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The Children of Schlock and Art: Nicholas Royle’s “Dead End”

There exists a silent debate about the relevancy of genre writing. Lisa Roney, in her creative writing text Serious Daring, attempts to categorize writing from the high-minded to the middle-ground (authors who are attempting to elevate their writing that otherwise might be considered schlock), and the schlock. Old school theory presenting as academic snobbery quote T.S. Eliot and revel in Shakespeare and talk about the beauty of the language and how one should write for serious readers and write for art’s sake. They are correct, by and large, even if their idol worship at the foot of the Bard ignores the fact that even Shakespeare wrote schlock and even his primary concern was selling tickets to the theatre. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the schlock, the author who writes for the paycheck, who might be quoted as saying “pay attention to the story, not the sentence” as if in direct antithesis to the academics, and to a degree I’d have to say story matters as well. Shakespeare understood this. He wrote stories that would draw in viewers from the lower class to the royals, and elevated his writing with fluid, adaptable language that might change from performance to performance.

But before I get too far on this soapbox, I want to draw attention not necessarily to the conversation itself, but how it is changing and how the discourse is repopulating the halls of academic creative writing.

Nicholas Royle is an author of at least seven novels and a short story collection. He has edited sixteen anthologies over a twenty-plus year span. He also owns Nightjar Press and works as an editor for Salt Publishing. That in of itself is an impressive pedigree, and if it was relegated to genre work alone, or if he solely focused on “literary” work, then one could simply shrug off the pedigree as an impressive resume in the confines of the old discussion.

But what helps set Royle apart is that his short story, “Dead End,” appears in The Best New Horror, Volume 25 and he has served as a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. These two juxtaposing ideas help define a man and his work, and a quick look at his biography and his credentials show that this isn’t a fluke in an otherwise stellar career defined by one side of the argument or the other. He has straddled the fence of literary and genre almost from his first book.

“Dead End” is a story that continues to do this. There is little supernatural in the short story about a man on a romantic holiday with a woman, save for the prescient dream as prologue to the rest of the events. The dream plays as a backdrop to a man torn between his feelings for this woman and his other, domestic, responsibilities. The prescient dream returns in the climax – ahem – of the story, just as violent, as explosive as the more intimate act. And just as jarring to the man and his life, when one considers his juxtaposing responsibilities. Two sets of priorities diametrically opposed to one another, like academic creative writing and genre schlock.

Occasionally there is a middle ground that covers both. Lisa Roney sees it. We see it in the writing of Mark Danielewski, Kelly Link, Nicholas Royle, David Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and many others. Perhaps it is time in this postmodern movement, as genres exists as parts of new pastiches, that it is time to recognize the craft favored in the halls of academia and the pleasure of genre writing.

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