Other Humans Are Just Different Genres, Labelled Badly

Imagine that you are a writer of romance. Sometimes steamy, sometimes so heart-breaking that grown men in their forties have scowled at you on the street.

Then, imagine that all the people who don’t regularly buy books – which, in case you don’t know, is a far larger number than the book-buying public – think that every single book in the romance genre, including yours, is the exact same as Fifty Shades Of Grey.

If that means nothing to you, let’s say, then, that you are a parent. You are but one out of billions of parents around the world. However, let’s say the biggest cultural event in parenting this year is the blockbuster Mommie Dearest. Suddenly, all non-parental people think that you behave like the titular Mommie. Whenever they see you, they shield their dogs (and it’s nothing to do with your sheepskin gilet).

Last week I was riding high on a post about fiction genres which went viral. (I love going viral: it’s so much better than having a virus, or giving someone a virus, or even being in the general vicinity of a virus, which can be exhausting, particularly when you’re trying to pretend you’re not repulsed).

It went nuts for 36 hours. Pure delighted with myself, I was. And then it was Friday night, and the eyes of the world were on Paris, and Europe looked different.

Other Humans Are Just Different Genres Labelled Badly

Look. You lot are thinkers. In general, people who read blogs are thinkers. You’re open to different points of view from the mainstream, even if that’s partly because you’re a bit left or right of centre anyway. So I’m probably preaching to the converted, here.

But I’ve been looking at social media for the past week, and the reactions to events in Paris, throughout Europe and the Middle East, and even on Facebook (if you can call that a place, and the thought doesn’t depress you enough to stop reading immediately).

All this insanity makes blogging about other stuff really hard. And yet, I suppose everyone has their different thematic approach.

After a week of Europe looking different, and after seeing stuff I both agreed and disagreed with, and stuff which made me feel righteous, and stuff which made me feel disgusted, and stuff which made me feel sadder than a kid whose parents refuse to let him watch The Late Late Toy Show, I started thinking about it all in terms of fiction in general, and fiction genres in specific.

I got to thinking about how so many fiction genres are badly labelled. And how human beings go around labelling EVERYTHING. We see something new or foreign, we try to work out how we feel about it, and 2.9 seconds later, we’re trying to hammer that square peg into the round hole in our brains which says “INSERT BROAD GENERALISATION HERE”.

 Other Humans Are Just Different Genres Labelled BadlyAnd that’s why, after Fifty Shades Of Grey, the long-awaited answer to the question of what women actually want apparently became “a psychotic billionaire who abuses them”. It’s also why women’s fiction is flouncy stuff which only women would want to read; it’s why all social media is vacuous and narcissistic; it’s why all bankers are pitiless and corrupt; and it’s why, in Western Europe this week, all Muslims are terrorists.

I know it’s hard not to do this. For instance, there is one particular suburb of Dublin I really don’t like. I’ve yet to encounter somebody from this particular suburb who hasn’t been a total pain in my arse. Still, I don’t meet new people from this suburb and immediately sneer at them. This is not because I’m fabulous (hardly: I just dissed an entire suburb). You could say it’s because I haven’t met enough of its people to judge. But really, it’s because I understand (unfortunately) where they’re coming from, just because we look the same.

All other cultures or religions are just a different genre. And perhaps you and I just haven’t read it yet. And perhaps the current bestseller in that genre is just a terribly poor representation of the genre.

There is plenty wrong with the world at the moment. And, also at the moment, it looks like it’s getting worse. If only we might stop making broad generalisations when we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about.

Other Humans Are Just Different Genres Labelled Badly

Because by generalising all the time, we’re playing into the hands of the bad people, on both sides, at the same time. We’re being manipulated by the very people who disenfranchise us – and I’m not talking about refugees, here. It’s people like you – yes, you with the job and the penchant for mood lighting: be it through the control of wealth, power, or territory, you too are being disenfranchised by tiny numbers of people. It doesn’t matter where you live, these days.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the thought of being taken for a fool, and then being treated like an amoeba, and going through it all with a fist in the air saying “Yeah! Too right!”

Perhaps, refusing to slap a label on an ill-fitting genre might be a start in the counter-revolution against the ongoing propaganda war which every single one of us is losing.

* Please note: No gingers were harmed in the first image in this post. Tara Sparling Writes does not sanction cruelty to gingers.

I Hate Women’s Fiction And I’ll Tell You Why

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

Hey, you! Yes, you there, with the marketing degree! Or you, Creative Director with that massive advertising agency; hell, even you, person who spends more time than is healthy shouting at the TV when terrible ads come on, because you could do better. (Four monkeys with bad head colds could do better, you admit, but that’s not the point.)

I have a job for you. Are you ready? Good.

You have no time whatsoever, and 55% of a regular marketing budget, to repackage Women’s Fiction and sell it to the reading masses as something which is just as good as Men’s Fiction.

Because, well – you know Men’s Fiction, right? The genre listed on all the annual bestseller round-ups? You can see it right there, can’t you? Just underneath the 74th biography of Steve Jobs – which is listed as a ‘Biography’ – you can see it. It’s in the top ten. It’s written by a man. And it’s listed as ‘Men’s Fiction’.

Except of course it isn’t. Because Men’s Fiction isn’t even a thing. Most booksellers (except Amazon) pretend that Women’s Fiction isn’t a thing, either, by not specifically listing it as such, because they know it’s patronising and insulting to female readers, who make up a significant majority of the reading public. But just try, as a female writer, to sell a book to an agent or publisher and get away from the term ‘Women’s Fiction’. You can’t. Because behind the official lists, it’s the biggest genre there is.

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

I’m on this current box of detergent primarily because of the buzz around the film Brooklyn, which opened last week, starring Saoirse Ronan, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, amongst others. It’s based on a book by Colm Toibín, a longtime literary darling of this parish. It’s about a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s. It’s about her life and her loves, her duties and her choices. The book was a smash hit. It was lauded from here to the washing machine and all the way back to the arts review. The film looks like it’s going that way too. It’s all very lovely, really. Except I have a problem.

If Brooklyn had been written by a woman, would it have been a smash hit? Would it now be an internationally distributed film? And would anyone have cared one whit for a story about a young woman and her domestic struggles, if that young woman had been created and written by another woman?

I don’t think they would. My belief is that even if Anne Enright had written it, it would have been seen as a lady’s story. For ladies.

I’m not trying to take away from Toibín’s status as a writer of considerable skill and intuition. But I do have a fundamental problem with the fact that if a man writes a book which has within it themes such as love, marriage, family and anything even vaguely domestic, it is Literary Fiction; but when a woman writes about the same issues, it is immediately labelled Chick-Lit.

If she’s very lucky, and her actual writing is considered to be above average, she gets upgraded to Women’s Fiction, which is a bit like flying business-class with a budget airline. The seat is still too small, and everything still costs extra, but you don’t get slapped on the way in and an attendant makes the effort to patronise you on the way out.

I Hate Women's Fiction, And I'll Tell You Why

Even if she’s writing about war, mental illness, abuse, disappointment, or iron-mongering; even if her prose is so beautiful that it leads three politicians to vow never to sin again; even if nobody has ever mapped human frailty before with such devastating wit – just as soon as she sticks any romantic plotline in there at all, it becomes Women’s Fiction.

Why? Why is any book written by a woman, which contains two or more people who feel unquantifiable positive emotions about each other, automatically classified within the greater Romance category? Why does this happen when the relationship between these characters is only one factor driving a more complex plot?

More importantly, why are books written by women about feelings, or family, automatically marketed as books which only other women will want to read?

And yet there is hope: a few genres have managed to climb out of this murky stereotyping. Crime / Thriller fiction by women has been kicking some serious ass lately. Young Adult Fantasy generally doesn’t sell along hard gender lines either, and Historical Fiction very often doesn’t care whether the one wielding the pen has a Y chromosome or not. But somewhere along the line, General Fiction has somehow become Genderal Fiction. And female authors are battered from it.

And so, to those who didn’t answer the call to arms in the first paragraph (good grief, you must have no horror of poor advertising, but I’ll bet you’re happier) I make a different request of you.

Stop saying ‘Women’s Fiction’. Please. You’re killing us.

I Hate Women's Fiction And I'll Tell You Why

How To Know If You’re In A Historical Fiction Novel

How To Know If You're In A Historical Fiction NovelIt’s been a while, ladies and gentlemen… remember How To Know If You Are A Chick-Lit Heroine? Or How To Know If You’re A Cop In A Crime Novel?

Not to mention How To Know If You’re In A Young Adult Novel, and my personal favourite, How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel.

Well, following on from various musings on historical fiction a few weeks ago, the plight of the historical fiction protagonist has been rattling around in the old brain.

You see, sometimes, when life is going just a little bit awry, we like to take refuge in the past, because the past is full of certainty. But what if our present woes feel like history is repeating itself? What if current events seem just too predictable to be true? Could it be possible that you are not in fact real, but rather a character in a historical fiction novel?

Take the test, and find out.

How To Know If You're A Character In A Historical Fiction Novel

12 Ways To Determine If You’re A Character In Historical Fiction

1.  You have encyclopaedic knowledge of the major world events of your time. Seriously. You’re like the 6 o’clock news, only you have things completely in context. It’s almost like you’re understanding them a century later or something.

2.  You delight in explaining the most mundane and rudimentary things: such as your toilet, your breakfast, and your underclothes. It’s most unseemly for your time period.

3.  You go barefoot, a lot. It is because you are such a free spirit. Or one of the starving poor. Take your pick.

4.  Both you, and indeed everyone you meet, is either good or bad. There are no in-betweens. It’s very useful, because layered, complex characters can really interfere with your plot.

5.  You have between one and three outfits. Each warrants detailed description, right down to the type of fabric used and the spacing of the stitches (rich folks) or the number of holes (poor folks).

6.  You are infuriated by a particularly rude person. This will become awkward later, when you are marrying them, or when they save you from penury and evil.

7.  Either you are an orphan, or several people vital to your life story are orphans. There are orphans everywhere. It is very sad.

8.  You have an uncanny and almost academic expertise in one occupation, be that cathedral-building, pickpocketing, war stratagems, cloth-milling, or the invention of the steam engine. It’s almost like you researched it, but of course that’s impossible, because you can barely read.

9.  You live in either a world-renowned city or a very small village. You do not live in a medium-sized town. Nobody lives in medium-sized towns.

10.  You rebel against the conventions of your age. These conventions and the restrictions they impose seem perfectly normal to everyone around you, indeed they are barely noticeable; but you rebel against them anyway.

11.  You are obsessed with cutlery.

12.  You are 78% more likely to die than major characters in other genres.

How To Know If You're A Character In A Historical Fiction Novel


0-2/12:   You are real: however, you are very old-fashioned. Download an app, and update yourself.

3-7/12:   You are the hero of a historical fiction novel written in the first half of the twentieth century, which makes you doubly historical. Congratulations.

8-11/12:   You are the heroine of a historical fiction novel written in the last twenty years. Only time will tell whether this is a good or a bad thing.

12/12:   You are in Downton Abbey. Sorry you’re out of work, old boy.

Tark And Mara Create Post-Bloggerism

Tark And Mara Do Internet Popularity And Create Post-Bloggerism

“I’m tired of blogging.” Tark pushed the 24 carat gold-plated Macbook away from him. Autumn sunshine danced through the stained-glass atrium of the Dublin penthouse, making a disco ball of Tark’s unwitting head.

He looked at his wife, who was reclining on the 18th-century chaise longue upon which Marie Antoinette once gently farted following a massive feed of sugar peas. Mara was checking their bank accounts on her own-brand tablet (the iMara). She had been at it for a good ten minutes already, which was two minutes above the threshold at which she normally got angry enough to eat something. But someone had to make sure none of their bank balances fell below €100,000, and Tark was too busy making money by disseminating motivational quotes to people in remote areas of Indonesia.

“Everyone is tired of blogging, darling,” said Mara. “But we both agreed you wouldn’t stop unless your advertising income dropped below $10,000 a day.”

“But at what cost?” asked Tark. “Yesterday I saw a post – a 10-step guide to pouring a glass of water – get 493 likes in one hour. 493! I don’t even get that traffic from the kindergarteners in Burkina Faso I put on retainer to maintain the monthly hit count on our alcoholic vegan site! It’s all so shallow.”

Mara lowered the tablet and studied her husband levelly. “And for us, that’s saying something.”

“Yes, it most certainly is saying something,” said Tark. “Last week, someone claiming clinical depression whilst awaiting delivery of a free Michael Kors bag garnered 15,000 hits in a day. It contained no commas whatsoever, 32 malapropisms, and no fewer than 16 emojis. There should be standards for blagging, as well as blogging, goddammit. But it won’t change, as long as they keep sending these people free stuff.”

Mara swung her legs to the floor and sat up, taking care to re-arrange the layers of the Stella McCartney skirt deemed by Vogue to be too sheer for anyone with actual flesh. “This is your second crisis of confidence in six months, Tark. I do hope you’re not going to make a habit of it.”

Tark used a sulky finger to pick at the price tag they left ironically on the priceless 10×10 Jackson Pollock above the floating fireplace. “I’m not. I just don’t want our brand to be damaged by anything passé, is all.”

Mara walked to the window, her limbs lost in a tangle of equally wispy fabric, a spectral spectacular. “Remember the time when I realised that gardening crime erotica was falling out of favour? And my book sales were in danger of tanking?”

Tark examined his freshly manicured fingernails with deliberate nonchalance. “A little.”

“You told me to stop looking at yesterday’s news,” Mara continued, “And concentrate on tomorrow’s scandal. Do you remember? So I wrote that bonkbuster noir biography of Donald Trump overnight.”

“You did.”

“By the following week, I was top of the bestseller list once again, having been the first to publicly declare gardening crime erotica passé. What does that tell you?”

“That Donald Trump isn’t going away?”

“Don’t be witty, Tark. It doesn’t suit you.”

“Sorry, my prickly pear.”

“What I’m saying is, you have to change the conversation. And how do you do that? By stealing it, and junking it for parts – that’s how. You abhor shallow content. Ergo, you should be promoting no content.”

Tark tapped the knuckle of his index finger against his lips, and began to pace back and forth over the marble tiles they removed illegally from an archaeological site in Greece at the height of the financial crisis. After a moment, he steepled his fingers and tapped them against those self-same lips, his eyebrows puckering to an angle sufficient to cover both himself and his wife, who hadn’t moved her eyebrows naturally since 1997.

“No content,” he repeated.

“Yes,” said Mara. “After all, you cannot pour the water if the glass is empty.”

Tark held up a triumphant finger. “And you cannot sell depression if there is no free bag! You are a genius, my angel of acrimony! I can’t tell you how much I both love and fear you.”

Some noisy and wet kissing followed; but with gardening crime erotica now passé, it needs no description.


Three weeks later, Tark was on the cover of Forbes, his face dappled demonically with red light for their Hallowe’en special. A six-page spread described how the little-known Irish billionaire had become the founding father of “post-bloggerism”, the internet phenomenon where bloggers are paid not to blog.

“It’s a long way to come from a small, crowd-funded campaign, to what’s now a $724 billion-dollar industry,” said the diminutive businessman once credited with the invention of knitted anti-terrorism spectacles. “But once I realised how incensed readers were by inexplicable search rankings and shallow click-bait, the idea practically had itself. We started with a list of 100 bloggers who particularly drove us mad, and within a week, we’d collected enough to pay 24 million bloggers to shut the hell up. Our projections show we will reach 359 million further irritants by the end of the year.”

Tark And Mara Do Internet Popularity And Create Post-Bloggerism


A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)

That sounds awfully highfalutin, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s Saturday morning. Who wants to read about the history of publishing at this hour of a bank holiday weekend?

Don’t worry. I wouldn’t do it to you. I just thought I might share some resource news with you before I go into hibernation, because the clocks are going back on Saturday, all the leaves will be off the trees by Monday, and because, well, Ireland.

I read recently that the British Library made over 1,000,000 images (taken from old books) free to any and all users on the marvellous Interweb. It’s a fantastic resource for bloggers in particular, and I couldn’t resist fiddling around with some of them. So in the interests of passing on this marvellous information, here we go.

A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)


A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)


A Look Back At The Evolution Of Publishing With The British Library (kind of)


Have a lovely weekend. Zzzzzzzzzz.

The Past Is A Foreign Country: Why Historical Fiction Is Surging

The Past Is A Foreign Country: Why Historical Fiction Is Surging

A few short years ago, when the world was gripped by the throat by an ugly global recession, as opposed to just gripped by the goolies as we are now, fantasy fiction took off like a rocket. When times are bad, it seems, people want to go somewhere else in their heads, and that somewhere had vampires and shapeshifters, hellfire, sandals and swords, and, in the case of the Game of Thrones behemoth, an unholy amount of breasts.

When times are good, people like to read crime. Although we pretty much always like to read crime, it seems that nothing delights us more, when we’re spending our evenings rolling in money and pointing at poor people, than to read about dismembered women and the maverick cops who investigate their deaths.

I’m not sure anyone knows where we are at the moment. We seem to be in a state of suspended animation where everyone is very angry, but we’re not entirely sure at what. And I don’t know what it says about the human race as a whole, but the cultural result of this seems to have been a wholesale turn towards Historical Fiction.

I had a feeling, a couple of years ago, that Historical Fiction was due some sort of surge. But after a spate of consumption myself, I realised why. Historical Fiction is fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy or science fiction. The best way to suspend disbelief, and take a reader into another world entirely, is to haul them into the past. And then there’s the matter of pinpoint-accurate social commentary. Nothing can hold a mirror up to the present like a troubled past or a dystopian future.

The Past Is A Foreign Country: Why Historical Fiction Is Surging

And writers can get away with a multitude, when dipping into the past. Some of the best historical fiction novels are painstakingly researched and flawlessly executed: Wolf Hall, The Pillars Of The Earth and The Miniaturist come to mind. More aren’t. Loads of historical fiction novels have a tenuous foot in the realistic past, but are no failure for it.

L.P. Hartley said as a novel opener, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. And therein lies the beauty of the modern novel. A century ago, authors could get away with pages of intolerably boring description of places and journeys and buildings, because they had no visual media. Their readers had never seen Buenos Aires, or Kenya, or a large steamship, and were only dying to know all about them. But nowadays, we’ve seen everything. We watch travelogues from the Galapagos Islands, action movies set in the Antarctic, and space operas set in the black stuff. Where is left for fiction writers to explore, that readers cannot? The past: that’s where.

I’m a big fan of historical fiction. When I’m sad, or angry, or just plain bored, there is nothing better I like to do than to lose myself in a novel set during the Tudor excesses, the Napoleonic wars, or Victorian London. But I’m hungry for more, and I can’t wait to see what’s tearing up the bestseller lists in 2016. There will be 10,000 more World War I novels, sure. But in between, there will also be some gorgeous surprises set in times that nobody’s thinking about, which will go a long way toward explaining the state we’re in right now.

The Past Is A Foreign Country: Why Historical Fiction Is Surging

Why Facebook Trialling Their New ‘Dislike’ In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright HilariousTired of liking other people’s pain? Sick of ignoring boastful status updates instead of giving them the dressing down you really crave? Worried that a simple ‘Like’ won’t show how much you get your furthest acquaintance’s twisted sense of humour? Well, suffer no more!

Facebook have rolled out some new ‘Reactions’ buttons – animated emojis which can display a wider range of emotions than an EL James heroine – in a limited trial. And they’ve chosen to trial them in Spain and Ireland.

And Ireland.

Excuse me just one moment while I react to that.

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

Sorry. I just need another moment

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright HilariousWhy Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright HilariousWhy Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

Sorry. Just needed to get that out of my system.

If I were Facebook, I would not be trialling anything in Ireland. The social psychology in this country is not conducive to successfully trialling reactions to anything, unless it is some sort of ironic trial targeting circular arguments powerful enough to blow a whole in the space-time continuum.

And here is why.

1. There are no degrees of separation in Ireland

There may be only 6 degrees of separation between most people, but there is only ever 1 degree between anyone in Ireland. We are a very small, nosy country, which makes it impossible to give an honest negative reaction to anything when you know that your mother’s first cousin’s son works with the girl who just gave you rage, humblebragging about her angelic 3-year-old son’s fluency in Mandarin. This means the true implications of people using both the ‘Haha’ button (ironically) and the ‘Angry’ button (venomously) will lurk in the long grass until trialled elsewhere.

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

2. Facebook should know not to ask for Irish reactions to anything

Think about it.

Status Update: OMG my dog just died

Irish Reaction: No way seriously I just had a big feed of frankfurters


Status Update: Why oh why is the world such a cold, dark place?

Irish Reaction: You should probably pay your electric bill by direct debit, Bud


Status Update: Sooo happy what an amazing night!

Irish Reaction: U OK hun?

3. The Irish approach to social media is too self-deprecating for truth

In Ireland, every toddler (unless born on Dublin’s southside) is taken aside and taught that talking themselves up is an offence punishable by social death and public beatings. Children go through rigorous training programmes in the arts of The Inability To Accept Compliments;  Extolling One’s Faults; and  my personal favourite, Bribing Others To Occasionally Publicise Your Few Talents. This does not suit social media. We are forced to jump through so many hoops to announce good things and avoid bad things that every public pronouncement becomes a mille feuille so layered it may as well be written in hieroglyphics. Not the ideal testing ground.

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

4. The Irish are messers

The last thing you should ever do is let an Irish person know you’re using them as a test subject for anything. Tell an Irish person you’re testing them, and prepare for madness. No self-respecting data lover would ever make this fatal mistake.

5. Ireland is an island

They say no man is an island. Therefore no island can be representative of humanity at large. Unless you are ring-fence testing a new chocolate.


And so, may I just say to Spain: we salute you. The future of the Internet, and quite possibly world peace, depends on you. No pressure.

Why Facebook Trialling Their New 'Dislike' In Ireland Is Downright Hilarious

Side Note With A View To Reactive Inclusivity

What do you think of the new Facebook reaction buttons? Like? Dislike? Puzzled as to why there’s no confusion button? Do tell.