With the completion of the fourth and final book in The Courts of the Feyre I find myself at a cross-roads. Up until now I’ve styled myself as an Urban Fantasy Author, because that’s what I’ve written and it makes it easier for readers who are likely to enjoy my work to find me. For most people, though, urban fantasy isn’t a genre, and the words urban and fantasy simply don’t mean anything together. I might as well say goldfish collider for all the sense it makes to them. (Now I have an image of two goldfish swimming around a giant toroidal tank in opposite directions until they collide and scales and fins fly off in spiral patterns. That’s what an imagination will do to you. Be warned.)
So, while fans of the sub-genre rejoice in the subtle nuances between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, the rest of the world looks on in bemusement. At best they’ve seen True Blood or Being Human and assume that I write about vampires and werewolves, which isn’t far enough from the truth to be useful for plausible deniability. The last ten years have been spent writing about faeries - not the little darlings with the flower petal hats invented by the Victorians but the sort of faeries that suck the marrow from your bones and leave your head on a hazel spike as a warning to others. There are shape shifters in the Courts of the Feyre, and the Wraithkin might be considered predatory. They’re not vampires, but they do prey on others.
In the courts series I set out to weave together history and folklore and a sense of magic and mystery in the real world, and hopefully I succeeded. I could carry on writing about faeries. There are plenty of stories left to tell, and a willing audience to read them, and though the courts are finished there are some survivors. I’m not ready to do that, though. Not yet. I’m not saying there will never be another story set in that world, or with those characters that still remain, but not now. This is the cross-roads that I’ve reached.
The problem with urban fantasy, or any sub-genre of a similar nature, is that it’s circular. Urban fantasy inspires urban fantasy, which in turn begets urban fantasy. In defining itself it is chained to a rock, and the rock won’t move. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for innovation or originality - there are authors pushing at the boundaries and rattling the chains, but if they go too far they are no longer part of the genre and they risk ostracising themselves from their fans.
When I set out to write I made a choice. I wanted the sense of wonder that follows you wherever you go, but based in reality. That meant avoiding the love triangles and “will-she, won’t she” dilemmas of paranormal romance and the obligation-free rootless heroes and heroines the populate much of urban fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that - it can make a good story - but I wanted something else.
That meant that just because people had sex it didn’t mean they were in love. It meant characters with complicated messy lives filled with failed relationships, divorces, and responsibilities they would find it hard to walk away from. It meant people who made the same mistakes again and again - because that’s what people do. Redemption is the chance to break the cycle and start again, but while we may change our lives, we may forget to change ourselves, and it’s that struggle that I find interesting.
Ten years ago I was inventing characters - people that grew with me over four books and showed themselves for who they really were. I learned to walk in those people’s shoes and see what was in their hearts. Now I need to do that again, but with new people, taking everything I’ve learned and pouring it into a new mould. It’s hard to start again. It’s hard to walk away from ten years of foundation and structure, rules and constraints that are engraved on the inside of my head. But then it was hard to write about the funeral of a child, or to step into the head of a teenage girl, or to kill characters I’ve come to know and love. Writing’s hard, and when it’s hard it gets better.
As I stand at the crossroads and look back at ten years of work, I think I can be proud of what I’ve achieved. I didn’t revolutionise the genre, but that’s not what I set out to do. I did write four separate and distinct stories, each different from the last, each a development of what came before while standing on its own merits. I know this because I’ve read the reviews of people who started at book three and then went back to books one and two to find out how it came to be. I’ve stretched myself with each successive work, and grown as a writer each time. I’ve learned so much, and yet I can see I have much to learn. It’s a beginning.
I’m still working on what comes next - I’m not short of ideas. There are some interesting avenues to explore and I want to give myself the time and the freedom to build something new. When I started down this road I wanted to write about magic in the real world. Now I want to do something else, and I haven’t decided yet what that will be. You may think I’m being coy, but I’m not the writer with a drawer full of old manuscripts. Everything is new - it’s all developed from scratch. That’s daunting because I know how much work it is, but at the same time it’s exciting because it’s new and raw.
One thing I can say is that writing has changed me. When I started writing I had no idea how difficult it would be. Becoming a writer has changed the way I see the world - it’s shifted my perspective.
I can’t undo that - and I wouldn’t want to even if I could.
Thanks Mike for stopping by, and good luck with whatever project you decide to go with next.
You can buy the books from The Courts of the Feyre here:
The Road to Bedlam
Strangeness and Charm
The Eighth Court
For more information you can visit Mike Shevdon's website or follow him on Twitter @Shevdon.