>Ann Cleeves on "Crime for All"

>
(This week´s guest blogger is the well-known British crime fiction author Ann Cleeves . I have reviewed two of her Vera Stanhope novels recently, The Crow Trap and Telling Tales.)

Dorte’s invitation to contribute to her blog arrived while I was in France, at the Neuilly Plaisance book festival. This was quite different from the literature festivals I’ve attended in the US and the UK, more like a fair or a market. Each of us had a table displaying our books, and attempted to engage in conversation with the people walking past. The ultimate objective, of course, was to achieve a sale. From the first half hour it became clear that women should be my target audience. Only two men bought books over the weekend and both those asked for them to be signed for women. The French jackets are quite distinctive, with muted colours, rather beautiful. I asked my publicist if she thought the covers were putting off male buyers. She shrugged: ‘Perhaps, but most book buyers are women anyway.’ It would be interesting to know what Dorte’s readers in mainland Europe make of that view! Is it a generally accepted truth?

The famous Golden Age authors were women writing male heroes. Of course there are lots of exceptions, but Christie’s Poirot and Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey were the big names. I could never understand the idea of Poirot; Jane Marple was a sympathetic character, but Poirot held no attraction for me. I wonder if men enjoyed these plot-driven books, the element of the puzzle, more than I did. Peter Wimsey was a different matter entirely. I have yet to meet a man who doesn’t despise GAUDY NIGHT for its sentimentality and lack of structure while I always find myself a little bit in love with the central character by the end of the book.

I grew up reading Sayers and Allingham, so it’s not surprising that I began by writing a male central character and a male central character who was, if not aristocratic, sufficiently wealthy to solve crimes in his spare time. Vera Stanhope grew out of my dismay that heroines, even heroines written by feminists, tended to be young, reasonably good looking and physically fit. It didn’t occur to me that she might pull in a readership that was predominantly female. I don’t believe writers think in that way; most of us write the books we would enjoy reading.

So, why have a male hero for the Shetland books? Again this wasn’t the result of a reasoned plan. I was looking for a Shetlander born and bred, who was also something of an outsider. Perez’s exotic name and Mediterranean appearance – the fiction is that his ancestors were washed ashore from a wrecked Armada ship – work for this theme, but so too does the fact that’s he’s something of a wimp, what his first wife describes as ‘emotionally incontinent.’ Fishing and crofting is demanding physical work. The stereotypical Shetlander is a hard-drinking, hard-working Viking. Perez is sympathetic, rather gentle and doesn’t fit the image. In this too, he’s an outsider.

Looking back at emails from readers over recent months, I’ve received approximately an equal number from men and women. Perhaps that’s because place is so important in the books and landscape doesn’t have a gender bias. It would be interesting to hear what the readers of Dorte’s blog make of that idea too.
Thank you so much Ann Cleeves for taking the time to write this interesting contribution to my April theme. And to my readers: remember to comment on Ann´s questions.


Krimi for Alle
(skrevet af den kendte britiske krimiforfatter Ann Cleeves, som er på vej ud på det danske krimimarked. Hun har foreløbig fået udgivet Sort som Ravnen på forlaget Cicero, og er på vej med Hvide Nætter. Jeg har anmeldt to af hendes tidligere krimier for nylig, The Crow Trap og Telling Tales)

Dortes invitation til at skrive et indlæg til hendes blog kom mens jeg var i Frankrig, som deltager af Neuilly Plaisance bogfestivalen. Det var en meget anderledes oplevelse end de litteratur-festivals jeg har deltaget i i Storbritannien og USA, mere i retning af et marked. Hver af os havde en bod, hvor vi udstillede vore bøger, og forsøgte at komme i snak med folk som gik forbi. Hovedformålet var naturligvis at sælge bøger. Allerede efter den første halve time stod det klart, at kvinder måtte blive min målgruppe. Kun to mænd købte bøger i løbet af weekenden, og de bad begge om at få dem signeret til en kvinde. De franske bogomslag er meget karakteristiske, ganske smukke i dæmpede farver. Jeg spurgte min agent, om hun troede, omslagene skræmte mandlige kunder væk. Hun trak på skulderen: ”Måske, men flertallet af bogkunder er under alle omstændigheder kvinder.” Det ville være interessant at vide, hvad Dortes læsere på det europæiske fastland siger til det synspunkt. Er det en generelt vedtaget sandhed?

De berømte guldalder-forfattere var kvinder, som skrev om mandlige helte. Selvfølgelig er der masser af undtagelser, men Agatha Christies Poirot og Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey var de store navne. Jeg forstod aldrig ideen med Poirot; Jane Marple var en sympatisk person, men Poirot tiltalte mig ikke. Jeg spekulerer på, om mænd nød disse bøger, hvor plottet og puslespillet var drivkraften, mere end jeg gjorde. Peter Wimsey var en helt anden sag. Jeg har endnu til gode at møde en mand, som ikke foragter ´Peter Wimsey i Oxford´ for dens sentimentalitet og mangel på struktur, mens jeg altid opdager, at jeg er en lille smule forelsket i hovedpersonen ved slutningen af bogen.

Jeg voksede op med Sayers og Margery Allingham, så det er ikke så overraskende, at jeg begyndte at skrive om en mandlig hovedperson, og tilmed en mand som selv om han ikke var adelsmand, var tilstrækkeligt velhavende til at løse kriminalgåder i sin fritid. Vera Stanhope voksede ud af min utilfredshed med at heltinder, selv heltinder skabt af feminister, havde en tendens til at være unge, forholdsvis flotte og i fysisk god form. Det var ikke faldet mig ind, at hun måske ville tiltrække en læserskare, som fortrinsvis var kvinder. Jeg tror ikke forfattere tænker i de baner; de fleste af os skriver de bøger, vi selv ville nyde at læse.

Så hvorfor have en mandlig helt i Shetland-serien? Endnu en gang var det ikke ud fra en velovervejet plan. Jeg var på udkig efter en vaskeægte shetlænder, som samtidig var lidt af en outsider. Perez´ eksotiske navn og sydlandsk udseende – sagnet går at hans forfædre blev skyllet i land efter et skibbrud fra den Spanske Armada – fungerer i forbindelse med dette tema, og det samme gør den kendsgerning, at han er lidt af et skvat, eller som hans kone udtrykker det, ´følelsesmæssigt utæt´. Fiskeri og husmandsbrug er krævende, fysisk arbejde. Den stereotype shetlænder er en viking som arbejder hårdt og drikker tæt. Perez er forstående, temmelig mild, og passer ikke ind i billedet. Så også på det område skiller han sig ud.

Når jeg ser tilbage på de e-mails, jeg har modtaget fra mine læsere de seneste måneder, har jeg modtaget nogenlunde lige mange fra mænd og kvinder. Måske skyldes det, at miljøet er så vigtigt i serien, og landskaber taler ikke til noget bestemt køn. Det ville også være interessant at høre, hvad læserne af Dortes blog mener om den idé.

Tusind tak til Ann Cleeves for dette eftertænksomme bidrag til mit april-tema. Til læserne: husk at tænke over hendes spørgsmål, og skriv en lille kommentar.

About these ads

About Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

I am a Danish teacher. In my spare time I read, write and review crime fiction.
This entry was posted in Ann Cleeves, British, guest blogger. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to >Ann Cleeves on "Crime for All"

  1. maxine says:

    >Interesting post, indeed. Especially for me as I am currently half-way through Red Bones!I am not in mainland Europe so I should not really answer the questions, but for the UK, the bookseller recently ran some graphs of book buying according to gender and social class (presumably as a result of a survey and we all know how reliable surveys are). The highest category (ie buying most books) was female A +B as usual, but the biggest increase, and the second category, was female C+D. The suggestion made was that this is the supermarket sales “kicking in” – women predominantly shop at supermarkets and are said to be chucking in a £3.99 book (lots of chick lit and celeb bios are sold in supermarkets). Note, this is not my view, but I am passing it on.Ann also suggests that the appeal of a “sense of place” is gender-neutral. In my experience, I agree – it is how I became friendly with some of my first “blog friends”, Dave Lull, Frank Wilson and Patrick Kurp (all in the US), and I believe “placeism” is one of the common themes that binds our small “eurocrime”-focused reading group at FriendFeed, where the discussion often seems to take off most when we have a topic concerning a particular place. Both genders of reader feature in these discussions. Though it is a small sample, of course.

  2. >I suppose it is true that most readers are women. I’m the only man in my readers’ group, but why that should be so is beyond me.And place is absolutely fascinating, isn’t it? How it moulds us, so its quite obvious if you come from the coast or a mountainous area, a large city or a small village.There is a very real sense in which place is about character.

  3. Beth F says:

    >Excellent guest post. Thanks to both Ann and Dorte! Most of the men I know (I’m in the USA) read and buy books. But many women book bloggers complain that the men they know don’t read, so perhaps it’s true.I loved the Lord Peter Wimsey books and never like Poirot until the BBC started the television movies.Place matters a lot to me in a book. I’ll pick up a book solely on the setting. Scotland (and Denmark/Scandinavia) is a big draw for me.Thanks again for a great post.

  4. Dorte H says:

    >Maxine, as it is a bit difficult to entice “mainland Europe” to comment, I really appreciate that you do :) My impression is that Danish men tend to choose biographies and non-fiction rather than novels. My husband does read good crime fiction, but only one every time I read 100. The novels we both enjoy are those which are well-written, not too fantastic and often with a strong sense of place. It doesn´t have to be exotic in any way, just a knowledgeable writer who knows the place and makes it come alive.

  5. Dorte H says:

    >John, is it because men do not read at all, or do they read other things? (other genres, newspapers, magazines…) “And place is absolutely fascinating, isn’t it? How it moulds us, so its quite obvious if you come from the coast or a mountainous area, a large city or a small village.” Fine observation. No matter what I do for the rest of my life, I will always be a village girl – and my father´s daughter :D So it is certainly easier for me to identify with characters who live in the country/small towns than city people. Everything seems to move so fast and be rather superficial.

  6. Dorte H says:

    >Beth, thank you. And I certainly agree that the post is excellent. I am so impressed that busy writers will take the time to write pieces for my little blog. Scotland and similar settings (I dare not say in UK or GB; can never remember what is what) appeal to me a lot. A crime novel should first of all be a good mystery, but when the setting is successful I have the feeling that I have been there myself. And actually that may be what I remember when I have forgotten the plot and the perpetrator. And I think it is a major reason why it is easy for me to remember Ann Cleeves´ and Martin Edwards´ novels.

  7. marco says:

    > Maxine, as it is a bit difficult to entice “mainland Europe” to comment, I really appreciate that you do :) Ok, mainland Europe here.I think that, on average:1) men read less than women;2) men read different things;3) men are much less likely to read cosies – above all novels about wealthy amateurs who solve crimes in their spare time. Or novels where siamese cats solve mysteries.I did like Gaudy Night. A crime novel should first of all be a good mystery A crime novel must not necessarily be a mystery,noirs for example are generally much more about atmosphere and setting than plot turns. Sense of place for me is very important, unless we’re talking the purest golden age-intellectual puzzle type of mysteries.

  8. Dorte H says:

    >Welcome mainland Europe" :) I trust you didn´t think I was after you, or anyone in particular. It is just a fact that my English-Danish blog has 20-25 % Danish readers so accordingly I receive more comments from other nationalities. When I consider the size and population of Denmark compared to the rest of the world, it is not really surprising either. And thank you for your comments on the questions. I agree that men & women often read different sub-genres within crime fiction, but even though I read some cosy mysteries, I also prefer e.g. Jo Nesbø or Ann Cleeves (and no siamese cat detectives for me either). "A crime novel … good mystery". I suppose I only meant that to call it crime or thriller I have certain expectations to plot & planning which a few Scandinavian femikrimi writers don´t always live up to. Some of their books actually deserve the epithet lipstick literature.

  9. Julia Smith says:

    >Fascinating guest blog, Ann and Dorte! It’s true about readers of fiction being mainly women:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/mar/25/women-reading-survey-fictionMen tend to read the news, non-fiction and biographies, and of course how-to books. Women are the fiction readers. I think it has to do with the female tendency toward being adroit readers of social cues, as opposed to the male tendency toward action. If you look at what men do read, it gives them facts and figures, info they feel is useful. Of course, in my personal life I know a lot of male fiction readers. They tend to be brainiacs, and are drawn toward fantasy and sci-fi. My husband is an insatiable reader and we have the towers of paperbacks to prove it.

  10. Dorte H says:

    >Julia, I think I have read the article before, but thanks for the reminder & your views on the questions. In my private life I meet many men who hardly ever open a book, but at work, we are all pretty literary (c 80 teachers). I am also very pleased with this blog post, thank you :D It will be interesting to see if authors from other countries are as forthcoming as the British ones.

  11. Bognettet says:

    >Hej DorteJeg har lige sat denne bog til debat i DR Krimiklubben – og linket hertil . Håbder det er okay :-)MvhLone HRedaktør, DR Krimiklubben

  12. Dorte H says:

    >Hej Lone. Det synes jeg da er en rigtig god idé. Ann Cleeves er en spændende forfatter, og hun var fantastisk imødekommende, da jeg gerne ville have hende til at skrive et indlæg til min blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s