There has been a lot said about this new prize over the last week, particularly on Twitter. For those unaware of the controversy, the Staunch Book Prize promises an award for a crime novel in which no woman is beaten, raped, murdered, stalked… you get the general idea.
My work often involves the very crimes the Staunch Prize is intent on ignoring. My characters are raped, they are stalked, they are murdered. Sometimes by men, sometimes by other women. I have not included these crimes to gain a readership and however lurid or detailed my depictions may be, it has never been done with the intention of gaining attention. It is instead a reflection of the characters, the society and the plot I have created and these, I’m afraid to say, have been inspired by the real world in which I am forced to live.
Whilst living in leafy South West London in one of the statistically safest boroughs of the city I was attacked twice. A third time whilst on holiday in Greece. I have had my drink spiked and ended up in hospital. My friends have been attacked, stalked, assaulted. One forced herself to lie in bed, stock-still, with her eyes tightly closed whilst a burglar pulled back the covers of her bed and drank her body in. She countss herself lucky not to have been raped and I think how absolutely disgusting that is that she should have to count herself lucky at all.
My sisters have experienced it.
My mother had her foot molested by a fetishist whilst trying to mind her own business in a bookshop.
In short, I know of not one woman in my life, and I have many strong, wonderful women in my life, who haven’t been victim to some sort of assault or abuse. The #MeToo campaign is a classic example of how far these crimes have infiltrated society and how often they have been marginalised.
So why, at a time when so many women are coming forward with their experiences of sexual violence and assault, who are fighting for justice for themselves, for future women, for the underrepresented women, for the women who feel they have no voice, has a prize been launched that attempts to silence these voices in literature?*
There is too much violence against women in society. Is ignoring this in fiction going to make any difference to the statistics? I think not.
The writers who recognise this violence, who lay it on the page for readers to read with the unapologetic message that, yes, this happens. Yes, this could happen to you, to your sister, your daughter, your wife, your mother and yes this is wrong. Wholly wrong and something needs to be done about it. They are the writers who are going to make a difference.
Not those who hide their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge reality in the hope that they may win a prize.
* Yes, I do believe crime fiction can be called literature.