A few of my favourite writers as a child were the Bronte sisters and Little Women writer Louisa May Alcott.
However, when they first started out on their writing careers they had something in common, they had to adopt nom de plumes. The main reason being they were women and back in their era they wrote, it was not seen as an acceptable occupation for a woman.
Charlotte said, “we did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”
So, the Bronte sisters became the Bell brothers and Louisa became A.M Barnard when writing her gothic horror stories.
Now as a female writer living in an era when a woman can just about be who she wants to be. You maybe surprised to hear I am considering an ambiguous alternative to my real name for my thriller books.
When I was first asked by colleagues and friends would I be using my real name Lena D Walton, I replied without any second thoughts yes of course. Why wouldn’t I?
But now as I delve into the world of publishers two things are becoming apparent. One, book deals are decided by accountants. I have known that all along. Its how much money are you going to bring into the house. They don’t ask are you a literary genius, they ask are you a profitable product?
And second there is still in some areas of the publishing world a group of people who still think a man is going to be more successful as a writer then a woman.
I am sure many readers enjoyed Mary Shelley’s (ne – Wollstonecraft) Frankenstein, one of the greatest horror book written. The way the book came about is as much of a legend as the book itself.
Mary won a bet with Lord Byron – Who could write the most frightening horror story. Mary was staying at Lake Geneva along with Percy Bysshe Shelley soon to be her husband, Lord Byron, Claire Clairemont and Dr Polidori.
Mary came up with Dr Frankenstein and his man-made monster. And our sympathy shifts between the Dr and his poor creature that he created from dead body parts.
The book was published in 1818 anonymously, yet immediately the speculation was that it had been written by a man and that man was Percy, who by then Mary had married.
Mary denied this and suggested it was too juvenile a work for her husband to demean himself writing. Yet, the speculation continued and continues to this day.
Why is it that there is always, even now in the 21st century a belief that a woman could not write a good horror novel? We can be scary, ask any man?
For anyone who watched The Haunting of Hill House, the original book was written by a woman – Shirley Jackson back in 1959. Every part of that book instils fear. The mere description of the house and those simple words, (…….what ever walked there, walked alone.)
And think about this one Daphne Du Maurier – The Birds, Hitchcock turned that into a classic film. “Nat gazed at the little corpses, shocked and horrified. they were all small birds, none of any size, there must have been fifty of them lying upon the floor.“
Who would have imagined a small bird like a robin could create such menace?
More women read thrillers then men. So more female thriller writers?
I have been reading a raft of thriller writers just lately, both male and female. One thing I am deducing – if dark, manipulative and psychologically frightening is what you want. Women still have the edge. Men tend to go for the more physically and visually gruesome and for a higher body count of deaths and mutilations.
But women can still leave both their victims and their readers mentally scarred and a little bit uncomfortable about going to bed on their own at night.
As a reader, writer and film critic I don’t really do copious amounts of blood. Not because I am frightened at the site of blood, I am not, but because for me it is far more interesting to know what goes on a person’s head. Just how damaged can some one be? How long can they function in society completely damaged? How long they can walk among the masses un noticed and how long they can go on killing people?
It’s interesting because now publishers seem keen to have male thriller authors, writing from a woman’s perspective. Can they be as physiologically unnerving as us women, or are females still deadlier then the male?
It depends on the book you are reading and who your favourite writer is. I love Scandinavian writers and it seems fortunately they have plenty of dark writers both male and female.
Can a man get inside the head of a woman? I have just finished reading the Watcher by Ross Armstrong. And yes, the writer does effectively get inside a woman’s head.
But for me if I was asked to write with a male nom de plume, would I?
Hmm it would actually be ideal for me. I could slip back in to the allusive secretive woman writer I really want to be. I already have the name I would use as well. It’s a secret for now though.
At the end of the day authors of fiction must have an imagination that transcends social boundaries, misconceptions and stereotypes. I can imagine fear. I can imagine manipulation. I can imagine killing someone. (Yes, I know. Perhaps not something to brag about really.)
I can put these fantasies down on paper just as well as any man. We are equal in our imagining!
But think of the one most innocuous lines in horror writing? Stephen King – Misery, “I am your number one fan.” Once you have read the book it becomes something that if it was said to you as a writer would instantly send chills through your bones.
Or perhaps the lines from Frankenstein when the monster first moves, “Look its moving, look its alive.”
Who cares if they were written by a man or a woman. They are lines that get inside your head and stay there. No blood, no axe wielding maniac. So simple so innocuous but also so scary.