People ask me what kind of books they are, and I usually say “fantasy” – but then I always feel compelled to qualify: “Well, it’s light fantasy,” or “It’s kind of a romance,” or “It doesn’t have any orcs in it.” Because, you see, when someone classifies a book or movie as “fantasy”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, and I suspect for most people, it’s Tolkien. Well, he did start the whole thing, really. Yes, yes, I know about George Macdonald’s Phantastes and that there were other fantasy writers before Tolkien. But he is the one who made the genre popular and who is unfailingly copied. Fantasy fiction, for the most part, means pointy-eared elves, vicious-looking orcs, and pseudo-medieval knights in more-or-less-shiny armour. There has to be at least one sorcerer and plenty of swords, and a dragon or other mythical creature is pretty much mandatory – that’s the essence of “fantasy”.
But my stories haven’t got any of that. Not a single pointy-eared person in sight. To date, in Ruph nobody even owns a sword, let alone has drawn it; and as for dragons, they’re mentioned once, in Chapter 6 of Cat and Mouse, but only in passing, when Cat is wondering if they’re real or just as mythical as in our own world (the jury is still out – Nikor, the librarian, thinks they might exist, but he doesn’t really care, as long as he has a good way of shelving the books about them).
So, the Septimus series is definitely not classic fantasy (nor epic, nor high, nor whatever other flattering epithet one might bestow on Tolkienesque fiction). So what is it? Well, there’s romance, in the first couple of books at least. But, then again, the books aren’t “romances”, either. No ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or lust in the dust (nor anywhere else, for that matter); no perpetual belly-aching about “he loves me, he loves me not”; not even the high-class tension-filled relationship dance of an Elizabeth and a Mr Darcy – this is not “boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy has to overcome obstacles to get girl, boy gets girl”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that storyline (I lurv me a good romance) – but Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse don’t really run along those tracks.
They aren’t fantasy. They aren’t romance. I’ve also had readers comment that Seventh Son feels like a Young Adult novel – but Cat is twenty-eight, hardly your typical YA teen protagonist. So, really, not YA either (which is at best a somewhat controversial category, anyway – is a YA a book for teens, or about teens? Just like the Ruphian dragons, the jury is still out on that one). And then there’s mystery in those stories, but nobody dies (or at least not mysteriously), and Cat is not a Ruphian equivalent of a gum-shoed, pipe-smoking and/or mustachioed sleuth who has to figure out whodunnit. So not mystery, either.
But what to call them? Because really, the Septimus books are fantasy. And they are romance, and mystery. Just not your typical example of either of those genres. And when I thought about how to describe these stories, a term popped into my mind: Cosy Fantasy.
You see, one of my favourite genres to read is Cosy Mysteries. You know, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers (to name just three of the queens of the genre): mystery novels which usually deal with a limited cast of characters (often in the typical English country house setting), have very little violence (and what there is of it, usually happens off-stage), and above all, focus on people and their relationships.
And that’s exactly what the Septimus series is like – but in a fantasy setting. So I coined this phrase, Cosy Fantasy, to describe my books – and then I found out that I’m by no means the only one who has come up with that descriptor for this kind of stories. Goodreads, for one, has whole lists of books that fit into that category (which is exactly where I’m going to go next time I’m looking for a good new read).
But here’s another snag: how to spell it? Is is Cosy Fantasy, or Cozy Fantasy? Goodreads, again, has two lists, one under each spelling – and they’re different lists. I have a feeling the Cosy Fantasies are the British ones, and the Cozy ones the American-published. Yet another dilemma – I’m publishing my books in Canada, though US venues (Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords), with British spelling… Cosy, or Cozy?
Life, the Universe, and Cosy Fantasies. All that matters is that you enjoy them.