Day 2: Women and Crime Writing. Do they go hand in hand?
Women and crime. Do they go hand in hand? There is no hard evidence to suggest so. But women writing about crime? Well, those are some of the most formidable, intriguing, nuanced and amazing stories that one could possibly read. Day 2 of the SheThePeople.TV’s Women Writers’ Fest’s panel was on “When Women Write Crime.” The panel was an informative and insightful one with responses from panellists across the spectrum of crime journalism and writing. We had Puja Changoiwala, Archana Sarat, Aarti V Raman and Annie Zaidi talk about the research that goes hand in hand with being a crime writer and the expanding genre of crime fiction, among other things. The panel was moderated by Meghna Pant.
Is it that most victims in Crime Fiction are women? Archana Sarat cited that according to a 2015 statistic released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 2.24 million crimes against women were reported over the past decade. And fiction too does tend to depict that. In the midst of this, do writers feel the onus to give a social message in their books? Annie Zaidi thinks not. She said that writing needs to be designed by the author so as to say what it has to naturally and not in a manner that is preachy. According to Puja Changoiwala, “Good writing should make you think and not give a message.”
Stereotypes faced by women writers.
Aarti V Raman’s first books were said to be aggressively masculine by reviewers and readers. There is a perception that writing is gendered. Meghna Pant said, “When I’m a writer, I have no gender.” Authors like J.K. Rowling and E.L. James had been asked to publish under a name that sounded masculine. Why has it been so? According to Annie Zaidi, this is because Publishers hold the view that novels written by female authors won’t be picked up by men otherwise. This is definitely a point that publishers are guilty of. Even the covers of books written by women are gendered. Meghna Pant said that she has had to fight to have her book cover not depict a stiletto on the cover. Elaborating on this, she said that a graphic of a stiletto on a book cover is okay but only when the book is concerned with the graphic in question. Book covers shouldn’t be gendered.
Crime fiction isn’t a male domain
Meghna Pant thinks that crime fiction isn’t a male domain. After all, the leading crime writer in the world is Agatha Christie, even after her passing. Archana Sarat also agreed. Acclaimed crime novels such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train too are written by female writers.
Puja Changoiwala thinks that the True Crime genre definitely isn’t about gender but about expertise.
It requires you to be either a lawyer, victim or journalist – most true crime writers are journalists. Annie Zaidi said that she sees crime diversifying – from thrillers, to true crimes, to detective fiction and more.
Research isn’t just looking up the topic on Wikipedia. Go beyond.
When it comes to research, Aarti V Raman says that it’s important to be careful and not give out details that may be dangerous. For her books, she used both primary and secondary sources and engaged in conversations with people, particularly ethical hackers. Research isn’t just looking up the topic on Wikipedia. Go beyond. Archana Sarat, having written a book as explicit as Birds of Prey which is a psychological crime thriller that also deals with a sensitive issue, referred to medical and post-mortem reports. These are available and writers should refer to them to add detail to their books.
People have a narrow perception of what qualifies as crime fiction
Puja Changoiwala’s novel The Front Page Murders is about a serial killer in which she had to trace 20 years of his life. This took extremely intensive research where she interviewed the people related to or who knew him and even interviewed the killer himself. There are some things that you just don’t get from research online. Annie Zaidi’s research for her collection of essays Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales was straightforward journalism. She met victims and she met retired dacoits. And she spoke with them. She also thinks that people have a narrow perception of what qualifies as crime fiction. One could try to look at it from a social and journalistic perspective. Female Foeticide is a crime. Fraud too is a crime. But would either be accepted as crime fiction? There is a need for a change in perception.
The panel also thought the country has come into a time where the people have become indifferent as a society. There is no surprise anymore and there isn’t enough outrage. There is a need to take action. When it comes to crime fiction, they see a lot more female authors writing gritty and realistic depictions of crimes. Publishers want more writers to write true crime stories and this is one genre that is taking off. On a parting note, Annie Zaidi said that she wishes to see more sub-genres of crime fiction.
This panel had been live-streamed. You can catch this entire conversation on SheThePeople.TV’s Facebook page.