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On finding your themes

I'm off to a meeting later today, and for that meeting I've been musing on my writing and where it's taking me and how it has changed over time - and I think that's something that rarely gets mentioned, as if, once we start producing writing and putting it out there, we're somehow the completed article - that, that style, is ours forever.

My first books were zippy Space Opera, and very much of the genre. I love them very much and definitely plan to revisit the Abendau universe at some stage - but they're very different from what I'm mostly writing: stories set in the real world that combine our world with hidden worlds.

All of which started me thinking about what makes a writer go from one type of book to another. By that, I don't just mean the external trappings of genre, but something deeper - in my Irish books (primarily Northern Irish) I write a lot of description, of places especially. In Abendau my description is lighter, with much of it pared down in exchange for pace. And yet, I can flit between the two worlds and styles very happily.

The answer, I think, lies with Inish Carraig. That was the first book I wrote set in Norn Iron (it's quicker to write than the full name) and it did resonate very strongly with me, that I enjoyed writing about my land very much - and that I liked bringing something new to Norn Iron, too. That, if you like, the mirror of genre allowed me to write about things I would never normally touch (I hate politics - and I especially hate Norn Irish politics, and have no desire to add books to the ever growing discourse of why and how we are.) It was a book I loved writing, a set of characters I have huge fun with and a gang of reprobates I am enjoying the prospect of returning to (just as soon as I get a few months free to do so).

Since then, I've come to find my stories set locally are richer than those I write elsewhere (except Abendau - but that is my world, my private playground, and fully formed in my imagination. I've spent a lot of time there over a lot of years.) With Waters and the Wild (coming in July) I explore the land even further, delving into the past and the myths, and the people. I feel it has a richness my previous work hasn't quite had, a depth of exploration that I needed a little more confidence to achieve.

At this point, I consider myself to be more than just a genre writer, but also more than just an Irish writer. I feel that there is a dualism going on - I need to write both to fully explore the themes that appear to matter to me - identity, belonging, personal freedom and constraints, the shape of our minds and thoughts.

All of which brings me back full circle. It's taken around eight books for me to feel comfortable with my place in writing (a couple are in trunks - noteably neither set in Norn Iron - although I do hope to bring one out later this year.) It's taken experimentation to know what I want to write, and what I want to say - and it's taken me to go through the publishing process to become confident that I can say it, and that it adds value to the books already out there.

Which makes writing a whole new ball-game - when you find your place(s) and know the world that drives you, the story becomes more relevant, more real and, for me, infinitely richer.