Courtesy Of The Herald
An article appeared in The Herald a few weekends ago, written by Rosemary Goring.
It annoyed a fan of crime writing so much she was compelled to cut it out and send it to me.
I have met Rosemary three times and she is a kind and decent human being. She has the reputation of not really liking crime fiction – which is quite a different thing to not really liking crime writers. To my mind, in her role as literary editor of Scotland’s quality paper, she has always given the ‘tartan noir’ a fair crack of the publicity whip. But in this column she really let rip.
It is true that in GB in the last few months we have had a spate of trials of high profile men accused of sexual harassment, rape, abusive behaviour against women, sexting or just writing about the X chromosome in a misogynistic way. And Rosemary claims than these attitudes are not all from men and that woman, especially female crime writers seem to feed the appetite of young women for extreme violence towards their own sex.
Rosemary seems to have attended a panel at the Bristol Crimefest and was quite shocked by what she heard. Basically that big money lies on the grittier, more violent novel and that novelists who write scenes of horrific degradation and mutilation are much more successful than those that don’t. And that editors will encourage writers to write in that way because it will make more money. She also says ‘as a result, the idea that women are powerless is not just confirmed, but endorsed, and indeed fetishised. A woman portrayed on a crime novel cover will be a victim, whether she ends up dead or is simply scared witless in the course of events.’
From the Daily Record... the evil Melrose with some
woman sitting behind him.
I was going to counter that argument with the fact crime writers normally have an intelligent female detective/ PI sorting the situation out. But Rosemary heads that argument off at the pass. ‘No number of feisty female detectives trouncing their insensitive male colleagues as they track down the psychopath will compensate for the stark and irresponsible message this sexual slaying genre conveys ; women are objects, and never more fascinating than when on a pathologist’s slab.’
She goes on to say ‘there is something profoundly nasty about these books and the appetite they feed.’
And then - ‘Would I feel as disgusted if these books were brilliantly written novels that transformed misogynist bloodlust into great literature? Indubitably. A work of high literary quality would not trade in clichés or formula.’
Obviously never read On Beulah Height then!
She finishes by having a wee go at the readers. When it comes to them, she is quote ‘Speechless.’ ‘They are not interested in fiction, as such, but in carnage. So much for the gentler sex. So much for sisterhood.’
I confess that I don’t get the argument. I don’t intellectualise what I do. I find both sexes interesting on the pathologist’s slab. I have cut up many bodies, the gender doesn’t matter to me. I am just as much of a feminists as the next woman but I don’t think of women to be the gentler sex. In any species… we are not.
(That is just a ruse to confuse men.) As to the violence in books. Does it reflect society, and is it relevant to the society the book was written in? Does the crime novel not snap shot then paint a picture of 100 000 words? We are creative writers not journalists. If it was not relevant people wouldn’t read it.
And every crime writer has a different take on the violence in their book. Some violence is comic, some brutal, some graphic. It has to be said I’ve read crime fiction where the violence was gratuitous and I have put the book down and refused to read another by that author. And it didn’t matter to me if the violence was against male, female or animal. Gratuitous violence to me has no place in a well written crime novel, but that’s just my opinion.
Nobody ever writes a book about a parking ticket. Nobody would follow 350 pages to find out who parked in a double yellow. It has to be the crime there is no way back from. Murder.
Weirdly I think crime fiction is one of great levellers – men and women combine to sort out the crime that has been perpetrated on the victim, no matter of creed, colour, sex or (in some novels) species. Would I be wrong in saying that we shine a wee torch into these dark corners where subtle inequality still exists; the kicking to death of a homeless person?
I write to engage folk while they are waiting in airports. I don’t care if I spoon-feed my readers with short words that zip along and have them turning the pages to follow the plot - horses for courses. Those that want to counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphors are perfectly happy to do so. But in the pages of my books they might struggle!!
Two small points; ( as long as we are agreed that the collective noun for a group of human beings should be called a difference and freedom of speech means we are all allowed an opinion.) I personally find chick lit much more sexist and degrading to woman than crime fiction. As if the only reason for us to be on the planet is to bag Mr Right - or Mr healthy bank balance. And wear the right shoes. And be thin. And… arghhhhhhhhhhh. The other point is that old nugget of being offended by the F word/ death of a cat/ eating with a fork incorrectly but totally OK with the violent death of a ten year old on the first page????
Anyway. Crime writers are the loveliest kindest, funniest, most charitable bunch of bampots you could wish to meet. With very few exception, they are very bright people who are totally without pretension. A lot of the Tartan Noir are veggie, non violent, hippy types.....
I shall stop now and buy some designer shoes, go on a juice diet and read a proper book…..
Caro GB 13/06/2014