If you’re interested in the world of books and trends in the publishing industry, you may well have heard of UpLit. Or it might be a brand new term and a total mystery to you! Either way, this article will shed light on the power and pull of this wonderful genre of fiction. And remember, if you want to stay up to date on trends in the publishing industry, you can’t do better than subscribing to our weekly newsletter, written by world-famous authors and publishing professionals.
The fact is, UpLit is much more than a new literary buzzword, and it may well be a genre you’re interested in writing – or at the very least reading. In fact, you could be reading it already without even realising it! Have you ever picked up a novel by Beth O’Leary? Anything by Rachel Joyce – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, perhaps? Have you read Matt Haig, or Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? What about The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, or The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune... If you have, this ‘new’ lit genre might not be so new to you after all.
If you think these books are just about lifting the human spirit with an over-emphasis on optimism and wonder, don’t be fooled! It’s true that UpLit novels often focus on life-affirming aspects of the world to leave you feeling inspired and generally glad to be alive, but they still explore themes that might be darker or more complex. It’s an interesting genre which – despite its joyfulness – preserves realism. It allows writers to explore real-life issues and current events, while keeping a light touch and leaving us with hope for the future – be that through gentler human connections, the power of words, or the fact that people can make a difference.
A great UpLit novel can have sad moments and stir up all kinds of childhood memories or feelings/traumas from the protagonist’s past, but it will also create a feeling of hope, and remind you that the world is filled with small joys and wonderful people. It might even have you reaching out to friends from your own past, or give you a new understanding of painful experiences!
Our resident UpLit expert
Of course, the real experts on UpLit are the people writing it. That’s why we’re so thrilled to be joined by Libby Page, our writing coach here at The Novelry and one of the writers at the forefront of the UpLit revolution.
In fact, Libby is the author of four UpLit novels. Her debut, The Lido, saw her named a Guardian New Face of Fiction when it was published by Orion in 2018. The novel became a Sunday Times bestseller within its first week of publication and has been published in more than 23 territories around the world.
Described by The Observer as ‘a joyful celebration of community and friendship’ and The Sunday Express as ‘a timeless tale of friendship, love and chilly swims’, The Lido was one of the leading books associated with the term UpLit when it was coined the year of its publication.
If you’re working on a happy, heartfelt story, romance or women’s fiction, you’ll find Libby’s coaching to be as warm and uplifting as her writing. Sign up to one of our creative writing courses today to enjoy her one-to-one mentoring as well as a world-class writing programme!
Over to Libby to tell us more about this fascinating genre.
I didn’t know I was writing UpLit
When I wrote my first novel The Lido, the term UpLit (Uplifting Literature) didn’t exist.
The first time I heard it (and I’m pretty sure the moment it was officially coined) was in a Guardian article in 2017, the same year my book was bought by Orion Fiction. The article suggested that after years of bestseller lists being dominated by crime and thrillers, readers had ‘an appetite for everyday heroism, human connection and love’ but with the distinction that the type of love explored wasn’t solely romantic, with protagonists fixated on falling in love. Instead, UpLit is often focused on friends, family and community. The article described UpLit as ‘the new book trend with kindness at its core’.
Some of the earliest books associated with the term were Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. And when my own novel The Lido published in 2018, a story about a cross-generational friendship and a community coming together to save their local outdoor pool, it was quickly described as Up Lit too (and became a bestseller).
Another Guardian article in 2018 described UpLit as ‘novels of kindness and compassion’ while in 2019, Refinery 29 suggested that fans of UpLit want ‘to be soothed rather than titillated, to be uplifted rather than hang from the edge of their seat’.
UpLit isn’t all fun and games
One of the key markers of UpLit, I think (and seems to be the consensus if you have a dig through some of the articles written on the subject) is that while UpLit is optimistic, it is also grounded in reality and that means sometimes dealing with some very real, dark subjects. In my own novels I have explored subjects like grief, loneliness, panic attacks and family rifts. How the characters tackle these issues, though, and ultimately vanquish them, is what provides the ‘uplifting’ part. UpLit novels show characters grappling their way through dark times with the help of friends and community.
Iona smiled, and felt a weight that had been resting on her shoulders for several years start to shift slightly. She was beginning to feel, just a little bit, like the woman Fizz thought she was. The woman she’d used to be. Maybe it was all going to be okay after all.
—Clare Pooley, The People on Platform 5
I would also say that there is a universality about UpLit which adds to its appeal and comes from having human emotion at its heart. When I write my books, I ask myself whether they could be read by someone my age (I’m in my thirties), but also their mum or granny. By dealing with topics that we all go through at some point in life – loneliness, bereavement, mental health struggles – but providing a positive, hopeful outcome, we tell readers (whoever they may be) that they are not alone.
By dealing with topics that we all go through at some point in life – loneliness, bereavement, mental health struggles – but providing a positive, hopeful outcome, we tell readers (whoever they may be) that they are not alone.
UpLit is about our universal search for connection
UpLit is about connection. How to find it, why it matters, what it looks like and how our society benefits from us finding true connections in our everyday lives.
It strikes her that her home isn’t just a house or even the people who once shared it with her. Her home is this town.
—Libby Page, The Vintage Shop of Second Chances
In my second novel, The 24-Hour Café, I explored the connections between strangers whose lives cross in an all-night diner, while in The Island Home I used the setting of a remote island with a very strong sense of community to show how even people living somewhere seemingly isolated can escape loneliness when they feel closely linked to their neighbours.
That’s one thing I hadn’t quite realised when I became pregnant: when you have a baby here they become the island’s child, not just your own.
—Libby Page, The Island Home
Perhaps UpLit’s rise as a genre has a lot to do with our sense of disconnect. In a Guardian article, Joanna Cannon said that the current political landscape ‘feels very treacherous and very fragile. When we look around us and see that fragility and that uncertainty we look for something we can hold on to. Community is a brilliant antidote to that fragmentation. It makes us feel more secure to be drawn to a sense of purpose and a sense of place.’
The genre that lit up the darkness
I describe myself as an optimist, but I think like UpLit, optimism can sometimes be misunderstood. Optimism isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, or turning a blind eye to life’s darkness. It’s about seeing that darkness but choosing to hope that things could be brighter.
I think UpLit is the same. UpLit uses words to paint a picture of how we’d like the world to be, and maybe, how it could be, if we all did our little bit to make it so.
To help you understand what the genre is all about and whether you’re writing this kind of lit, here’s a little cheat sheet.
An UpLit cheat sheet:
First, let’s think about what we can expect to see in UpLit books.
UpLit always has:
- Themes of kindness and connection at its heart, and the sense that these things make the world a better place
- A hopeful, optimistic tone even if the book deals with dark subjects too
- Love in some form – be it friendship, romance or family bonds
- A strong sense of empathy
- A strong sense of community
- Characters who deal with some sort of emotional issue (isolation, grief, a difficult past) or a character flaw but are fundamentally changed for the better by the experiences they go through in the story
UpLit often but not always features:
- Older characters (A Man Called Ove, Three Things About Elsie, The Lido, The Authenticity Project, The Switch)
- A dog (Dog Days, Ruth Hogan’s works)
- A romantic storyline, perhaps as a subplot (The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce, The Switch by Beth O’Leary, all of my own novels)
- A quirky cast of characters – an unlikely group brought together by the events of the story (The Authenticity Project, The Vintage Shop of Second Chances, The People on Platform 5 )
- Unlikely friendships (between the young and old, people from different societal backgrounds)
- Protagonists who begin their journey as outsiders (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) or isolated in some way (like Kate, the protagonist in my debut The Lido)
Nearby lit genres
The desire for uplifting stories during troubled times is what also drives the popularity of other similar genres to UpLit, such as Cosy Crime (Richard Osman, Richard Coles, Alexander McCall Smith) and Romance (which continues to be the biggest-selling fiction genre).
Juliet Mushens, Richard Osman’s literary agent, said in an article in The Times:
Readers want to escape from their lives and the uncontrolled realities of the pandemic into narratives where you can usually presume that things will be wrapped up at the end.
— Juliet Mushens, The Times
There are some similarities between Cosy Crime and UpLit – for example an unlikely band of heroes (elderly would-be detectives in Richard Osman’s books) coming together around a common goal (solving a crime in Cosy Crime versus some sort of community action in UpLit).
In the same Times article, Cosy Crime is described as ‘an extraordinary event in ordinary circumstances’ and I would say that this rings true for UpLit too. Ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, or forced to find their extraordinary within themselves.
Veronica: true, headstrong and gloriously vivid. How she shines! No matter what life throws at her, she will defy the odds. Whatever she does, she will be extraordinary.
— Hazel Prior, Away with the Penguins
According to a Guardian article, Romance sales are at an all-time high because readers are looking for happily-ever-afters in tough times.
I’d say there is some crossover between Romance and UpLit. Beth O’Leary writes books that feature characteristics of both genres, and in my own novels, while the romantic storyline might not be the most prominent thread, romance always plays an important part. And authors like Jenny Colgan and Veronica Henry often write stories where both romantic love and community come together (like Colgan’s The Christmas Bookshop where a community bands together to save a failing bookshop, but with a prominent romantic plot running alongside).
One thing that feels true of Cosy Crime, Romance and UpLit, is the need for a happy ending. The crime is solved in Cosy Crime, the lovers get together in Romance and the central characters in UpLit find themselves changed for the good, connected where they were isolated, hopeful where they had lost their way.
In UpLit, an ending can be bittersweet (spoiler – in The Lido I did this by balancing the happiness of a community pool being saved with the death of an elderly main character), because life itself is bittersweet.
I first met Rosemary for work, but it never really felt like work. I was there to write her story but she asked me mine. She helped me find my way. Without Rosemary I may not have discovered this lido. Without Rosemary I may never have met all of you, and found my place in this city. Without her, I would still be lost.
— Libby Page, The Lido
UpLit shows the ups and downs of life through an ultimately hopeful lens.