Genre and Voice Part 2 : Joanne Phillips, Sheryl Browne

Welcome to Part 2 of the Genre and Voice blog posts. Last week, we had a great post from Louise Rose-Innes, talking about her switch in genre, you can read her post HERE. This week I’m so pleased to welcome Joanne Phillips and Sheryl Browne, who have both written novels under the romance banner and, more recently, in the mystery/thriller genre too.

 Joanne Phillips


cupids wayI’’m often asked about why I chose to tackle a different genre (mystery) after being successful with romantic comedies. I think the implication is that my writing would need to be different – that I would have to find a different ‘voice’ for the mysteries. The answer to whether or not that is true turned out to be more complicated than even I expected! In many ways, my natural writing voice is the same in all my books – but of course, the characters are very different. My first two novels had first person narrators, so my voice was channeled through the filter of the main character – I’m not as funny or as interesting as Stella! The mysteries are third person, and here I feel authorial voice is more noticeable. But my writing style in general is changing as my writing improves. I’m studying for a Masters in Creative Writing, and I notice now that my approach to writing on the level of the sentence is very different to when I first started.

As for writing in a different genre, I think it’s great fun for authors to have a go at writing in any genre they enjoy reading. I love cozy mysteries; Iflora_v6__lighter_red_v5 had an idea for Flora Lively and so she was born. I also love reading contemporary romances – but I’m very a very fussy reader, and a romance has to have a lot of depth for me to enjoy it. That’s probably why my novels always have a more serious side, or explore serious themes – albeit subtly! My advice to anyone tackling a change of genre would be to study the expectations/structures of that genre and follow them, but when it comes to voice, to be yourself entirely. A new writer said to me recently that she didn’t like reading other fiction while she was working on her own first novel as she was worried it would affect her writing voice. I think this is a valid concern – we can unconsciously mimic writers we admire – but I advised against getting too hung up on it. It’s actually very difficult to copy voice, our own way of writing will always win out in the end. And that’s what makes us unique.

Joanne’s Website

Sheryl Browne

Sheryl_and_dogs_2 (1)

When I first started out writing many moons ago, choosing to write in different genres it seemed was a bit of a no, no. Even before social media madness, where online promotion became as essential as breathing, advice from those in the know in the publishing world was to establish a brand or platform, i.e. to stick to your genre thereby fulfilling reader expectation. So have I bucked the trend in choosing to write psychological thrillers alongside poignant romance? Have I confused people in deciding to continue to write both under my own name? Judging by the reviews, for which I am hugely grateful, I think not. I’m quoting a pertinent snippet from one reviewer here: “The Edge of Sanity lives up to its psychological thriller tag, and Sheryl has definitely pulled off the switch in genre with this un-put-downable book!” Thank you, Donna at Room for Reading


Whichever genre I write in, I tend to explore the fragility of love, life and relationships. If a character calls to me, I simply have to write his story. My books tend to turn around the family unit, looking at family dynamics and the tenuous bonds that hold people together, usually having a strong, but flawed, male lead. I think The Edge of Sanity, though most definitely edgy, does fall into that category. My ‘voice’ therefore, whether writing romance or thriller, or a combination of both, will always lean towards ‘poignant’ storytelling, in so doing, hopefully, delivering what the reader expects.

Sheryl’s Website

9 thoughts on “Genre and Voice Part 2 : Joanne Phillips, Sheryl Browne

  1. Back in February when I held a Valentine’s Day event at our local Waterstones with June Kearns and Adrienne Vaughan the manager said: “if you really want to sell books, write crime.” Its also been suggested to me that I write cosy crime with an element of romance, featuring a parrot and a VW Camper van in each novel. Now, there’s a though – I’ll ask the parrot what he thinks. Good luck to all those author who are trying something different.

    • That is so reassuring, Lizzie! I’ve been wondering whether the cosy market will ever take off over here the way it has in the US, but my personal feeling is that mystery with a touch of romance is a fantastic mixture. I certainly love reading books like that. Looking forward to finding out more about the parrot … 🙂

  2. Lizzie, I just had an image of Jasper in a raincoat and trilby, with a magnifying glass under his wing. Now that really would be an unusual detective.
    I think writers should be free to write in whatever genre draws them. If you have an idea for a story, do you ignore it just because you usually write a different style of book? Why would you?
    I think it would help to keep your ideas fresh and make you more enthusiastic about writing. This post is proof it can be done after all.

    • Hi Sharon,
      What I find interesting is the ‘customers also bought’ lists on the pages for my different books. The readers of my romances don’t tend to buy my mystery, and vice versa. So as a way of ‘cross pollinating’ (I read that phrase somewhere, it’s not mine), I don’t know how successful it is. But I do it because, as you said, it’s great to write in a genre that draws you. And why not?

  3. Lizzie, I’m loving the PI parrot idea. I think that would be a great fun element for a cosy crime. Go for it . 🙂 Sharon, I agree totally. I think Jo sums it up when she says a writer’s voice will always win out. Love it.. Liking that I look reasonably intelligent here too! Thanks for the lovely post The fabulous Romaniacs! xx

  4. I’m finding this series on genre and voice really interesting. I started off writing romance, but switched to romantic suspense and love reading thrillers/crime too. I guess human relationships and psychology are central to all compelling stories and I love books in any genre that have that focus.

  5. […] I’ve long been a fan of the Romaniacs – a group of romance writers who met while in the RNA new writers’ scheme. You can read more about them here. When Sue Fortin contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in writing a piece about Genre and Voice I jumped at the chance! The Romaniac’s blog is a fantastic resource for writers, it’s intelligent and inspiring and helpful. And now they have me too 😉 Check out my offering here. […]

  6. Great advice. Thank you, Jo and Sheryl 🙂
    I recall an in-house Romaniac challenge some time ago, where we gave each other a different genre in which to write a short story. It was an interesting exercise.

  7. I’m enjoying these posts very much. I’ve written in several genres and I enjoy each of them and love the difference between writing romances that are character led as well as thrillers that are plot led.

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