Interview with Paula Hawkins for Crime Fiction Association

As many of you now know I am also a freelancer writer and an organiser for the Captivating Criminality 4 conference, an annual event organised by the Crime Fiction Association. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview writer Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) yet again for the Association’s blog and we discussed women, crime, and her latest novel Into the Water. To read the interview, click here.

Author Interview: Helen MacKinven author of Buy Buy Baby

It’s my turn to bring a very special book tour to an end: Buy Buy Baby by Helen MacKinven in a novel about motherhood, domestic abuse, relationships and what society tells women to measure. In Western, affluent countries motherhood is constructed as a women’s ultimate goal in life, and the only one that will make her happy. Not only that, but the media are also on the hunt of ‘baby bumps’ scrutinising female celebrities’ bodies in every week. Jennifer Aniston wrote a very good article for the Huffington Post on the millions of times she has supposedly been pregnant stating that:

This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.

You can read her post here.

Meanwhile, Helen MacKiven has written Buy Buy Baby, a novel about motherhood and how society creates the desire to be a mother at any price in many women. From Goodreads:

CjuN_FuWsAATIN_

Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing.

Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive Ebay habit and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son.

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in her life.

In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems.

But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…

I am very happy to have Helen MacKinven over to answer some questions about motherhood, her creative process and how important it is for women all ages – but especially young women like me – to navigate motherhood discourses critically. Welcome, Helen, and thank you very much for your time!

HMK's pic

  1. Why did you choose to write a book about motherhood?

I wanted to explore the yearning that some women feel in their quest to be a mother. I was very lucky to have no problem getting pregnant and neither of the births when I had my two sons was particularly problematic. However, I spent 15 years working as a Road Safety Officer and was involved in many publicity campaigns highlighting the aftermath of a child dying in a road incident. This made me reflect on how I might feel if I was unfortunate enough to experience the same trauma. Would I want to replace the child, like Carol, in Buy Buy Baby? And what if I hadn’t been able to have children naturally? Or struggled to find a suitable partner, like Julia, in my novel? These issues made me wonder how far a woman in those types of situations would go to be a mum. What price would they pay on every level? This triggered the idea of exploring the emotional, psychological, physical, financial and moral implications of the journey Carol and Julia find themselves on because of their desperation to achieve motherhood.

  1. You are a mother – please visit Helen’s guest post at Noami’s here – but have strong views against traditional and essentialist motherhood. How did you arrive to these conclusions (after pregnancy, during motherhood, you knew it all along. As a young woman myself struggling with the representations of motherhood, I would like this question to be as open as you would like).

I’d describe myself as a person first, and it just so happens that I’m also a woman. Whether I’m a mother as well is neither here nor there as regards my sense of self. I wouldn’t say I’m against traditional motherhood, whatever that might mean, what I believe in is doing what is right for you as an individual. I had a wee rant when I woke up to the headlines on Saturday that Andrea Leadsom allegedly claimed that because she is a mother, she was the best candidate for PM as she had a greater stake in the country’s future. This narrow-minded attitude rips my knitting! Of course being a mother has fostered certain skills and attributes in me but that status does not make me superior in any way compared to women who do not have children. I’ve always felt this way and hate the way some women wear the ‘Mummy’ badge with an arrogance that I find distasteful. Being a mum is very important to be me but I’m ‘Helen’, first and foremost. A firm sense of identity should be enough for any woman to be comfortable in their own skin, and for them not to feel under pressure to add an extra label in the misguided belief that it will somehow give them the edge over other women.

HMK with sons

Author Helen MacKinven with her sons, now aged 20 and 23 – (C) Helen MacKiven

  1. The discourses around motherhood have changed a lot in the last two decades. Being a writer and a reader, have you seen this reflected in literature? Could you give us some examples of other novels that question motherhood as some women’s main goal in life?

I’ve always been attracted to ‘interesting’ characters in fiction that aren’t afraid to stick two fingers up at the societal norm. One of my favourite mothers in fiction is Eva Khatchadourian from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver in which the nature versus nurture debate is examined when a woman finds herself to be the mother of a killer. I can’t think of a better example of a woman discovering that motherhood doesn’t always live up to preconceived ideas. Last year, I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival to hear Meera Syal discuss her novel, The House of Hidden Mothers which was a fascinating insight into the dealings of the corrupt surrogacy market in India. The main character has to confront her desire to be a mother and question the morality of her actions. I also recently read, Dead Babies and Seaside Town by Alice Jolly which is a moving memoir of loss and infertility as Alice battles the system to become a mum again.

  1. Buy Buy Baby is a research project on contemporary motherhood. The title itself is evocative of new and controversial practices such as surrogacy, or even human trafficking. Could you tell us a bit about your research? (Whether this is covered in the media, whether it was difficult to find cases in the UK, if you actually met someone who had experienced any of these practices, etc.)

The first draft of Buy Buy Baby was written six years ago and there have been many developments since the time of the book’s setting. I spent a lot of time researching the various options open to women who are struggling to conceive and there was a wealth of information on the internet. Although I personally haven’t experienced fertility tourism, considered adoption or surrogacy, I know women in my own circle of family and friends who have had to cope with these scenarios. During the first draft, a friend of a friend very kindly offered to share her experience of using a sperm donor so I was fortunate to have access to a real account. My last novel, Talk of the Toun, was very much a case of following the advice to “write what you know” but Buy Buy Baby is an attempt by me to write what I want to know.

  1. Finally, I think it is very important to provide young women (like me!) with challenged views on maternity. Will your next book follow this subversive line?

It’s in my nature to be confrontational (in my writing!) so I’m sure that whatever I write in future will feature dark themes and tackle controversial issues. I’ve got notes and ideas for a new novel set in Scotland after the independence referendum result but with a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege weaved into the narrative. The novel would be used to feature the solidarity of the Scottish women with those in Russia in the 1940s but with a contemporary context. It would have a feminist and political agenda but I’d hope there would be plenty of opportunity for humour too.

If you wan to check Helen MacKinven’s past blog tour dates and posts for Buy Buy Baby:

blog tour

 

Exclusive Interview: Megan Abbott on Girls, Feminism, and Crime Fiction

Today and I am very happy, excited and proud to welcome American author Megan Abbott to Books & Reviews. After reviewing her upcoming novel You Will Know Me (out next June), I contacted Megan to talk about her middle-class American girls signature narrative, feminism, and many other topics that I thought would be interesting for those of us who do feminism, crime fiction and female main characters. Welcome to Books & Reviews Megan, and thank you for everything:

American author Megan Abbott

American author Megan Abbott

  1. You have inscribed the female teenage experience in contemporary crime fiction inaugurating a new crime fiction subgenre. Why and when did you decide to start writing about female teenagers in such a dark – and interesting – way?
    I think the specifics and ambiguities of female adolescence are so rich and yet still pretty underexplored, so that’s a big enticement. But it’s the female experience more generally, particularly its darker corners, that I most want to push my way into. And so much about womanhood is laid bare during one’s teen years. No one’s figured out yet how to hide the pangs and sorrows of that age, and its intensity is great stuff for books. It’s the age when you become yourself, so I think we never stop going back there as women, trying to figure it out.
  1. What/Who was the inspiration for your latest novel, You Will Know Me?
    I’ve always been interested in families of prodigies and what it’s like, in particular, to be the parent of a prodigy. Then, four years ago, I saw this footage during the London Olympics of the parents of American gymnast Aly Raisman. They were watching their daughter’s floor routine and were so invested in it, so connected to her. The footage went viral and the response to it was so complicated. Some people found it funny, others found it problematic, troubling. I think we all struggle with how invested parents should be in their children’s development and in case of exceptionally talented children, all that is thrown into high relief. It seemed a perfect world to explore. How does that kind of focus affect a marriage, for instance? Sibling relationships? And families in general fascinate me—the place of the greatest darkness and the greatest light.
  1. The female body plays a key role in most of your novels: in The Fever the main characters’ bodies made them vulnerable to an epidemic, in You Will Know Me, Devon’s body is a tool, a source of both strength and anxieties. What did you have in mind for both novels (taking into account the long tradition of female bodies as passive entities in crime fiction)?
    I can’t say I have a plan or intent, but it’s certainly on my mind a lot. It’s so hard, in this culture, for a woman’s body to feel fully her own. The female body is something to be looked at, shaped, molded, concealed, sexualized, etc. In my books I’m really interested in how women shape or mold themselves. Seizing control of this out-of-control thing, or this thing out of her control. And with athletes, it’s so central. Their body is their weapon, their power.

    You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

    You Will Know Me, Abbott’s upcomig novel will be released on the 30th June

  1. All your novels feature strong female characters. They are fighters, and although they may be vulnerable, they can be considered role models for Young Adult readers (and adult readers like myself as well!). Do you consider yourself a feminist?
    I definitely consider myself a feminist. But I don’t write with any kind of agenda. That can be lethal to fiction, I think. And I avoid ever thinking in terms of role models when I write. My goal is to make all my characters real, complicated, flawed, but I do think it’s particularly important to have female characters of all ages who are full of contradictions, as we all are. And I love to explore those impulses and drives—aggression, ambition, subversive desire—that have, historically, been suppressed in women.
  1. Last, but not least, any literary crime fiction recommendations for readers looking for a strong and complex female character? [They can be from any time you want, not necessarily published this year]
    Yes! Laura Lippman’s novels, most recently After I’m Gone and the forthcoming Wilde Lake. Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. Alison Gaylin’s dark Hollywood tale, What Remains of Me. Alex Marwood’s The Darkest Secret.

Megan Abbott is the author of seven novels, several short stories,  and the winner of the Edgar Award for Outstanding fiction. She also writes for the Los Angeles Review of Books , and has her own blog. Born in Detroit, she graduated from the University of Michigan and went to earn a PhD in American literature at the University of New York and she has written about the representation of masculinity in hard-boiled crime fiction and film noir.

For more about Megan Abbott, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Exclusive Interview with Dolores Redondo, Author of The Invisible Guardian + Giveaway

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed a Spanish crime novel that left me almost speechless. El guardián invisible by Dolores Redondo has been on the Spanish best-selling lists for 3 years, and there is a reason why. You can check my spoiler-free review here if you missed it or download a promotional PDF here.

Now, the novel is being released in the UK next April by Harper Collins under the title The Invisible Guardian. To celebrate I have had the pleasure of exclusively interviewing Dolores Redondo and we are also giving away 5 copies of The Invisible Guardian, thanks to Hayley Camis from Harper Collins. Please read the following before entering:

  • We are giving away 5 copies of The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo, each one to a different person.
  • This giveaway is UK-only.
  • To enter you just have to leave a comment below indicating that you live in the UK.
  • This competition closes on the 2nd of February at 23:30 GMT. Winners will be selected using the True Random Number Generator and notified via e-mail. If any of the winners were not to reply in 48 hours, another one would be selected.

Best of luck!


Dolores Redondo for Books & Reviews

When I first contacted Dolores’ agent, we reached an agreement that I would post the questions in Spanish to her, she would reply in Spanish as well, and then I would translate them into English for my readers. I hopeI have mantained Dolores’ passion for her female characters and the Baztán Valley. Welcome to B&R, Dolores!

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Harper Collins

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Harper Collins

Which was the inspiration for the Baztán trilogy and main character Amaia Salazar?

The trilogy was born out of a wish to write about different aspects of life and the traditional culture in the Basque Country and Navarra, an area in Spain with a different tradition, related to matriarchy, an important historical heritage, their own language, Euskera, and the consequences of having been the place where most witch trials were celebrated by the Spanish Inquisition; an abrupt – yet green – environment and the closeness to the French border make this a perfect place to speak about the magical tradition, which has merged here with Christianity and which is still alive nowadays. There was also a real life inspiration: a couple belonging to a magical sect sacrificed their 14-month old, a theme present in the trilogy: being hurt by those who should protect you – sadly something pretty in fashion right now – the perverted faith that justifies murder as an offer to the gods, demons or any other godly creature that could feel praised.

You make a great job of representing violence against women in different stages of their lives. But you also show that there is a way out, especially with the help of other women and that is something new in crime fiction. Could you tell us a bit more about this issue?

My work won an award from the Instituto de igualdad por la defensa de las víctimas (Equality Institute for the Defence of Victims), not a very bookish award, but one that makes me really proud.

Traditionally, women have been in charge of both businesses and the homes, since men were sailors who migrated to America for long periods of time, so feminine roles have never been seen as a challenge to men’s masculinities. It is true that women’s independence – women who lived alone, midwives, healers, all with an economic independence and a some kind of control over maternity even from the Middle Ages –led the Catholic Church to prosecute, condemn and burn dozen of my own ancestors for witchcraft. The novel – The Invisible Guardian – is set nowadays with an all-female family in a very similar environment, but also completely ware of others’ incursion on their own lives. This usually creates conflicts, but it extraordinarily strengthens women’s role in society, in their relationship to their partners, and professionally.

Dolores for B&R

Dolores Redondo. Courtesy of Pontas Agency

Amaia is a great detective, and despite that, she still has to face discrimination against her for being a woman from her male colleagues. How important was it for you to write a female detective and portrait the difficulties she faces?

Professional jealousy are something common to both men and women in their Jobs, but it is true that when Amaia is put in charge of an all-male Homicides division, she gets the feeling she has to prove her real value. I have had the pleasure of talking about this with some real-life detectives who admitted to feeling identified with the situation… All of this while trying to maintain a balance, because Amaia’s personal life is as fragile as her professional life is strong.

Maternity plays a key role in the story, very much influenced by the Catholic imaginery of Virgin Mary, but also by Pagan culture. Which difficulties did you find while trying to combine both modes of representation?

The truth is that I found no problem at all. The religion practiced in this area before Christianity was based on a Mother-Goddess to whom people asked for fecundity, easy births for cattle, good harvest, and to whom they offered local fruits. It is true some other goddesses existed, some of them monstrous, who have inspired the killer’s behaviour and identity in the novel. But the Mother-Goddess is the mother of the earth, it is also Virgin Mary, which is the most important goddess. Maternity is present in all of my novels, even when it implies crimes against someone’s own children. But there also many other aspects: women owning their own body, their decision to become a mother or not, society’s expectations, the difficulties of balancing a professional life and motherhood; but above all I focused the novel on the image of the monstrous mother, able to hurt her own child. So, I took the place’s tradition and resuscitated it in order to be able to include these mythological beliefs – which, by the way, are included in historical treaties – and establish a link with other European imaginaries that appear with different names, but that share their magical characteristics. I am sure many UK readers say: ‘I’ve heard those stories when I was young, about those monsters or magical creatures.’

Do you read crime fiction? Who are your favourite authors?

I read everything, not crime fiction only. I truly believe crime fiction writers should read about other issues and themes. But I confess I am a fan of P.D James, who I try to honour in my novels, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Thomas Harris…

This post is part of the UK blog tour for Dolores Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian. OUT on 23th April 2016. See more dates here:

blogtourbannerdolores.jpg

Exclusive Interview with Paula Hawkins, Author of The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins was one of the best novels I read in 2014, you can check my review here. I was lucky enough to get a very advanced review copy thanks to Alison Barrow, and I discovered one great thriller with a very complex and revolutionary female main character. Today, The Girl On The Train is finally being published by Transworld books and to celebrate it, author Paula Hawkins kindly answered some questions for Books & Reviews.

Happy publication day, Paula!

Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train. Interview.

From David Higham

How did you come up with the idea for The Girl on The Train?

 When I first moved to London and started commuting into the centre, the bits of the journey I loved most were when the train ran close enough to houses so that I could see right into people’s living rooms. I always found it gave me a feeling of connection, most strongly when you actually saw a person in there, making their morning tea or reading the paper. I never saw anything out of the ordinary, but I did start to wonder what would happen if I did: what would I do if I saw something shocking or frightening? That’s where the germ of the idea came about, but it was only much later, when I had the character of Rachel walking around in my head, that I started to think about how someone like her, lonely and damaged as she is, might react if she saw something strange on her daily commute, and I found that a whole world of possibility opened up.

Rachel is an unlikable and unreliable female character, but readers are responding positively to her. Did you have doubts about her reception while writing the novel?

 Yes, I did, and I do think she will be off-putting to some readers. However, I hope that she has enough substance, in terms of her character and her back story, to sustain interest and evoke some understanding if not empathy in most people. To me, Rachel is not a bad person but a deeply damaged one; her drinking is problematic and she makes some terrible decisions, but the fight hasn’t gone out of her – and as the book progresses, we start to see more of the person she was before the depression and drink took hold.

Motherhood plays a key role in the narrative: infertility, the fallacy of the joys of motherhood that forgets sleepless nights and adapting to a new lifestyle, mothers who do not help their children…Tells us something more about your approach to these stories.

 If you are writing about women of a certain age (in this case, late twenties to early thirties) it is difficult to avoid talking about motherhood. Women’s relationships to motherhood remain definitive for women in a way in which I don’t believe that a men’s relationships to fatherhood are. A woman’s choices regarding motherhood – to have children or not, how many children she has, when she chooses to have them and with whom – all these things are viewed as reflections on her character, they are suitable subjects for judgement by the rest of society. Women who cannot bear children are pitiable, women who choose not to are selfish, women who have children with more than one partner are irresponsible and so on.

I think that our society has a contradictory view of motherhood where, on the one hand, being a ‘good mother’ is second only to physical attractiveness in the qualities that deemed most desirable in a woman, and yet however highly we prize good motherhood, we don’t accord it any economic value or real prestige.

girlonthetrainBuy The Girl On The Train at Book Depository

You also inscribe domestic violence in the narrative. However, crime fiction has only recently started dealing with it from the victim’s perspective. Why did you want to write about this?

 The stranger lurking in the dark alleyway or the man who breaks into the house are the stuff of nightmares, but in reality most victims of violence are attacked by someone they know, often in their own home, and that for me holds its own particular terrors, because you are talking about the place in which you are supposed to be safest, and the people in whom you are supposed to place your trust. For example, we are told by politicians and other commentators that ‘stranger rape’ is so much worse for the victim than ‘date rape’, but this ignores the fact that an attack in the home, by someone you know, can be every bit as brutal and terrifying as an attack by a stranger, and it involves a devastating betrayal of trust.

What are other favourite crime fiction novels that you loved or that explored themes that you thought important?

 It’s more than a year since I read So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman and I still wake up in the night thinking about it. It’s a shocking book, uncomfortable to read and wide-ranging in its outlook: it deals with how poverty, environmental damage and the industrialisation of farming are threatening small, rural communities in the United States, but its central subject is the treatment of women, specifically acts of violence against women and the cultural backdrop for that violence. Hoffman talks about the fact that while there may not be an organisational structure behind this violence, there is an ideology: “an invisible ideology hiding in plain sight. In the language, in jokes, on the television, on the sides of buses, in clothes and gestures and wallets and bodies and faces and minds.”

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty was another recent novel which had a powerful effect on me, not just because it is such a beautifully-written and well-crafted book, but because its examination of the life and sexuality of a successful woman in late middle age is an uncommon subject for a crime novel. In the midst of a cracking psychological thriller with elements of a courtroom drama, Doughty poses questions about marriage and infidelity, the nature of criminal responsibility and self-deception.

Talking Feminism with Author Sarah Hilary + Giveaway!

So, this is the amazing surprise I’ve been teasing you about for a week now!

To celebrate the paperback release of Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary, I virtually sat down with her for the second time – see our first interview here – to talk about feminism, crime fiction and being a woman writer AND Books & Reviews is giving away one copy of Sarah’s debut novel Someone Else Skin. You can check my review here, but I will sum it up by saying it’s awesome, and Marnie Rome has become one of those inspirational, kick-ass investigators that help me in my busiest and darkest hours. Thank you, Sarah, for being a joy to work with.

‘This was always going to be Marnie’s series’

Author Sarah Hilary saw her debut novel published in 2014. Someone Else’s Skin started to gather readers’ attention even before its publication date. This week, Hilary’s debut is being released in paperback, a common and necessary step for all great books, and only 6 months after its hardback release.

sh9

Sarah Hilary is thrilled to collaborate with Books & Reviews yet once again as I send her a direct message over Twitter. I just saw on her Facebook page that Someone Else’s Skin is being released on the 28th as a paperback and I wanted to do something with her to celebrate. She quickly agrees and we start to brainstorm some ideas. This only shows that she is passionate not only about her work, but about her fans too, and she actively shares reviews, interviews and information on both her Twitter and Facebook page. One of the many examples of Sarah’s participation is her constant support of Books & Reviews and her willingness to talk to us about we love the most: crime fiction and feminism.

I have to admit I first wanted Sarah to talk candidly about what being a writer means. How only a few can actually make a living out of writing and how the rest of them write when they are not working or with their families. But Sarah wrote back with a much better idea: we should discuss women investigators and feminism. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. So much so, that I thought up the questions for this interview in a few hours. The first one that came to my mind was if, while writing, she was aware of doing so as a “woman writer”, a label that puts off many readers and that is still stigmatized. Sarah quickly related this question to the main theme in Someone Else’s Skin: domestic violence. She admits to being aware  of wanting ‘to do justice to the (many) truths at stake in the story, including those about domestic abuse, and violence. I knew I was tackling complex, sensitive material, but I think that’s true of any writer, maybe especially a crime writer. Many of the stories I wanted to tell in the book were women’s stories, and it was important to me that I told them authentically, so perhaps my answer is Yes.’

And talking about women’s stories, there has been quite an outrage for the recent misrepresentation of women in the publishing industry. I personally deal mainly with women authors, but when I request review copies, it’s a woman I talk to 99,90% of the times. However, if you take a look at the best-selling lists and the amount of books certain newspapers review, there is still a male dominance. But, luckily, Sarah Hilary had a very different experience. She calls herself “lucky” and tells us an anecdote about ‘a very good friend who was told by a publisher that ‘if she were only a man’ they’d have snapped up her book. The subject matter, it was felt, was too tricky to market to readers as having been written by a woman.’ But that novel was not a crime novel, a world clearly dominated by women authors and with more and more rising women investigators. Sarah agrees that ‘broadly speaking […] crime novels tend not to be pigeon-holed as drastically as other genres. It’s a long-established fact that more women read crime than men, and that many of the world’s bestselling crime authors are women. Hard to argue with the facts.’

As for Marnie ever being anything but a woman, the quick answer is no. Sarah Hilary truly believes it is characters who come to writers rather than the writers thinking up a character out of the blue. ‘This was always going to be Marnie’s series, from the moment she walked into my head’, she clarifies, but then she candidly admits that ‘[t]hat said, every novel I’d attempted prior to Someone Else’s Skin had a male lead’. There is no need to ask her why, she quickly states the reasons for this, one and the most important being authorial distance. However, Marnie Rome ‘is teaching me to love writing women’ she finally admits, and I can clearly see why, for the redhead, kick-ass main character of Someone Else’s Skin could very well compete with other household names such as Dr. Kay Scarpetta, created by Patricia Cornwell in the near future.

Along Marnie Rome, her colleague Noah Jake added some diversity to the mainly white and heterosexual scenario that is usually found in crime fiction. Not only does he has Jamaican ancestry, but he is also gay, and Sarah openly addresses his relationship with his partner in a few, very intimate scenes. I wanted to ask her about the lack of diversity in crime fiction, but she was quick to answer that such lack may only be in my mind. She states that ‘[t]here are gay characters in crime fiction, but you’re right to say they’re in a minority. One of my favourites is Milo Sturgis in Jonathan Kellerman’s series. He’s not the narrator, but neither was Sherlock Holmes the narrator. For my money, he’s easily the best character in the series. I’d be interested in Kellerman’s take on that, whether he sees Milo as the star. It’s more unusual to find gay lead characters in crime, but Val McDermid and Mari Hannah are writing/have written these. As Val says, we don’t choose our characters, they choose us.’ When a writer approaches such a question – even though she called it ‘tricky’ – in this way, it is only natural that they want their homosexual characters to be more than “their homosexual characters.” Sarah Hilary wants Noah Jake to have a healthy and non-defining relationship with both his race and his sexuality. ‘I want it to feel entirely ordinary, unremarkable. Noah is about the only character with a happy personal life, and that’s no coincidence’, and I’m more than happy to move on to the next question.

It is not easy to find a writer that openly says to you as an interviewer that she wants to talk about feminism, it still being the f-word that no woman wants to identify with. So, I was curious about Sarah’s own views on the matter, since she has come out as a feminist – at least to me – a few times. She admits it’s still controversial to call yourself “a feminist”, but there is a little voice in her head that does not let her subject to this. ‘Sometimes that makes me sad, but sometimes I think Hell, yes, because it’s a writer’s job to be controversial, to push back at society’s complacency; to remind us, as Arthur Miller puts it, of what we’ve chosen to forget. There are still so many repressive and extreme social sanctions against women, often endorsed by families as well as cultures. FGM is one that I talk about in Someone Else’s Skin, but it’s one of many.’ I also know of her 13-year old daughter who often makes an appearance on her Twitter feed. I wanted to know if she openly talks to her about feminism and she admited that it is not easy. ‘I think it’s harder to be a feminist as a young woman nowadays than it was, say, twenty or thirty years ago. Too much of our culture is about homogeneity, and celebrity. There are some truly depressing ‘role models’ for young women at the moment (famous for being wives or girlfriends, or for being great at shopping or sex); it’s not unusual for girls to be bullied by their peers for not fitting the ‘norm’ of long hair, fake tans and pre-teen sexual savvy’. So, what about Marnie? Is he a feminist and would she openly call herself one? As I read Sarah’s answer, I could not but imagine her sighing at the controversy of having a character take such a bold step. ‘[F]eminism still has its work cut out and while I don’t think I’d have Marnie directly describe herself that way, I would hope that she’s demonstrably a feminist.’

My very last question was about the so-called “women’s literature.” I find it infuriating and frustrating to hear that men write about universal issues while women write about women’s issues. The female experience is still being singled-out as the other, as the difference, as something outside the universal that only women can understand. Sarah agrees with me, ‘It’s a special sort of nonsense, isn’t it? Someone said to me the other day that had David Mitchell’s One Day been written by a woman, it would’ve been marketed as a chick-lit.’ But, let’s not forget we are moving between the tolerant, ever-expanding and diverse walls of crime fiction here. I have long argued that this genre – because it should be considered as such – is a much more open space for writers and readers, a space that allows us to freely explore the boundaries that construct and constrict out society. Sarah Hilary, can only but celebrate her luck at belonging to such a great club as “crime fiction women writers”:  ‘ I’m very grateful to be writing crime fiction, which seems to be adept at dodging the pigeon-holes [based on] the gender of its author [which is] is patronising to everyone involved, not least the reader.’ See? Lucky us.

 

GIVEAWAY

9781472207692

Books & Reviews is giving away ONE paperback copy of Sarah Hilary’s debut novel Someone Else’s Skin. Please read the following rules before entering:

  1. You must be +18 or have your parents/tutor consent to entering this giveaway.
  2. World-wide giveaway. Please check your country is included here.
  3. Entries are open from the 28th of August (2014) to the 1st of September (2014) at 9.30 a.m (BST)
  4. If the winner does not reply in 72 hours after being contacted, another one will be chosen.
  5. To enter, just leave a comment below.