Wild Girls – Denise Mina & Karen Campbell with Craig Robertson
While the tagline of the event sold it as a discussion of women and crime writing, it really became a discussion about crime writing. Both Mina and Campbell actually seemed a little uncomfortable to discuss whether their gender influenced their writing (Mina stated that some days she forgets she’s a woman), and Campbell set out to write crime to humanize the police. With both authors unwilling to dwell a ton on feminism, we got a great, fun panel with a wide amount of crime topics.
One topic they addressed that I found really interesting was that of power. For both Campbell and Mina, publication is a form of power, and both feel that what they write shows how they choose to use the power they are given. Campbell, a former police officer, chose to use her power to show that members of law enforcement were more than just instruments. Mina has used hers to discuss and highlight social issues throughout each of her books.
But does the fact they are women influence our choice to read them, or the way they are marketed? Off the bat, one distinguishing feature of the female writer is the fact that both Mina and Campbell have written pregnant detectives. That representation of happiness, stability, and a home life to come are both uncommon in a lot of crime fiction. And of course, being pregnant is a huge reminder of one’s femininity. One audience member was brave enough to say that she might choose Mina or another woman writer over their male counterparts, but mostly because she expects more psychological depth from a woman writer. And both Mina and Campbell said they have received letters from readers complaining of rough language in their books; language the reader didn’t expect because they are women.
Which led them to start talking about the use of Scots in their novels. As an avid reader of all sorts of Scottish fiction for the last five years, I was intrigued to hear their views on this. Mina, who is widely published in the States, mentioned that while her books used to have to be “translated” for American readership, they now are changing less and less. Campbell has also had her fair share of arguments with her London based publisher, who at one time wanted to change the word “close” to “foyer”. For those not in the know, a close is a sort of alley or entrance to a group of tenement flats. It gets its name from being small, enclosed on all sides. Somehow, Campbell’s publisher took her description and thought it was the same thing as a foyer. It is an amusing example of how much language and word choice matters, even if readers might not be familiar with the word in question.
About this time, the discussion broke away into a broader discourse about crime fiction in general. Campbell is moving away from the genre for her next book, but Mina has fallen in love with it and will stay put. They both admire the genre for its potential for great narrative drive and the avid readership, but both admit that their placement in the genre is due to marketers. They write the books that they want to write, and the publisher does what they need to do to sell them.
No conclusion was really drawn from either of these wild girls when it comes to women and crime writing. While both agree they still see many of their colleagues using initials, pseudonyms, or gender neutral names to sell books, they themselves have not succeeded less because of who they are. Mina stated that the only way to fix the issue was to keep putting a woman’s name on the book and let the contents sell itself. Act like there is a problem and you create it. While it might narrow the readership field now, both Mina and Campbell only want to write good books.
I went to book signings for Rankin, Gray, and Anderson and for Mina after her Girls panel. It was an incredible experience to meet all of them, and see Mina for the second time. I was potentially most nervous to meet Rankin (of course), in part because I decided to have them sign my Kindle and he was the first I handed it to. When I showed it to him and asked if he would, he laughed and said he had seen it done in the States before, then asked where I was from. I responded the States, and he, Gray, and Anderson all chuckled. When I asked Mina to sign it (who did remember me a bit from a couple of years ago), she and I got into a good discussion about how eco-friendly they are and just what a great device eReaders are for an avid reader. I do wish that I had had brought one of my actual copies for Rankin to sign, but having four of the leading Scottish crime writers on the back of my Kindle makes it awesome to read.
This is sadly the end of my Bloody Scotland write-ups and experiences. I hope they announce an event for next year soon, because I am already starting to get excited for another go.