A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

The Tradition of Genre Hopping by Bea Davenport

Let’s start with a question.

What do J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming have in common?

Answer: they all wrote successfully for children and also for adults.

Once you start searching for writers who straddle the two genres, there are more of us than you might think. I know there is a perception that it’s difficult to be successful at both, because of the reaction I get when I tell people I write crime fiction for adults and children’s fiction too. Almost everyone expresses surprise and some people are downright sniffy about it!

It’s an interesting phenomenon. There are countless examples of authors who write across a variety of adult genres, such as (in no particular order of merit or anything else) the late and much missed Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks, with his literary and sci-fi titles, Henry James, who both wrote serious novels and more playful and lighter works, and of course Peter Carey who has managed to excel at romance, historical fiction, western, contemporary fiction, and the rest.

But the perceived gulf between the two skills of writing for adult and younger age groups means that many people seem to think that by writing for both audiences, I am somehow breaking an unwritten rule.

Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling’s leap from children’s fantasy to adult contemporary fiction could not have had more attention, but there was a sense that she is big enough to try whatever she likes.  For the rest of us, it feels somehow more of a risk.

In fact, genre-hopping is much more common than you would guess. Here are just a few (very eminent) examples. Roald Dahl is famous for his enduring children’s tales and his adult short stories. Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond books and also the much-loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Meg Cabot writes women’s and Young Adult fiction. And Tove Jansson penned the Moomin series for children as well as some successful adult novels.

I’m not placing myself in the same category as these fantastic writers, but I’m using them to show that it can be done and you don’t have to be daft to do it. What I will acknowledge is that writing for younger readers is tougher. There are stronger parameters and a list of considerations about aspects like content, language and endings that don’t seem as fraught when writing adult fiction.

The funny thing is, of course, that non-writers often assume that it’s writing for children that would be easier!

I suspect it’s a branding thing: if an author is marketed as one thing, it’s tricky to market them as something else. But I think we need to credit readers of any age with a bit of sense – certainly enough to decide whether the book is aimed at them or not.

Do you ‘genre-hop’? Do you have a favourite genre to write in, and is one harder than another? I’d love to know other authors’ experiences.

Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, is to be published by Curious Fox in June 2014. The Serpent House is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House is Bea’s first novel for children, although her debut adult crime/suspense novel was published by Legend Press in June 2013, and it will be followed by another crime novel with Legend Press in 2014.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and one naughty cat.

2 comments on “The Tradition of Genre Hopping by Bea Davenport

  1. dragonmis
    March 31, 2014

    Hi Bea,
    Like you I write for kids and for adults. I always have done and find nothing strange about jumping from genre to genre. Some of my books, the Dragonfire trilogy and House of Shadows are under my name, but I do wonder if there is something to be said for using different persona for the different genres.

  2. barbarahenderson
    April 5, 2014

    That’s an interesting point. I was going to say something about that but the blog was getting a bit long! I already use a writing name and it seems to completely baffle people so the thought of using another made-up name filled me with dread! Will be interesting to see how people respond.

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