Friday, June 13, 2014

Rosemary for Remembrance

Rosemary Goring
                                                               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


  1. I understand Rosemary's concern, but cannot see how she can castigate the entire genre for the sick point of view of the few. Is she so angry that she cannot think deeply about her conclusions? There are, I imagine editors who say the things accuses all of them of saying. But I cannot imagine my editor, or Jeff's, for instance, of saying such a thing. I loathe the POV she excoriates, but in no way does it pervade our genre. It show up more frequently in films. I will not watch the prurient films Brian de Palma for the very reason that they are misogynistic in the extreme. But I also boycott films like "The Revenge of the Nerds," which is supposed to be funny, and (I think) no one dies in the story. In it, under cover of darkness, an unattractive man sneaks into the bed of woman while posing as his more attractive rival. He has sex with her, which I consider rape in such circumstances. In the morning she is in love with him because of his sexual prowess. REALLY? Our culture accepts that men who "triumph" in such a way are funny, and the hero of Everyman. If Rosemary wants to fight sexism, she needs to think more subtly. Taking a hatchet to a genre that includes Miss Marple and Junior Bender is no way to rectify a serious problem with the position of women in the world. If it were up to me, I would start with the real men who behead their daughters and sisters for talking to men. She needs to stake all the energy and focus it on nonfiction.

  2. Well... I WAS going to point out how mature and caring you were not to call out Jeff by name as one of the exceptions in your second-to-last paragraph, but then I read Annamaria's comment, and my pen went limp on me. Alas, methinks I'll retire to my boudoir and revel in some seriously funny stories of death, torture and dismemberment.

    1. In appreciation of the serious nature of Caro's post, I demur on addressing the symbolism raised (or rather not) by you, dear despondent Everett.

    2. Gee, EvKa, that LAST thing I want to do is spoil your fun. I am in a very serious mood today, I guess, evidenced by my second rant of the day, just left on yesterday's post. I promise I will have a glass of wine before I say another thing.

    3. Serious matters require serious thoughts, so it's good that you're capable. I guess my "serious bone" has been somewhat burned out by too much attention to the news. Call it a survival reaction. But I'll join Caro in buying you a glass of wine. Heck, I'll even buy Jeff one, should we ever meet flesh-to-flesh... so to speak. Ah, heck, I don't want anyone's feelings hurt by being left out: if I make it to Left Coast Crime next year (haven't decided yet), I'll buy a round for any MIE author that is willing to step foot into my fair home state!

  3. It has to be said that the Herald once put me on the front of their arts section. The photo had me posing in front of a lift shaft come to think of it....
    Annamaria? I will buy you a wine next time I see you!

  4. Oh, Evka, PLEASE come to LCC. I will be there and I know a number of the denizens of MIE will too. Wine will be a part of it. You can be sure of that!

    1. Annamaria, stop encouraging him. Okay, I admit, I'm jealous.

    2. Oh, come on, Jeff, what's a little trip to the west coast for a globe trotter like you? But if you're not going to show, I guess the rest of us will have to split your glass. Hmmmm which one should I root for???

    3. I am rooting for BOTH of you being there.

    4. Arrghh! I'm a computer guy, I should KNOW not to use angle-brackets. That last line was SUPPOSED to have, after the "Hmmmm," this in angle brackets: "putting on my best Jack Benny persona, elbow in hand, hand on chin". Sigh. I'd best quit for the day. I KNOW that angle-brackets get parsed as HTML junk and thrown away.

    5. Wait a minute, either there's mass confusion, someone's being deceptive (a mystery author? Nah.) or... it must be a conspiracy! I was just perusing the 2015 Left Coast Crime site and came upon an attendees list ( and right THERE under the 'S' section is "Jeffrey Siger" with a link to the author's web page and everything.

      Oh, shit. "I think we're in trouble, Lucy..."

    6. Yes, Everett, and you'll have an even sooner opportunity to assail me in public on the west coast...just glance at my post today (Saturday) titled "Bouchercon and Me."