When I put pen to paper at the start of No Good Reason, I didn’t really consider my motives. Crime has long been a favourite genre of mine, and I had thoroughly enjoyed getting my teeth stuck into the police procedural aspects of my third novel Tumbledown, so it seemed like a natural step to try my hand at writing a fully fledged crime novel. I also craved the opportunity to write a series, and a format where a fresh case could be investigated by recurring protagonists fitted that bill nicely.
With the release of Cold to the Touch – the second in the Dark Peak series – fast approaching, I’ve been giving more thought to the question: why crime? And why, in particular, lesbian crime? Why do I write it, and perhaps more to the point, why should anyone read it when there are countless crime novels already crammed into bookshops and libraries?
And so, as befits a felony-focused blog, I present Exhibit A:
This video was recorded in my home city of Manchester at the 2015 Pride. Every year, hundreds of public sector and emergency workers – police, fire, paramedics, NHS staff – take part in a parade through the city, cheered on by crowds in their thousands. This dancing police officer is an Inspector, highly ranked in a supervisory role, and yet, when I look at my bookshelves and think back over the many mainstream crime novels that I’ve read over the years, queer characters are all but invisible within their pages.
In terms of media representation – particularly on the small screen – things are looking up, with openly queer and bisexual characters forming part of many ensemble casts. They’re no longer restricted to providing “issue of the week” fodder, and their lives are plotted alongside those of their straight counterparts. For publicly funded broadcasters such as the BBC or those with a more liberal remit (the UK’s Channel 4, for example), or subscription services like Netflix or HBO, there is less risk involved in the inclusion of queer characters. The BBC has no advertisers to answer to, and the other three channels have built their reputations on breaking the mould. Meanwhile the huge costs involved in producing a Hollywood film may go some way towards explaining the enduring absence of queer characters on the silver screen (a Studio Responsibility Index undertaken by GLADD found that more than 80% of the 102 major studio releases in 2013 featured no gay characters whatsoever), or the continued tendency towards a negative portrayal of homosexuality in mainstream films, where box office receipts are the be all and end all, and the lowest common denominator rules.
Publishing a novel doesn’t involve millions being spent on special effects, ego-fuelled A-listers and exotic locations, though, so you might think that authors would be free to take more risks, yet that doesn’t seem to be the case in the vast majority of mainstream crime novels, most of which tread a very familiar, very straight path.
Which brings me full circle to my initial question: Why write or read lesbian crime? In short: because we exist.
In real life, there are thousands of us working in the emergency services. We sign onto our shifts, we walk our beats, and we take the risks, and that was exactly what I wanted to show in the Dark Peak series. In Detective Sanne Jensen, I intentionally created a character who isn’t defined by her sexuality. Her best mate at work is a straight bloke, her colleagues know that she’s gay but don’t bat an eyelid about it, and her relationship with Meg, her lifelong friend and occasional lover, is kept strictly to the B plot. Sanne is bright and tenacious, but she’s not perfect; she worries, hates being in trouble and has a tendency to over-think stuff. In other words, she’s a regular person who keeps her head down and grafts like the rest of us. I would dearly love to see more characters like her in crime fiction, but the authors who have cut their teeth writing lesfic crime and then made the leap into the mainstream have had to sideline their queer leads in order to make a living.
When all else fails (and nothing looks to be changing any time soon), DIY is the simplest solution. So I’m writing the crime series I most want to read, with my queer characters exactly where they should be: right in the thick of things, doing their job. Because there are loads of us out there, wearing the uniform and dancing in the streets.
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Cold to the Touch is now available in paperback and e-book from the Bold Strokes website, and will be on wide release from December 15th.