The Female of the Species….

So today I was faced with a big, fat blank page. Book two. Help me.

The first manuscript has been sent off and awaits feedback. I don’t even want to think about it so I’m taking the sensible option. I drank a lot of red wine on Sunday night. Now it’s Tuesday and I’m over my hangover. Time to go for a run and start the new one….

My main character is a police detective called Erica Martin. I had several ideas about her before I started. I knew that I wanted her sex to be ambiguous at the beginning of the first novel. So she’s called Martin right off the bat. In fact, you don’t find out her first name until chapter 34!

Some of the people who’ve read the first one have struggled with this but I like it. I want her to be a character the reader has to reach for. Much as I love Morse and Scarpetta, I didn’t want to fall into the pattern of giving Martin a set of tropes she would be stuck with forever (lollipops anyone?).

But now I’m onto the second book and I feel ready to let the reader know a little more about her. I’ve just written the first page. Martin is on holiday with her husband on a Greek island.  I’ve no idea where that came from but it seems to work.

Last year was a fantastic time for women writers and female heroines. Some of my favourite books were Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (with a female heroine over 40 no less…), Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman and The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison. And let’s not forget the amazing achievements of Hilary Mantel, Eleanor Catton and A M Homes.

Some might say we’ve never had it so good. And yet we still like to categorise things – put things into boxes. My most hated phrase (after “don’t show, tell”) is “women’s fiction” – I’m not sure why we get a special section of the bookshop. The phrase just conjures up images of snogs on the beach, a hunky doctor perhaps, stiletto heels a la Carrie Bradshaw. I’ve recently got very addicted to Game of Thrones. Typically, fantasy is considered a “male” genre (tosh) and sex and romance belongs to the women. It’s rubbish of course. Perhaps the problem is persisting with a notion of genre in the first place. So you end up describing your novel as a dark, psychological, crime thriller, reading group book with elements of the supernatural and a smattering of romance….phew!

Martin in my books is most definitely a woman – with a sex life and emotions and probably a penchant for shopping. But she’s also ballsy and unafraid and equal to her task in the same way as any man. It seems as though the discomfort lies in the readers wanting to check boxes – more so than the characters who live in them!

This blog was supposed to be about the best books of last year. I’ve mentioned some but then gone off track! Any thoughts on this, most welcome. Maybe next time, we’ll look at some of the best heroes and heroines who straddle the gender abyss.

Now that sounds like a line from Game of Thrones….


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah Salmon
    Jan 28, 2014 @ 11:50:17

    I’m reading Gone Girl at the moment for Book Club (I’m about 50% through it) and I’m loving it. I’ll check out your other suggestions for potential Book Club recommendations this year. Thanks.


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