The right to write

My husband and I met up with an old friend of his at the weekend. It was a really great couple of hours chewing the fat over a couple (or more) pints. The friend – let’s call him Bill for sake of argument – always expressed an interest in my writing and, true to form, asked me how it was going. I always wish I had better news for him, but I chatted on for a while and then discussed a couple of characters.

‘Your character’s a man?’ Bill asked, seeming surprised and leaning forward in his seat.

‘Yes. Well, lots of them are, but in this book my main protagonist is male.’

‘Yeah, but, how do you know what goes on in a bloke’s head? What if you’ve got it wrong?’

It’s a valid point and one I’ve asked myself several times over the years. Maybe my mangling of the male psyche is why I don’t have an agent yet.

But. And it’s a big but. How do I know the female psyche? Yes, I’m female and identify as female, but I only know what goes on inside MY head. Not any other woman’s. Yes, I understand we have different speech patterns and often focus on different things as being important when compared to ‘men’ (do the speech mark finger salute), but really, that’s as far as it goes. I love sci-fi and fantasy, horror films, comic book adaptations, medieval history, geekery, martial arts and weightlifting. Does that make me a typical woman? I suspect it depends on who you ask. Many women would say yes, many others would say they have zero things in common with me and, by the way, don’t I know weightlifting will make me bulky?

So, although I can’t quite remember what answer I gave to Bill, I know I defended my right to write men. That there are no stereotypes and I hope I haven’t put any in my male – or female – characters.  I hope I’ve written a believable character that is recognisably male, that owns his strengths and weaknesses and admits his failings and is pig-headed and stubborn and everything else in a believable way.

I know I mentioned Tim Willocks and his novel Green River Rising, about a Texan prison riot. While 99% of the characters in that book are male, and the book deals with the male psyche in a raw and unrelenting way I’ve never read before or since, but there is one female character, a doctor who gets trapped in the prison when the riot happens – and she is one of the greatest and most accurate female characters I’ve ever had to the pleasure to read. I want to be Juliette Devlin. She’s an absolute badass and simultaneously vulnerable. And she owns both of those states of being without shame or excuse. To be accurate, there is a second female character, Claudine, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise about her, so just go and buy the book. Seriously. Buy it.

So, that’s my take on it. On reflection, it makes me wonder how many books Bill reads, especially fiction books. I mean, how many books can you think of that only contain characters of one sex? And how many of those books (if there are any) were written by an author of that same sex? Think about Stephen King writing Carrie – he had to deal with teenage girls, puberty and periods. And Carrie was the first book he ever sold. If he’d been told he couldn’t write a book from a female perspective, it might have made him give up writing altogether. And we might never have had his unique and disturbing visions to grace our bookshelves.

Currently reading: The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett

Currently listening: FFS, Franz Ferdinand and Sparks

Currently watching: Under the Dome, Dominion, Defiance, Doctor Who, Chicago Fire, Vikings Series 2

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