8th Aug 2012
Writer Mihaela Nicolescu, featured in our pulp fiction anthology, Short Stack, is in another new collection centred around ferocious and often fatal femmes. Wolf-Girls, a collection of dark tales of teeth, claws and lycogyny, is the latest book by Hic Dragones. Here, Mihaela talks to us about being a woman writing blood, guts, gore, sex and violence:
When I got stuck in a dark corner of a family reunion a few months ago, a distant someone-or-other asked what “I occupy myself with” as a writer. I told him I’m currently working on a novel, and the gentleman promptly lit up with enthusiasm.
“A love story?” he suggested, clearly delighted to have figured me out. I may have been one of those “creatives,” suggesting to the more prosaic mind an unwholesome disregard for proper work and various other liberal quirks (substance abuse, promiscuity, etc), but at least I was keeping myself off the streets concocting love affairs between impossibly beautiful woman and impressively powerful men.
“No,” I replied, “a brutal rape and murder.”
A bit of torture. Some gloriously over-the-top revenge.
That’s how it often goes. Writing, for a woman, comes with certain expectations. We are supposed to devote ourselves to love, the literary, and self-help. In a literary world where there is already a big gender imbalance, in terms of reviews and commissions, women writers are further marginalised by expectations.
Many women writers (A.S. Byatt, E.L. James, J.K. Rowling) for reasons of their own, chose to write under gender neutral names. I get this. I also wish to save my readers the confusion of consolidating my fair sex and the acts of depraved violence in my fiction.
At one reading, I was asked by a friendly but confused member of the audience, exactly what experience I have with torture. Ought I not write about what I know instead? Like jet-setting with handsome multi billionaires to chateaus in the south of France. That kind of stuff.
Don’t get me wrong; writing is a challenge, whatever your gender. Getting published is hard; and earning a decent living from your writing is like winning the lottery, if playing the lottery involved years of backbreaking work. But the ladies are further ladled with the pressure of being good.
Boys get to be bad; girls get to sit pretty.
Boys get to rape and pillage; girls get to muse on the impossibility of finding a good man.
I, as many writers, struggled for many years with the expectations of writing something “worthy”. While I was secretly plotting brutal crimes, I was submitting stories on life, love, and other equally overdone themes. I wanted to be taken seriously, and believed this would only happen if I was serious.
One small catch: I am not.
I don’t enjoy musing on the shade of one autumnal leaf. I am no good at being understated. What I am good at, ladies and gentlemen, is sex and violence. Why? Because I enjoy it.
So perhaps the old adage of “write what you know” should be amended to “write what you like.” I think this is where the confusion begins, as most people find it hard to believe that a woman could “like” blood, gore, and violence. Much like war, these have been deemed men’s issues. We get romance and lipstick. Not sure why.
Writers like Suzanne Moore, Angela Carter, and Susan Hill have proven that women can do darkness with the best of them. I remember reading Suzanne Moore’s In the Cut for the first time, and experiencing all kinds of joy. The subtlety of threat, the delightfully dark sexual tension, and the genuinely shocking climax, all made this the novel I wish I could have written.
There is a heck of a lot of pressure on writers to strive for the literary if they wish to be taken seriously and/or be published, but these kinds of publications breathe fresh air and offer writers the opportunity to test their own boundaries.
They acknowledge that murder and gore can be poetic and that women writers can wield a hatchet or flash a set of fangs just as expertly as the boys.
Let’s have more of it; for books’ sake, for writers’ sake, and for the greater good.