Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception, in certain quarters in Britain, that women cannot write as convincingly and authentically as men about guns, weapons, biological, or otherwise, explosions, flying off in helicopters, tearing off on motorbikes and security service issues.
I suspect, although I have no evidence to support it, other than the fact I’ve received more fan mail from the States than from fans in Britain, that female writers of the ‘action adventure’ style genre are more accepted in the U.S. than here in the U.K. Perhaps there is an obvious explanation: it’s not so unusual for women in America to carry guns.
In the same vein, the threshold for violence seems more flexible and tolerant when applied to U.S. writers: the aptly named Karin Slaughter, Patricia Cornwell and Alex Cava, to name a few examples, are and remain rightly popular both sides of the Atlantic. But is there a different attitude towards female British writers?
The general thrust was: ‘You’re a woman so how can you, of all people, write this stuff?’
As I tried to explain the dramatic argument and point of the scene, which had about as much impact as slicing through a glacier with a spoon, I got the distinct impression that my gender should make me more moral and less aggressive than my male counterparts. Moreover, I felt as if I’d transgressed the ‘sisterhood’.
I didn’t dare let on that I was actually the mother of five children, because I thought it would cast an even greater slur on my already tarnished reputation!
By contrast, on another occasion, I was asked, this time by a male radio presenter, whether I had a pint in one hand and a ‘smoke’ in the other, to ‘get myself into my male characters’.
It made me laugh out loud because I thought it a bit of an own goal – no pun intended – because not all guys swill beer and chug away on full-strength cigarettes, or, indeed, play soccer.
When I explained that I find it easier to crawl inside a male psyche and write from a male perspective, I was greeted with open bewilderment. Worse, it was perceived as a gimmick or pulling a fast one on the reader, which could not be further from reality, something I’ll return to later.
Strange to say, whenever I pick up a phone to obtain information about guns, motorbikes, helicopters, police procedure, forensics, basic politics of how certain organizations work, I often, although not exclusively, find myself conversing with a man. This has always played in my favor because, for whatever reason, men really like the idea of a woman being interested in what they consider to be traditionally masculine pursuits.
Not once have I been told to sling my hook because ‘you can’t possibly understand, you’re a woman’. It seems, therefore, that there is a disconnect between this open attitude and a more closed, stereotypical point of view.
Needless to say, I sensed that to write a blood and guts, spy thriller with a male protagonist and write it with a first person narrative was definitely going to push certain ‘you can’t do that’ buttons. The task was especially tricky because my main protagonist is an assassin, a man of moral ambiguity, (even if he screeches to a halt in the opening scene and questions his morality and reason for living.)
Returning to why I find it easier to write from a male perspective, the simple truth lies in my childhood.
Three months before my ninth birthday, my much-loved mom, (no affectation here, I’m originally from the Midlands and we use the term ‘mom’ rather than the British ‘mum’) died in a road accident.
From that moment my family consisted of my two big brothers and my father. In spite of me being sent away to school, they were the biggest influences on my life by far, while my mother’s death was and remains the most defining. It was a catastrophe and it changed us all, but for me something elemental shifted.
My father was no ordinary man.
He came from lowly beginnings, left school at fourteen, and yet by the time he was in his forties, he was running his own rolling mill and steel stockholding business. By his fifties, he was driving a Rolls Royce and owned a racehorse and a pub.
He was the original self-made man and, in common with many self-made men, he was competitive, tough, and demanding of others, particularly of his children.
It wasn’t easy.There was a fair amount of domestic mayhem. To mitigate this, I lost myself in books. No way could our household be described as ‘bookish’. We had quite a random collection of works of non-fiction as well as the odd novel so I quickly worked my way through the entire Pan series of horror stories as well as dipping into John Cleland’s Fanny Hill – not your average reading material for a nine year-old!
At home, the talk was of cars, women, sport, booze, music and business deals. Consequently, I feel comfortable around men in a way that I never do with women.
It’s tricky terrain, even now decades on, but it’s the most honest answer I can give.
For me it was a ‘no brainer’ to write with a male pseudonym.
I admit that there was also a strong element of ‘ if I can’t beat my male counterparts, I’d join them.’ It seems as though some of my father’s ultra-competitiveness has rubbed off!
Adam Chase is a pseudonym for crime writer E V Seymour. Eve was ‘outed’ as Adam Chase (by choice!) at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in the ‘Creating Crime Fiction’ event, and she is very keen on the issues faced by women writers in crime fiction, and the pros and cons of pseudonyms. Follow Eve on Twitter @thrillerchase
Wicked Game review by Crime Thriller Girl.
E V Seymour works as an editorial consultant and lives in Cheltenham with her husband, where she is currently writing the follow-up novel to Wicked Game.
Sites That Link to this Post
- In the Media: 14th September 2014 | The Writes of Woman | September 14, 2014
- I am a man (I am, I am!*) — she said | t upchurch | July 9, 2014
- Featuring Women Writers on WWWB 2013 - Women Writers, Women Books | December 31, 2013
- Women and Writing | Lynley Stace | December 14, 2013