It’s not surprising when an author is asked this. It’s the question I have prepared for and practised an answer to hundreds of times. It’s the question I want people to ask me. But it throws me every time I am actually asked.
My book is like a person I know well: it’s difficult to limit my description to one or two main characteristics. In different moods, I want to emphasise different aspects of the story. To different audiences, I want to bring out the elements that are likely to be of most interest to them. Which is difficult when I don’t know the person who asked.
My novel, The Golden Hour, is hard to describe in common catchphrases. It doesn’t fit, as I’ve written before, typical marketing categories. Should I describe it as a ‘crossover’ novel (i.e. for audiences crossing from teen to adult)? Is it more a mystery than a psychological thriller, a contemporary drama or speculative fiction? It’s all of them. But that’s not what the questioner wants to hear.
It’s about a boy growing into manhood. Should I describe it as a coming of age story? It’s about living, dying, and how one influences the other. It’s a ‘what if…?’ about being stuck in a locked room. (That’s enough to put claustrophobia sufferers off!) It’s about how we react in crisis and how that affects others.
The novels I’ve been working on for the last nine years and haven’t finished yet are another case in point. They’re set in an alternative future, a dystopia, a place where technology is perfectly integrated and life is easy – if you’re willing to accept the limits of the totalitarian regime. These stories are also about a woman experiencing midlife crisis. She’s a journalist who has styled herself as an activist and is now facing the hard questions: ‘Have I made a difference? Is real change even possible in my lifetime? If I could do it differently, what would it look like? Can I find a way to make the rest of my life meaningful?’ Which of these factors is the best way I could describe these stories? Should I just describe the first novel or the theme of the series?
Then there’s the novella I have been planning for a few years and just started writing. It’s YA, speculative about parallel time zones, and explores the power of love to change the ways we believe. You can tell I don’t know this one very well yet – the previous sentence poured into the keyboard without a struggle. I can characterise it easily because I have only written one chapter and the outlines of the rest. Ask me in a few months what it’s about and maybe I’ll think of five things to tell you before settling on one.
But ask me anyway: What is your book about? I’d love to tell you.
Do you have something you have written (fiction, non-fiction, published or just personally significant to you) you would love to tell people about? Tell us in the comments. I’d really like to hear about it.