embroiled. But that’s not me. Being a ‘political animal’ from my earliest years, I do tend to get involved in things. As I get older, I find the urge stronger. I aim to be calm and polite, analytical and informational and rant only very, very occasionally.

I am an author who likes to sell her books, and I hope I don’t put anybody off, but the freedom to express my views is such an intrinsic part of me and a privilege which I’m not giving up any time soon.

People’s Vote march, 23 March 2019 with statue of Churchill (Photo: Caroline Owen)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

Historical mystery novelist Susan Grossey says 'knickers'

Today’s guest is Susan Grossey, the inventor of Constable Sam Plank, one of my favourite law enforcers. “I have been in love with words ever since I realised, at age three, that those squiggles on the page actually meant something,” she says. Susan edited the school newspaper and managed to do lots more reading and writing at university (where, of course, she studied English). In real life, she runs her own anti-money laundering consultancy, which gives her plenty of opportunity to write a great deal about her very favourite subject – money laundering.

In her spare time, she can be found haunting the streets of 1820s London, in the company of magistrates’ constable Sam Plank. He is the narrator of her series of historical financial crime novels set in consecutive years in the 1820s – just before Victoria came to the throne, and in the (fascinating) policing period after the Bow Street Runners and before the Metropolitan Police.

Over to Susan!

I never expected to find myself writing a series of books. The first Sam Plank adventure, Fatal Forgerywas originally written from the point of view of the crooked banker at the heart of the story, but I just couldn’t warm to him. And I realised that if I didn’t like him much, then neither would any (at that time, imaginary) readers. Although the darn thing had taken me two years to write (I have a full-time job and do my writing at weekends) I bit the bullet and decided to write the book all over again, this time narrated by the man who arrested the banker – magistrates’ constable Samuel Plank. And I really warmed to him! So much so that, once Fatal Forgery was finished, I realised I couldn’t bear to let Sam go, and so I decided that he could have a whole series of adventures – seven in total.

I’m writing number six at the moment.  They are set in consecutive years in the 1820s and, with a small band of recurring characters living in one city in a small window of time, I have had to become quite an expert on urban life in Regency times.

Being a pedantic person at heart, and always infuriated when I find historical inaccuracies in whatever I am reading or watching (Don’t get me started on how Ross Poldark, no matter how fetching his torso or how warm the day, would not have scythed shirtless.), I am obsessive about getting the details right.  I research and research and research, and then research some more.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop researching and start writing. The ideal for which I aim is to know everything myself so that I can drop little details into the text, almost unobtrusively, so that the reader believes them absolutely and is being steeped in the Regency world without realising it.

One of my recent research projects was into knickers: Sam’s wife Martha had to undress and I wanted to be sure that she did it right.  It is sometimes rumoured that women of Martha’s generation did not wear knickers.  That is not strictly true: by the end of the eighteenth century, under-garments (no-one said “underwear” in those days) for your average woman would have included drawers.

Drawers were two separate leg pieces gathered into a band below the knee, tied around the waist, and – ahem – with no join at the crotch.  It would have been a bit breezy, but certainly saved time if you were caught short. Incidentally, the two legs detail is why we still talk about a pair of knickers, when it is actually only one garment.

Over her drawers Martha wore a chemise – a plain cotton shift a bit like a modern nightgown, and performing the same function as a slip today.  Martha, like all women of her time and class, bathed rarely, and washing her chemise was considerably easier than washing what went over it, so it served to absorb her sweat and protect her dresses.  And over the chemise went her petticoat, to give shape to those dresses and to keep her warm.

Martha also wore stockings, but not the sheer, lacy-topped things we might choose today.  Regency stockings were knitted – usually in thick wool but occasionally (and expensively) in fine silk.  There was no suspender belt to hold them up and so they were tied around the leg just below the knee (with a garter or ribbon), with the top of the stocking folded down over the garter or ribbon – as a result, they looked rather like modern knee-socks.

We cannot leave Martha’s undergarments without talking about her bust. The bra was not invented until more than a century after Martha would have needed it. Instead, women in the Regency era were slightly luckier than their Victorian daughters in that they wore only short stays (or corsets – both terms were both used) rather than the long ones.

Short stays stopped above the hips and were laced at the back in a zigzag fashion using one string and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the breasts. They were tricky to manage alone: if a lady had a maid, lacing stays was part of her work.

Ordinary women helped each other (mothers and daughters, sisters, etc.), and in my books Sam rather enjoys dealing with the removal of Martha’s stays.  What they choose to do next is none of our business.

Connect with Susan
For more research updates like this one and on life in Regency times, sign up to her monthly newsletter
Follow her blog:
Sam occasionally ventures an opinion on Twitter as @ConstablePlank

What’s Faith, Hope and Trickery about?
Rose Welford, the wife of a bootmaker, is smothered in her bed in the summer of 1828. Her husband quickly confesses to the crime, claiming that a message from beyond the grave told him to do it. At ever more popular gatherings in fields, factories and fine houses, a charismatic preacher with a history of religious offences seems to be at the heart of it all – but who, and what, can be believed when fortunes are at stake?  In this fifth novel in the series, Constable Sam Plank is drawn into matters beyond his understanding when his wife Martha hears a message of her own and his junior constable Wilson makes a momentous choice.

Amazon UK   Amazon US

Faith, Hope and Trickery has been shortlisted for the Selfies Award 2019 – the winner will be announced at the London Book Fair on 12 March 2019. (Best of luck, Susan!)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

Helena Halme's top tips for writing in another language

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Helena Halme to my blog. A former BBC journalist, bookseller and magazine editor, Helena is a prize-winning author who writes contemporary Nordic fiction. Originally from Finland where she gained an MSc in Marketing, she also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes in English.

She has published eight fiction titles and two non-fiction books, including Write Your Story: Turn Your Life Into Fiction in 10 Easy StepsHelena acts as Nordic Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and helps other writers publish and market their books.

As a linguist myself, I’m fascinated by her experience of writing books in another language!

Over to Helena…

When I tell people I’m a writer, originally from Finland, they often ask me what language I use. When I tell them I write in English, the next query inevitably is ‘How do you do that?’ So after years of talking about this subject, I’ve finally put together a book on How to Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps. Here is a short summary of my top tips on writing in another language.

Use Your Unique Voice
The one important positive in writing in a foreign language is the different voice you can achieve. As a non-native speaker, you have a certain degree of detachment when writing in another language. Use this distinctiveness in your favour. Even if you don’t set your books in your native country, you can still use your uniqueness in your style, characterisation and plot development.

Get the basics right
When writing in a language that is not your mother tongue, it is vital to get the grammar and use of language right. Even if you’re looking to use a specific style or a completely new voice, it’s important to follow the most common rules on grammar and spelling.

Ask a Native Speaker
Those whose mother tongue you are using can often spot mistakes, such as wrong prepositions or clumsy word order, quicker than you can. So before you send your work to your editor, ask someone – a friend or colleague – to have a quick read-through of your text.

Ignore Your Inner Critic
When you know that your natural inner editor isn’t as effective in the adopted language as it is in your mother tongue, it’s easy to overcompensate by being too careful when writing. This slows you down and blocks your creativity, so I recommend that you try not to let your inner critic stop your flow. Remember that the first version of your manuscript, whether you are a native speaker or not, is just a draft. Ernest Hemingway famously said ‘The first draft of anything is always shit’!

Read What You Write
When I began writing in English, I didn’t stop reading books in other languages. I’d always been proud that I could read novels in the language they’d first been published in, be it Finnish, Swedish or French. But during my MA in Creative Writing, when I didn’t have time to read anything but the English texts that had been given to me, my writing improved and became more fluent. Now, sadly, I avoid reading books in anything else but English.

You may be an exception in this. There are many multilingual authors who can switch languages easily. But, if you are struggling with writing, it’s worth ‘switching off’ the other languages in your life. Immersing yourself in the language you write in may make a huge difference to you.

I hope you have found this very short rundown of my top tips useful. I believe that using different languages enriches your life and through that your writing.

I couldn’t agree more, Helena, as a speaker of several languages myself!


You can find Helena online:


More about Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps 

A guide for non-native writers packed with practical tips to make it easier to write in another language

  • How to strengthen your language skills
  • How to ensure your text is free from errors
  • How to use software and other online tools
  • How to take advantage of your ‘foreigness’
  • How to avoid your inner critic and let your words flow
  • How other writers use a second language for inspiration

Update 29 May: Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps is now out – get your copy here.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter