Switching Gender…er…Genre

Twitter: @TrishaNicholson



Hell is a place where nothing connects with nothing. —Dante

In the last couple of years I’ve authored two travelogues, and a third, much longer one about Papua New Guinea, is in the pipeline. But this week, Collca released my science ebook. Science? Some people were askance. “But you’re a travel writer.  You can’t switch genre like that, your readers won’t know where they are.”

Can. Have done. So there. And I credit readers with enough intelligence to understand plain English and know exactly where they are when they read each of my books.

It can’t be helped: I’m an anthropologist as well as a writer of short stories, and a traveller, a keen tree planter, a sometime craft nerd, and partial to egg, bacon and beans. Like everyone else, I am made up a whole lot of elements in complex combinations, any of which might come to the surface at any one time and be picked up by the muse.

I’m a photographer, too, but you won’t catch me out there, either: I will photograph anything, whether it moves or not. Given the choice, I would rather stand on a box than be in it. And that is the key: ‘given the choice’.

From some friends’ reactions to my writing a popular science title you’d think I’d changed gender without warning. And that is where my tentacled mind found the idea for this little rant to express my frustration. I only recently discovered the meaning of the acronym LGBT (yes, I know, the result of a reclusive life-style). It made me smile because I thought: that’s exactly how I am about genre – a perpetual transitionist.

My rebellion began after reading Howard Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future.

I used to worry over admonitions to be clear on genre, so that readers and publishers know who you are. Name? Age? Genre?  In the early stages of putting together a collection of short stories a few months ago, I realized they contained murder, love, abuse, tranquillity, humour, tragedy and a dash of horror – sometimes all in the same story! What to do? The collection will have to be categorised. I will be asked: What are you known for?  I like to think I am known for being a whole person because real life is not divided into compartments.

My rebellion began after reading Howard Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future. One of those essential mind-sets that he describes is “the synthesising mind.” “The ability to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole…individuals crave coherence and integration.”

I could identify with that – what a relief. As I read on, it became clear that it requires more than simply having a mind that is ‘all over the place’. Synthesis demands system as well as breadth and creativity, but I could work on that. It is another label, of course, but this is a box without sides. As a result, I launched into my new science writing idea with gusto. From Apes to Apps: How Humans Evolved as Storytellers and Why it Matters is, in itself, a synthesis, of neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, biology, archaeology and anthropology, and I had enormous fun researching and writing it. If you’re making a switch, don’t do it by halves.

As genre divisions become narrower and firmer, we are in danger of weakening our creativity and producing books, and writers, that are little more than mushrooms all grown to uniform size and shape depending on the ‘growing medium’ into which they are planted – providing a diet that doesn’t do readers much good either. It represents a form of product standardisation to make the marketing quicker, simpler, easier and, presumably, more profitable for those at the top. But what does it do to the writers at the bottom?

Science is not the only approach to knowledge and enlightenment, but it is, literally, a wonderful one, that can be applied to most of life, and death.

This is the week for the global celebration of science, associated with the 201st anniversary of Darwin’s birth. Science is not the only approach to knowledge and enlightenment, but it is, literally, a wonderful one, that can be applied to most of life, and death. But science is at its best when scholars collaborate across disciplines. Darwin was interested in everything from flower stamens to pig breeding, with bones, beetles and birds thrown in. I would like to celebrate science as creativity that breaks down barriers, be they in gender, genre or academia, to appreciate the interconnectedness and complexity that makes us whole.

I’m a peace-loving soul not known for ranting, but this time I decided to come out of the box and stand on top of it to holler for a while. Feel free to heckle.



Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson is a non-fiction author and writer of some award-winning short stories. Four of her stories have been accepted for publication in anthologies. She is a keen photographer and uses only her own pictures on her website. Trish likes to vary her weekly blogs, which include book reviews, stories and writing tips among other topics.

In between writing she runs her Relaxation Therapy clinic and plants trees. Her background is in social anthropology and management training. Together they led her to spend 12 years working on aid and development projects and research in the Asia Pacific region before settling on a hillside in New Zealand. She lives in the ‘winterless’ Far North, just inside the sub-tropics where the sun shines even in winter and they pick oranges between showers.

Connect with Trish

Blog | Twitter: @trishanicholson

From Apes To Apps

From Apes To Apps


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9 thoughts on “Switching Gender…er…Genre

  1. Trisha,

    I love how you come out swinging on this one. You will not be boxed in and you will go where your creativity takes you. I love it! it reminds me of a quote I just read on Twitter via Anne Allen “write what you love and then figure out where it fits in the marketplace.” We are all complex creatures with many different facets and interests to share and we’ll all be richer to give ourselves permission to step out of our comfort zones and explore other areas.I appreciate your thought-provoking post. It’s nice to reconnect with you on Creative Flux.

    Thanks for bringing Trisha back,Terre!

    • Hi Kathy, it’s so wonderful to see both you and Trish on CF!

      The two of you have expressed the heart of creativity perfectly. I see many people online losing sight of their vision or getting caught up and frustrated by what they perceive to be rules. I’m not sure which it is. But I rarely see this happening in visual arts except competitively: when one artist is trying to measure up to another.

      And as you say, Kathy, “we are all complex creatures…with different interests to share.” It’s beyond me why there are those who attempt to curtail their expression to fit someone else’s ideal.

      We all have the inherent right to be ourselves. So, brava, Trish, for following your heart! And thanks for hollering out your rebellion here on CF. And thanks so much for stopping by to comment, Kathy!

      Happy Valentine’s to you both~*

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  3. Thanks so much, Kathy, for your encouraging comments, and yes, it is wonderful to be on Creative Flux again where we can express ourselves freely, I’m grateful to you,Terre for making it such a rich forum for ideas, and for sharing frustrations, too!. I love that quote you give, Kathy, from Anne Allen. It is so easy to get caught up in ‘what is selling right now’ – all those ‘how to’ books about giving people what they want, it can be hard to keep hold of why we are writing in the first place: an expression of our unique inner selves. And it is interesting that you say you don’t see this to the same extent in the art world, Terre. Books and stories seem to have been sucked-in to the ‘quick download’ of consumerism; art seems to have retained a different, more contemplative pace. Some of my short stories that have never ‘succeeded’ in the marketplace, are actually my favourites – I love them for their own sakes, and I am so encouraged by your responses that it is OK to do this!
    Happy Valentines to you both, too, sorry for delayed reaction – the time difference makes that unavoidable.

  4. Hi Terre and Trisha, It’s great to reunite with you both on CF. Trisha you have kickstarted the creativity discussion with your heartfelt and enthusiastic post. Cheers to you both and to embracing our creative energies. Happy Valentine’s Day to you ,too!

  5. Oooh I love this stuff – it was the strangest thing, in the first couple of years of my degree when I’d chosen to study human evolution alongside humanities, to discover that some material in both sets of textbooks was saying the same thing: that anthropology, biology and psychology have all proved that, as a species, we seek order; we are hard-wired to sequence, seek reasons, and format everything around us into terms of a beginning, middle and an end. We are seekers of narratives!
    Also I love two things you say here Trish: firstly the quote you used, ‘the ability to knit together information from disparate sources into a coherent whole’, seems to me to be the definition of a writer – certainly the kind of writer I strive to be,and the kind I admire, anyway and secondly, ‘Given the choice, I would rather stand on a box than be in it. And that is the key: ‘given the choice’’ : this kind of sums up many of the chats I’ve had about inclusion, equality and my hatred of putting people in boxes – that belief people have that once they know someone is Indian, autistic, lesbian, whatever, they automatically presume they know everything about them. So with your permission, I may use your quote (correctly assigned, of course!) when talking about choices and others’ expectations of us 😀

    • Hi Alison, thank you so much for visiting and reading, and especially for your wonderful comments. What you say ties together so many things – you are walking the talk – and such a liberation to find other minds who feel the same. I am fascinated by your study choice – to read evolution along with humanities – an unusual and far sighted decision which relates two fields so sternly separated by academia. And as you point out, it is key to tolerance and better understanding.

      You express that connection so clearly: “we are hard-wired to sequence, seek reasons, and format everything around us into terms of a beginning, middle and an end. We are seekers of narratives.” And underlying all that is the cause and effect which narratives give us. What I have tried to do in From Apes to Apps is to show the importance of seeking those reasons, causes and effects in a more critical way, simply because we are primed to latch onto and believe the narratives we receive. All narratives, stories, are based on a set of values – the moral premise of the story – and we need to suss them out rather than simply accept. I know we could ‘talk’ for hours about this, Alison 🙂

      Yes, please feel free to quote me in your discussions, and thank you again for your thoughtful contribution here.

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