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 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.
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