Today is a first for mightythorjrs. This is the first of I hope many Blog Tour: Guest Blogs. As part of the promotional tour for her book Waterborne Exile (Waterborne #2),
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Woman can do sex and violence, too by Susan Murray
Sex and violence – odd travelling companions. Do they really belong hand-in-hand in a discussion of fiction? I’m not convinced they do. But let’s slide over that for now, because the assertion I’ve been given is ‘Women can do sex and violence, too.’ That adds a couple of layers of complication – the suggestion that sex and violence somehow aren’t womanly things – and the allied implication that certain other things are legitimate subjects for women to tackle – and, further, the implication that sex and violence (in whatever combination) are inherently Good Things.
Let’s be honest here – this is really about GIRL COOTIES, isn’t it? Supposedly girls like pink things and talking about makeup and icky feelings and they’re not into interesting things like engines and brake horsepower or sports or action movies and they don’t understand the offside rule and they have no sense of humour and they only exist to spoil everyone else’s fun. And, of course, girls turn into women who only read books with pastel-coloured covers, and write about the aforementioned icky feelings and lurrve and romance etc etc. The sad truth is these are all stereotypes – they are misleading, limiting, damaging and none of us need them. As a woman – and once upon a time a girl – let me take a moment to challenge stereotypical thinking.
EXHIBIT A: Quentin Tarantino. and more specifically, Pulp Fiction. There’s lots of bloody, bloody violence and sudden, gory death. Also vomit. No girl cooties there, right? Bound to be abhorrent to women? Nope. The thing is, there are complex characters, too. The too-cool-for-school hitman is a prime example. Newly returned from his super-cool travels in Europe, he sets out talking philosophy. His coolness is stripped away layer by layer as he is put through the worst of bad days. He commits an utter pratfall when he turns around to address the youth in the back of their car and neglects to observe proper trigger discipline. Because of this he’s lectured like an idiot by the man – a legend in their circles – who is brought in to oversee the clearing up of the ensuing mess. He and his co-worker have to report back to their boss wearing uncool baggy shorts and t-shirts. His boss’s wife (whom he fancies) overdoses on his drugs and he has to race across town to save her or explain what happened to his boss. Now there’s a doomed romance… His final vestiges of coolness are torn away as he emerges from the bathroom and his demise is heralded by two pop tarts flipping out of the toaster. There’s so much going on: the interplay between the characters, the way the story loops back to the start, the irony… It’s bloody wonderful. Wonderful. And bloody.
EXHIBIT B: Desperado. Blood, gore, disgusting toilets, throwing knives. A brief cameo from Tarantino with an elaborate joke about piss-poor beer before he meets his really rather messy doom. Not woman territory, right? Wrong. Salma Hayek’s role in this film is wonderful – oh, romance, you say? There is some, to be fair, there’s a bit of a love triangle going on. There’s some gorgeous slow-motion walking away from a wall of flames, but the VERY BEST BIT is the laugh-out-loud moment (NB sense of humour…) when she sets up as surgeon with the help of a book from her underused bookshop, removes a bullet from the injured Mariachi, then calmly cauterises the wound with a cigarette. Oh, and there is dramatic application of concealed rocket launchers. They deserve a mention, too.
EXHIBIT C: Kameron Hurley’s writing. She doesn’t just subvert stereotypes, she kicks them over and tramples the pieces into dust. Then uses the dust to make clay to fashion new characters to inhabit radically different worlds. When things go wrong for these characters the outcome tends to be messy. There’s sex, and there’s violence, and no compromise. Hurley’s writing is unflinching. Also bloody. Also wonderful. And the reason I’m finishing this blog piece today, rather than last night as I planned because I started reading Mirror Empire and couldn’t stop…
EXHIBIT D: Back to Tarantino again, because. If I recall correctly Reservoir Dogs opens with a mundane debate about tipping the waitress. We don’t get any romance. We do get a lot of subtle interplay between the characters and loyalty is a key theme. And, of course, the violence. There’s lots of that. There’s the ear scene, there’s falling out among thieves in various permutations, but best of all is the gradual unfolding of Tim Roth’s backstory as he’s bleeding out in the back seat of the car (and of course, the deep, deep irony of events leading to that point). The whole thing is a long way from supposed girl cootie territory, but pretty damn good all the same. And I haven’t even got round to Kill Bill and The Bride’s quest for revenge. Or the fact that I also really enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables books, and all of Jane Austen’s novels.
So, there’s been rather more violence than sex in this post. Sorry. I’d be outstaying my welcome if I set out to discuss in what circumstances they can be Good Things in fiction, but there’s no doubt they impel characters into interesting situations where vulnerabilities are exposed. As a writer my fiction is influenced by every story I’ve ever consumed. It doesn’t matter if it’s been in the form of a film, a TV series, or a book; it doesn’t matter who has written it or what their gender; it doesn’t matter if I liked or disliked it; all these stories have shaped my notion of narrative in some way. Elements have lodged in my subconscious ready to take on new life in my own writing when the moment’s right: every spatter pattern, every questionable encounter, every crunch of broken bone, every severed ear, every punctured lung. And maybe if my characters really piss me off I’ll have them fall in love.
About the Author:
Susan Murray is a graduate of the Open University, and describes herself as a “serial house renovator”.
She was recently longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize.
About the book:
- Series: Waterborne Blade
- Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Angry Robot (August 4, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0857664395
- ISBN-13: 978-0857664396
In a world of turmoil, following the king’s death, the traitor Vasic is struggling to secure his rule over the combined Peninsular Kingdoms whilst the exiled queen, Alwenna, has taken refuge with freemerchant community whose elders fear her dark power. Mistrust rules the day with bribery, drugs, traffic king of children, and murder rife throughout the kingdom.
As the priestess’ plot for revenge continues, Alenn a leaves to seek the outcast group of loyal kinsman. Marten attempts to restore Alwenna to the throne but as the priestess closes in, will he succeed?