It’s Valentine’s Day this Saturday and I, for one, am not a fan. But it always brings out the romantic reads on all the book blogs and reviews and papers and… well, everything, really. As I’ve never been a ‘romance’ reader, I used to ignore it all. But then, one day, someone pointed out that Pride and Prejudice would be classified as romance in today’s genre-pigeonholing days. And that made me reassess my reading habits.

There have been a lot of articles about the adverse effects of genre-pigeonholing in the news (see, for example, http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/jan/06/sick-lit-labels-literature-childrens-books?CMP=share_btn_tw ) and the lack of reviews of ‘women’s fiction’ in newspapers (see http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hannah-beckerman/reviewwomen2015-its-time-_b_6544206.html ).

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, at the end of last year, I decided to spend a month reading outside my comfort zone, which made me realise just how broad that comfort zone actually was. I read and enjoyed a memoir, some women’s fiction, a romance novel, science fiction and some Young Adult. And they all taught me things about writing, including the beauty of evoking all the senses (Anna Lynsey’s Girl in the Dark), alternating points of view (Sally Green’s Half Bad), combining romance and suspense (Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree)… I can go on for a mind-numbing while, but will spare you.

Still not convinced about dumping your genre for a while? Harper Impulse had an online Romance Festival this weekend (https://romancefestival.wordpress.com/ ), and I know of many non-romance authors who found their development day incredibly useful.

The point is, reading and interacting outside your genre is beneficial in expanding your understanding of what works and what doesn’t, in both fiction and nonfiction. Having said that, I’m now cosying back into my current mystery. Old habits and all that.