Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and fifty-fifth, is of fantasy novelist Irene Soldatos. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight (it’s free!), take a look at author-spotlights.
Irene Soldatos was born in Greece but moved to Oxford with her parents when she was six. After a few years, she moved back to Greece, but the damage had already been done: she was bilingual and bi-cultural. For the next fifteen years, her family saw it fit to encourage this confusion, and spent each year partly in one country and partly in the other.
Irene received a B.A. in English from the University of Athens, then moved back to England, to Leeds this time, to do a Master’s and then a PhD in Musicology. The move was intended to be permanent, but the opportunity to move to Germany with her husband arose, and she thought it was too good to pass by: a new culture to experience, a new land to see, and a new language to learn. It wasn’t supposed to be for long.
Eight and a half years later, Irene, with husband and two black cats, finally moved back to England. The move is intended to be permanent. But who knows? So was the previous one.
Irene reads a lot and very widely, both fiction and non-fiction, science as well as history. But she hasn’t been able to avoid the family history bug. There are three professional full-time historians in her family, so it isn’t surprising that she’s a bit of a history buff herself. Unsurprisingly she also loves music, but her tastes range from Motörhead to François de Couperin, and from Rammstein to Mahler.
She considers herself – and is proud to be called – a geek. She is a dedicated pen-and-paper gamer, and a vocal advocate of all things Open Source. She is also an archer, and has, in the past, trained with several of the Chinese weapons in her collection.
She always wrote, as far back as she can remember, but it was whilst writing up her PhD that, in an effort to stay sane, began writing more systematically and in earnest. This has led to two published works to date: a speculative fantasy, comic novella, Innocent in the Afterlife, and a full-length, historical fantasy novel, Bad Bishop. In the works, and in a completely different field, is a commissioned performance piece.
And now from the author herself:
Let’s talk about genre a bit, shall we? We’re human, and humans like to categorize, or classify, things. That’s how we understand and learn. The first person to categorize in what we’d call a scientific way was Aristotle, and hence he’s often credited with being the father of modern science (though he himself made some extremely peculiar errors. For example, he claimed that human males have more teeth than females. But we won’t hold that against him). By classifying, what we actually do is describe something, and compare and contrast it to other things. If they’re sufficiently similar we place them in the same category, if they’re sufficiently dissimilar, we place them in different categories. But it’s always important to remember that this categorization is just a description of something. We invent these categories in order to describe similar and dissimilar things. These categories don’t exist in and of themselves, and do not themselves dictate what things should be like. Literary genres are categories we have invented to succinctly describe different types of stories.
But we like categories so much we constantly go out and invent new ones. This usually happens because people shamelessly go out and invent new ways to tell a story, but this isn’t the only reason. Let’s just say that the word ‘marketing’ might also feature in the explanation. Also though, often, the ones we already have, we somehow confuse with actual real things that exist and to which new things we create have to conform to.
People often ask me, ‘What sort of thing do you write?’. Saying, ‘fiction’ (a perfectly valid category we have invented to describe stories that we have made up), is usually not enough. I have to classify ‘fiction’, with a string of other nouns and adjectives. That’s OK, but then some people don’t actually know what all these categories mean, and others have such set expectations of these categories that it’s difficult for them to conceive of something that’s somehow different, but still needs must come under this category, since there’s no more appropriate one. And expectations aren’t always good things.
So, I have written a speculative fantasy, comic novella, and a historical fantasy novel. At first glance, the common denominator is the word fantasy, so you could say I write fantasy. This would be true. But historical fantasy is considered a sub-genre of historical fiction, not fantasy. And speculative fiction, whether humorous or no, also encompasses the genre of alternate history. So, is the common denominator now the word ‘fantasy’, or the word ‘history’? Maybe I write historical fiction instead? This also would be true.
But wait. What if there’s the dreaded V word somehow connected with your novel? Won’t that automatically make it switch genre to ‘paranormal’? (Actually, apparently it won’t unless it’s either a romantic or a horror novel. That has to do with the fact that ‘paranormal’ fiction has its roots in Gothic fiction.)
I can almost see people rolling their eyes and willing me to stop. Does it matter? I hear them say.
Well, that depends. Categories shape people’s expectations. And expectations determine what people will choose to pick up and read. A category will also determine which section of the bookshop a reader will visit. Funnily enough, though historical fantasy is a sub-genre of historical fiction, the historical fantasy books will always be in the fantasy section in a bookshop. Does that matter?
The fact is that, when people ask me ‘what do you write?’, I can’t go into this kind of conversation we have had here, so I will have to just use the conventional terms and hope for the best. The same goes for when my books are listed under categories, or tagged, online. But if you really want to know what to expect with my books, think of them as speculations on history. Or, thought experiments, if you will. And don’t place too much importance on the genre category they might fall into. I didn’t either, when I wrote them.
I love to hear from readers, so do get in touch!
You can find more about Irene and her writing via…
- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bad-Bishop-Irene-Soldatos/dp/1908208171/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392043456&sr=8-1&keywords=BAd+bishop (Bad Bishop)
- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Innocent-Afterlife-Irene-Soldatos-ebook/dp/B00BO8RMI0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392043492&sr=8-1&keywords=Innocent+in+the+Afterlife (Innocent in the Afterlife)
- https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/368676 (Bad Bishop) epub
- https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/291517 (Innocent in the Afterlife) epub
and thank you to Irene’s publisher, Safkhet Publishing, for arranging this spotlight.
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Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
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