The joy of the subversive heroine – S.E. Lynes

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By S.E. Lynes

‘Crime writers are the loveliest people’ is a phrase I’ve heard many times over, most recently at Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.♥

I write psychological thrillers, which comes under the crime umbrella and whilst I would say that all the writers I’ve met, in whatever genre, have been lovely, whether I myself am lovely or not is something I cannot possibly comment on. What I am, what I was brought up to be, like many women, is a good girl. That’s not to say I’m not up for having a good time and God knows, I’ve had plenty, but when faced with a life decision I will always ask myself not what do I want to do but what is the right thing to do?

If my decision disappoints others, I will suffer for a long time afterwards, even if the opposite decision would have affected me adversely. And I think that’s true particularly of women. Women are still brought up to please, to be nice.

So when it comes to writing a female character, sometimes I like to let rip. I like to delve into my naughtiest self, one that surfaces in life as my dark sense of humour or the odd illicit fag, and create a subversive energy which I then take for a walk. For my debut novel, I wrote Valentina. Sexy and funny, subversive and dangerous, she was the friend you love to be around while remaining wary of, the woman you want to be sometimes but dare not take even one step in her spike heels.

What I discovered upon publication was that the joy of writing Valentina translated into that of reading her. She was the woman readers loved to hate, or rather loved and hated. She was a rollercoaster ride, a source of vicarious thrills. Much in the way children are excited by the behaviour of Horrid Henry, so my readers got a kick out of what Valentina said and did – a little bit of ‘you’re terrible, Muriel’ for those of you who remember Muriel’s Wedding. Trying not to give too much away here but what was most interesting for me, talking to readers, was that for Valentina’s minor assaults on the sisterhood, the female readers hated her, but when she transgressed the ultimate moral boundary, that was the moment, for many, that she won their admiration and affection. I found that fascinating.

The Proposal marks a return to the subversive heroine. Pippa Gates is less calculating than chaotic, less sociopath than social disaster. And she’s funny in a you-know-you-shouldn’t-laugh-but-you-just-did kind of way. I’m married with three kids, I do my chores (most of the time) and if I go lower than four cans of tomatoes I start to panic. What if twelve people call round for dinner? How will I make that impromptu pasta sauce? In Pippa’s fridge you will find a bottle of white wine and possibly some nail varnish. She sleeps with men and women, usually when drunk, and staggers home in the wee small hours, making sure to text her best friend with the aim of worrying her senseless. When an ex-con arrives at Pippa’s door selling cleaning products, she is repulsed by him and afraid. But she is also fascinated and attracted.

What would I do in that situation? Buy a J-cloth and send him on his way, of course. I would wish him well. But Pippa isn’t going to do that, is she? No! Pippa is going to invite him in. She’s going to wittingly put herself in danger.

As I often say to my students: conflict, abusive behaviour, emotionally chaotic people, people who live outside societal norms … whatever … in life, these things, these people, are stressful and boring. On the page, however, they are utterly compelling.

I can remember hearing a famous actress, possibly Joan Collins, being asked how she felt about playing a bitch in Dynasty or one of those big eighties American soaps – sorry to be so vague but what I do remember clearly is the essence if not the words of her reply. She drew back her shoulder pads, gave an enigmatic smile and said something like, ‘oh, but the baddies are so much more fun to play.’ And that, really, is it. That’s why the subversive female is such a great literary archetype. The reader returns to their inner child, gaping at the antics of My Naughty Little Sister. The writer, meanwhile, will be having so much fun.

S. E. Lynes lives in Middlesex with her husband, three kids and her dog, Lola. A former BBC producer, creative writing tutor for ten years, Susie now writes full time and does occasional mentoring. The Proposal is out now, published by Bookouture.


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