So, this is the amazing surprise I’ve been teasing you about for a week now!
To celebrate the paperback release of Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary, I virtually sat down with her for the second time – see our first interview here – to talk about feminism, crime fiction and being a woman writer AND Books & Reviews is giving away one copy of Sarah’s debut novel Someone Else Skin. You can check my review here, but I will sum it up by saying it’s awesome, and Marnie Rome has become one of those inspirational, kick-ass investigators that help me in my busiest and darkest hours. Thank you, Sarah, for being a joy to work with.
‘This was always going to be Marnie’s series’
Author Sarah Hilary saw her debut novel published in 2014. Someone Else’s Skin started to gather readers’ attention even before its publication date. This week, Hilary’s debut is being released in paperback, a common and necessary step for all great books, and only 6 months after its hardback release.
Sarah Hilary is thrilled to collaborate with Books & Reviews yet once again as I send her a direct message over Twitter. I just saw on her Facebook page that Someone Else’s Skin is being released on the 28th as a paperback and I wanted to do something with her to celebrate. She quickly agrees and we start to brainstorm some ideas. This only shows that she is passionate not only about her work, but about her fans too, and she actively shares reviews, interviews and information on both her Twitter and Facebook page. One of the many examples of Sarah’s participation is her constant support of Books & Reviews and her willingness to talk to us about we love the most: crime fiction and feminism.
I have to admit I first wanted Sarah to talk candidly about what being a writer means. How only a few can actually make a living out of writing and how the rest of them write when they are not working or with their families. But Sarah wrote back with a much better idea: we should discuss women investigators and feminism. As you can imagine, I was thrilled. So much so, that I thought up the questions for this interview in a few hours. The first one that came to my mind was if, while writing, she was aware of doing so as a “woman writer”, a label that puts off many readers and that is still stigmatized. Sarah quickly related this question to the main theme in Someone Else’s Skin: domestic violence. She admits to being aware of wanting ‘to do justice to the (many) truths at stake in the story, including those about domestic abuse, and violence. I knew I was tackling complex, sensitive material, but I think that’s true of any writer, maybe especially a crime writer. Many of the stories I wanted to tell in the book were women’s stories, and it was important to me that I told them authentically, so perhaps my answer is Yes.’
And talking about women’s stories, there has been quite an outrage for the recent misrepresentation of women in the publishing industry. I personally deal mainly with women authors, but when I request review copies, it’s a woman I talk to 99,90% of the times. However, if you take a look at the best-selling lists and the amount of books certain newspapers review, there is still a male dominance. But, luckily, Sarah Hilary had a very different experience. She calls herself “lucky” and tells us an anecdote about ‘a very good friend who was told by a publisher that ‘if she were only a man’ they’d have snapped up her book. The subject matter, it was felt, was too tricky to market to readers as having been written by a woman.’ But that novel was not a crime novel, a world clearly dominated by women authors and with more and more rising women investigators. Sarah agrees that ‘broadly speaking […] crime novels tend not to be pigeon-holed as drastically as other genres. It’s a long-established fact that more women read crime than men, and that many of the world’s bestselling crime authors are women. Hard to argue with the facts.’
As for Marnie ever being anything but a woman, the quick answer is no. Sarah Hilary truly believes it is characters who come to writers rather than the writers thinking up a character out of the blue. ‘This was always going to be Marnie’s series, from the moment she walked into my head’, she clarifies, but then she candidly admits that ‘[t]hat said, every novel I’d attempted prior to Someone Else’s Skin had a male lead’. There is no need to ask her why, she quickly states the reasons for this, one and the most important being authorial distance. However, Marnie Rome ‘is teaching me to love writing women’ she finally admits, and I can clearly see why, for the redhead, kick-ass main character of Someone Else’s Skin could very well compete with other household names such as Dr. Kay Scarpetta, created by Patricia Cornwell in the near future.
Along Marnie Rome, her colleague Noah Jake added some diversity to the mainly white and heterosexual scenario that is usually found in crime fiction. Not only does he has Jamaican ancestry, but he is also gay, and Sarah openly addresses his relationship with his partner in a few, very intimate scenes. I wanted to ask her about the lack of diversity in crime fiction, but she was quick to answer that such lack may only be in my mind. She states that ‘[t]here are gay characters in crime fiction, but you’re right to say they’re in a minority. One of my favourites is Milo Sturgis in Jonathan Kellerman’s series. He’s not the narrator, but neither was Sherlock Holmes the narrator. For my money, he’s easily the best character in the series. I’d be interested in Kellerman’s take on that, whether he sees Milo as the star. It’s more unusual to find gay lead characters in crime, but Val McDermid and Mari Hannah are writing/have written these. As Val says, we don’t choose our characters, they choose us.’ When a writer approaches such a question – even though she called it ‘tricky’ – in this way, it is only natural that they want their homosexual characters to be more than “their homosexual characters.” Sarah Hilary wants Noah Jake to have a healthy and non-defining relationship with both his race and his sexuality. ‘I want it to feel entirely ordinary, unremarkable. Noah is about the only character with a happy personal life, and that’s no coincidence’, and I’m more than happy to move on to the next question.
It is not easy to find a writer that openly says to you as an interviewer that she wants to talk about feminism, it still being the f-word that no woman wants to identify with. So, I was curious about Sarah’s own views on the matter, since she has come out as a feminist – at least to me – a few times. She admits it’s still controversial to call yourself “a feminist”, but there is a little voice in her head that does not let her subject to this. ‘Sometimes that makes me sad, but sometimes I think Hell, yes, because it’s a writer’s job to be controversial, to push back at society’s complacency; to remind us, as Arthur Miller puts it, of what we’ve chosen to forget. There are still so many repressive and extreme social sanctions against women, often endorsed by families as well as cultures. FGM is one that I talk about in Someone Else’s Skin, but it’s one of many.’ I also know of her 13-year old daughter who often makes an appearance on her Twitter feed. I wanted to know if she openly talks to her about feminism and she admited that it is not easy. ‘I think it’s harder to be a feminist as a young woman nowadays than it was, say, twenty or thirty years ago. Too much of our culture is about homogeneity, and celebrity. There are some truly depressing ‘role models’ for young women at the moment (famous for being wives or girlfriends, or for being great at shopping or sex); it’s not unusual for girls to be bullied by their peers for not fitting the ‘norm’ of long hair, fake tans and pre-teen sexual savvy’. So, what about Marnie? Is he a feminist and would she openly call herself one? As I read Sarah’s answer, I could not but imagine her sighing at the controversy of having a character take such a bold step. ‘[F]eminism still has its work cut out and while I don’t think I’d have Marnie directly describe herself that way, I would hope that she’s demonstrably a feminist.’
My very last question was about the so-called “women’s literature.” I find it infuriating and frustrating to hear that men write about universal issues while women write about women’s issues. The female experience is still being singled-out as the other, as the difference, as something outside the universal that only women can understand. Sarah agrees with me, ‘It’s a special sort of nonsense, isn’t it? Someone said to me the other day that had David Mitchell’s One Day been written by a woman, it would’ve been marketed as a chick-lit.’ But, let’s not forget we are moving between the tolerant, ever-expanding and diverse walls of crime fiction here. I have long argued that this genre – because it should be considered as such – is a much more open space for writers and readers, a space that allows us to freely explore the boundaries that construct and constrict out society. Sarah Hilary, can only but celebrate her luck at belonging to such a great club as “crime fiction women writers”: ‘ I’m very grateful to be writing crime fiction, which seems to be adept at dodging the pigeon-holes [based on] the gender of its author [which is] is patronising to everyone involved, not least the reader.’ See? Lucky us.
Books & Reviews is giving away ONE paperback copy of Sarah Hilary’s debut novel Someone Else’s Skin. Please read the following rules before entering:
- You must be +18 or have your parents/tutor consent to entering this giveaway.
- World-wide giveaway. Please check your country is included here.
- Entries are open from the 28th of August (2014) to the 1st of September (2014) at 9.30 a.m (BST)
- If the winner does not reply in 72 hours after being contacted, another one will be chosen.
- To enter, just leave a comment below.