Hello and happy Friday to you all!
Today, I’m joining the blog tour for The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler. I am delighted to be welcoming him to the blog today with his guest post ‘Can we stop making women victims?’. Without further ado, I shall hand over to Christopher.
I’ve always loved crime novels, but I don’t want to read any more plots which involved female sex workers being murdered or women being held prisoner. Most real-life murders involve males knifing other males in arguments over territory. In bringing domestic abuse to light, it seems we also become obsessed with making women victims.
It wasn’t always this way. In older crime novels, the women were often in the driving seat. If they were bad they were femmes fatales, and if they were good they were taking revenge on bullying men. Stronger female characters appeared as soon as women started working. I can’t remember a time when my mother didn’t have two jobs, and she loved reading about women who took charge of their own lives, even if their victories were small.
While I was seeking out writers for ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ I found a typical pulp paperback with the kind of cover you needed to pick up: a tough blonde in a red skirt and slip, pointing a gun, dragging a guy along with her as a hostage. The caption read: ‘She had the face of a madonna and a heart made of dollar bills!’ They were assertive and gutsy, and knew how to get what they wanted.
It was an image that didn’t last. Women in the 1950s were treated like Victorian wives, those delicate creatures who kept fainting away whenever they were confronted with bad news. The habit of classifying women into ages – the innocent maiden, the middle-aged spinster, the mad old harridan – was typified by W. S. Gilbert, with the creation of Mad Margaret in Ruddigore, but it had always been lurking somewhere in the male psyche.
The female crime writers of the 1950s were merely reflecting the conservative times in their fiction, when women we would now consider still young could be written off as neurotic lonely spinsters. Often their heroines had physical or mental fragilities, and their sell-by date appeared to be around thirty.
The idea of hysterical fantasies being a female weakness (‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek hysterikos, meaning ‘of the womb’) had been present from the time when fainting fits were blamed on everything from tight corsets to a reliance on laudanum. ‘Highly strung’ women were watched for signs of insanity that would get them locked away in asylums. They would be visited by male doctors who would warn them that they were suffering from nerves and needed to get some rest. In these novels the family doctor would only discuss the female patient’s problem with her husband, and in bizarrely non-specific terms. ‘She’s a bit weepy, brooding over not having children,’ says one such doctor.
Now that more women are buying crime novels than men you would think the idea of the female victim would have been finally laid to rest. Instead we get books with ‘girl’ in the title that reduce women to the status of teenagers once more.
The Book of Forgotten Authors was published by Riverrun/Quercus on 5th October – my review of the book itself will follow very soon. Thanks to Christopher for taking the time to put together this post!
About the Author
A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Christopher Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.
During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond.
Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir Paperboy and its sequel Film Freak, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London.
In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’.
Fowler is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself.