My Spirit Animal is a Duck-Billed Platypus
I’m a bit of a picker-upper of unconsidered trifles (I don’t mean the edible kind though I wouldn’t say no to a nice sherry trifle) and find myself sometimes buying odd bric-a-brac that has ended up on the shelves of charity shops, solely because it had a strange and rather special something about it. A kind of shine that might be familiar to players of computer games, where the magic potion, amulet or artefact lights up in some subtle way when you go near it.
That’s how I came to find my platypus. He was sitting amid the vases and candlesticks in a local charity shop and he was about 75p. That was a couple of years ago now and he’s sat in front of my computer monitor ever since. He’s a tiny china ornament about two or three inches long. I’ve never seen one like that before though I do own a platypus finger puppet my brother brought me back from Australia.
When specimens of duck-billed platypuses (or ought it platypi?) were first brought to Europe they were thought to be a taxidermist’s joke because they seemed so bizarre. They are beyond extraordinary: egg laying mammals which are semi-aquatic, capable of electro-location of their food in the water, and one of the very few mammals that are venomous (the males have spurs which can inflict painful “stings” on humans). Do read the Wiki article for more information on the natural history of this astounding beast: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus
Looking at them from a shamanistic perspective, their attributes are also extraordinary too:
Connection the ancient animals,
Ability to remain unique,
Value of remaining as you are,
Ability to rear young differently
The idea of them being a hoax comes down to the observation that they appear to be made up of the various component parts of other creatures: a bill like a duck, a tail like that of a beaver and so on. Each component fits a platypus to its environment, perfectly. They appear strange to us at first because they are unfamiliar and exotic, but once you have studied them a little, they become beautiful too (though they remain exotic and strange!).
I’ve thought about this for a while and realise that I resonate with the platypus. Leaving aside my own assemblage of skills, natural abilities and talents both inborn and learned, I realised that my writing is a kind of literary platypus. Nothing I have written fits neatly into the strict taxonomy of genre descriptions. This is both wonderful and maddening. People say, “You should fit to a genre,” and I discovered I can’t. Not won’t- can’t. I have tried a number of times and very quickly a story evolves, and morphs into another platypus-book.
Cross-genre literature actually appeals to a lot of people because it crosses boundaries and it carries more surprises than literature that sticks rigidly to the accepted parameters of a single genre. Away With The Fairies is a platypus of Women’s literary fiction/Paranormal/Spiritual/Mystery. Strangers and Pilgrims covers the same areas. Square Peg has a couple of limbs of Coming of Age to add to the mix. The Bet creeps into Anti-Romance (not a genre but I’d like it to be) as well as incorporating Psychological Literary Fiction. Even the short story collections, billed (duck or not) as horror or ghost stories are far from the classic genre of either.
Why does genre matter though? Why do I even try to classify my books in this way. Simple answer: visibility. In the vast ocean of available books, people understandably need to use some tools to track down the books they enjoy. Amazon has begun creating categories in their charting system that means that hybrids and platypus books have a chance of becoming visible on the never-ending shelves. So, for us creators of Weird but Wonderful cross-over books, there is hope that readers have a better chance of finding us and loving us.
I’ll end with a little snippet of cultural reference from Wiki:
The platypus has been featured in the Dreamtime stories of indigenous Australians, who believed the animal was a hybrid of a duck and a water rat.:57–60 According to one story, the major animal groups, the land animals, water animals and birds, all competed for the platypus to join their respective groups, but the platypus ultimately decided to not join any of them, feeling that he did not need to be part of a group to be special.