Saturday, August 18, 2007

Clash of the Scottish Titans

Controversy fanned by eager journalists at the Edinburgh International Book Festival is burning brightly. In it, we see Ian Rankin defending his position, following an interview with Danuta Kean for The Independent last year. Kean wrote:
His willingness to write graphically about places like Dungavel does not extend to the violence at the heart of his books. Unlike rivals such as Patricia Cornwell, Karin Slaughter and Mo Hayder, he does not salivate over every drop of blood. “The people writing the most graphic violence today are women,” he says when I ask what he thinks of them. “If you turn that off,” he looks nervously at my tape recorder, but continues regardless, going public about one of the great unsaids among crime writers, “I will tell you that they are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting.” He refuses to go into more detail.
Newspapers have been awash since with Val McDermid attacking homophobia and Rankin’s statement, and the London Times issuing a full-page article in its print edition, which recently landed on my holiday breakfast table in Dublin under the headline “Case of the Bloodthirsty Lesbians,” though the same piece appearing online is called “Revenge of the Bloodthirsty Lesbians.” In both cases, the text reads, in part:
There is no mystery to solve: Ian Rankin did it, in an interview, with the word “lesbian”.

Britain’s bestselling crime writer found himself condemned as “offensive” by a leading female rival yesterday after suggesting that women authors, and gay ones in particular, are more bloodthirsty than men. The acclaimed writer of the Inspector Rebus novels said in an interview last year: “The people writing the most graphic novels today are women. They are mostly lesbians as well, which I find interesting.”

Speaking to an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Val McDermid quoted the remark almost word for word, attributing it to “a very prominent Scottish male writer”. She then dismissed it as “arrant rubbish”.

The author, who is a lesbian, added: “I find that statement so offensive, I can’t even begin to start--apart from the fact that a lot of what is being written by the very talented young Scottish male writers is not shying away from depicting violence very directly. But there are certain kinds of books in which the only way in which you can be honest is to write about violence in a very direct way, to say, ‘This is what it is’.”
It takes Dublin, Ireland-based Tana French, the author of 2007’s Into the Woods, to close the Times piece:
Women understand, in a way, that danger lurks every time you walk home alone at night, every time a stranger asks you for directions on a deserted street, every time you’re home on your own and there’s a strange breeze moving through the curtains.
Meanwhile other journalists are having a field day with this literary spat. David Robinson of The Scotsman quotes McDermid from the Edinburgh festival as saying:
“I'll tell you what pisses me off more than almost anything. When people say, ‘As a woman, how do you feel about writing on violence?’ Have you ever heard a male crime writer being asked, ‘As a man, how do you feel about writing about violence?’

“There’s a profound disassociation, it seems to me, as if somehow it’s wrong for us to be writing about violence against women, as though somehow we need permission to write about violence against women.”

McDermid also claimed that there was a bias against books by women writers being reviewed in newspapers.

“Blinkered” male buyers for book chains also came in for attack.

McDermid said she was sitting next to the thriller-buyer for a major chain at a trade dinner: “He was ... talking about his new job, and he said, ‘I had no idea of how much reading was going to be involved in this’.

“Then he said, ‘Of course, I don’t read books by women’. And this is one of the most powerful purchasers in the country. And he doesn't read books by women.

“What I wanted to do was to grab him by the throat, smack him against the wall and say, ‘You stupid a***hole!’ But what I actually said was, ‘Perhaps you might like to try one of mine?’”
The BBC also managed to squeeze in its two bits on this subject.


Peter Rozovsky said...

Let's see: Rankin makes the original comment in an on-the-record interview -- a public forum, in other words. Val McDermid replies angrily at a book festival -- yet another public forum. But the controversy is "fanned by eager journalists."

It's good to have someone to blame, isn't it?

And isn't this blog post of yours fanning the controversy? Or are you just reporting the story? Funny thing, but that is precisely the same argument that the press makes when accused of sensationalism and fanning flames.

The lines between those fanning the controversy and those profiting from the fanning can blur quickly.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Popular Blogger and Member of the `Mainstream' Media"

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff here, Ali. Women writers not being reviewed? Does she mean in England or America, or both? Other countries? I hadn't noticed this trend...


Iden Pierce Ford said...

Controversy sells end of story, ask Madonna, the women writers in the discussion should thank Ian for stirrin things up, in the end they will sell lots of books. American Psycho is one of the all time violent books for violence sake.
I stay away from those kinds of stories because anything offstage gets the point accross a bit more than in your face. But all of those people are good writers and very rich at the moment so what's the fuss eh??

Peter Rozovsky said...

You're right that controversy sells, though I would not want to attribute any such base motives to Val McDermid. She seemed pretty steamed.

Still, the serious issues she raised are about the only edifying aspect of this little mess. As a matter of fact, her comments make me want to read her fiction.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Popular Blogger and Member of the `Mainstream' Media"

Ali Karim said...

Excellent points - And the reason I posted the peice was to indicate that women have a tough time in Publishing.

Incidentally Val responded in stoic style in The Guardian a few days later -,,2150615,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10

This buisness about women writers not being read bu some male readers, is close to my heart as a member of Mystery Women. Back a few years at a Dead-on-Deansgate event I interviewed Stella Duffy and Martina Cole - and what the told me shocked me -

Martina/Stella : In the introduction to Tart-Noir, Lauren goes through all the statistics and what did she come up with? Two thirds of all the women that get nominated for all the major mystery award never get noticed, and in the panel we talk about how women don't even get reviewed. We know men read men, while women read men and women. People tell me that women then need to change the way that we write - no we don't !

Martina : I can tell you, that one of my readers (a man) actually puts a Stephen King cover on my books as he reads them on the train to work? Surely something's wrong?

Ali : That is a very sad indictment I must admit.

Stella : In fact what we really need to do is to encourage men to read more widely, and not women to change their writing style. Look everyone's talking about the lack of literacy in young men, so any encouragement in getting men to read more widely would certainly help. Look around you here (Stella points to the framed posters that adorn Waterstone's events room), there are 25 posters on these walls and only three and half of which are by women.

The full exchange is here :-



Iden Pierce Ford said...

Peter, base motives????? If you don't sell your books in continuingly(?) growing numbers, you get cut.
Val' first series remains my favourite because there was not alot of gratuitous violence. The books sold okay, but it was not until she wrote a very violent novel full of torture, that she made notice. And I might add she got the cut from Harper Collins at that point, which required her going to a small press in the US to stay in print there until St Martins came along and made an offer for her Wire in THe Blood series, but after Harper had dropped her. They also dropped Donna Leon, and my wife to name three.
So base motives?? You gotta do what you gotta do and if the pot gets stirred by controversy, that's smart people doing what they have to do to promote themselves. Remember Muhammad Ali?
Madonna, two very bright people. If you don't make money for somebody, they ain't gonna keep you on board. Noble motives ceased to exist when they started to cut library budgets and publishers then cut authors.
I say go out there and stir it up, it brings attention, if you have a product worth looking at, you will catch on.
However, this is all my opinion only.

John Walker said...

What has author gender or sexuality to do with 'the price of fish'? If the first few paragraphs of a book, or maybe the blurb interest me, usually I buy the book. Should I lose interest someway through the book, I don't see how I can blame the author's gender or sexuality. Nor should I judge any other author by the same measure. If a book bores me, usually the fault lies with the story-telling. So, the book goes to the charity shop.