Saturday, 6 August 2011
More Impressions from Harrogate Crime Festival 2011
Given that my debut novel BLOOD TEARS will be released next May (2012) I was especially interested in the author sessions at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. How would I answer that, was the thought that ran through my head several times a day.
One session homed in on the subject of violence against women in fiction. Why we read it and why writers write about it. In the past I’ve heard opponents of this argue there is misogyny at work here. This is too facile an answer and doesn’t account for the fact that women write roughly the same amount of books as men, read 70% of fiction and make up 85% of the publishing industry. If women really thought this was a form of misogyny would they read/ write/ publish it? Don’t think so.
A prime facet of reader interest in thriller/ crime fiction is tension and my own theory is that this issue raises the stakes. If the subject is male I don’t care quite so much. Harsh but true. If the potential victim is female or a child then my anxiety levels are raised so much higher.
Val McDermid spoke eloquently about it and explained her view that women live with the threat of violence all of their lives. She said that women are warned from a young age to not walk alone in certain areas, to be aware of how they dress, or behave – and these warning have a strong impact – and one of the side effects of this is to enjoy the violence in novels. It’s a vicarious fear and thrill when on the page. A woman may not be able to feel safe walking home in the dark, but she can read about it in the safety of her bedroom.
In another session Tess Gerritson words chimed with my own opinion. She said that she polled her readers for their views on this subject. She was amazed by the response. Her readers told her they don’t want to read about male victims of violence because they simply didn’t care.
That same evening I had talked myself out at the bar. Thinking it was around 11pm, I checked someone’s watch to see that it was gone 2am. How the feck did that happen? I said my goodbyes (I know, I’m a wimp) and set off on the half mile walk to my hotel. This was around about the time I regretted wearing a brand new pair of shoes. Which is what you do, innit? Wear new shoes when you are going to be on your feet for a good chunk of eighteen hours a day for three days. I had a bruise on one heel and a blister on the other as I negotiated the narrow, poorly-lit, tree-lined streets.
Around the first corner and a young man was energetically emptying the contents of his stomach over a hedge while his girlfriend rubbed his back. I gave them a wide berth, in my strange double limp while offering the woman a smile of sympathy. She shook her head slowly and mouthed the word “wanker”.
Did she mean me, I wondered as I turned the next corner into another quiet, dimly lit street that swung round in a slow stretch to the left. Just ahead of me was a young woman, tight jeans, strappy top, clutching a handbag to her side.
The way she tightened her grip on her bag and held it tightly to her side reminded of Val McDermid’s comments earlier. A young woman was ahead of me in the dark, alone in a quiet side street. I stopped walking as if I’d walked into a wall. I was the guy. I was the potential threat to this girl. How could I re-assure her I only wanted to peel off my shoes and get into my bed?
I started to hum. Loudly. Music is cool right? I was making noise. I couldn’t possibly be planning to run up and attack her. I stopped. I sounded deranged. I began to walk again. In a tip-toe. Now she would be worrying I’d gone silent, so I walked with a heavy tread. Which really hurt my blister, so I slowed down. Heavy and slow, that was how to do it. Right?
At this point she crossed the road. Jeez, I was freaking her out. Should I shout a hello? Would that be friendly and non-threatening? I picked up my pace and placed my feet on the ground, leading with the ball of my feet.
Quiet and fast that would be better, no?
I was drawing level with her now and gave myself a mental shake. I’d been in this situation plenty of times and I usually just minded my own business and forgot about the other person. So, I picked the pace up more, trying to disguise my limp which I’m sure made me look like I had taken a dump in my trousers.
As I kicked off my shoes in my hotel room a memory of a writers’ event at my local writers club popped into my head. A visiting CID detective informed us that statistically a young man is much, much more likely to be a victim of a violent crime (from other young men). So ladies, I would always be fully aware of safety concerns, but if there is a lone male behind you on a quiet street it is very possible he is going through the same pantomime I was.