I always find it slightly unnerving to see what academics make of my work, rarely do they make of it what I do (!), but it can be an interesting thing to get someone else’s take on what you do.
So I was intrigued to be forwarded this link to this contents page. (Hell, I might even buy a copy of Clues if I can work my way round McFarland’s complex purchasing system – anyone who understands & can help or wants to lend me a copy, feel free to let me know!)
Hmm … “More contemporary works foreground lesbian sex, romance, and identity.” … as if that’s a problem!! (yes, I know I haven’t read the piece yet, but given the author Inga Simpson’s title goes on to say “lesbian detective fiction has not continued to develop and failed to engage a wider audience” I’m guessing it is a criticism of sorts!)
And the ‘but’ is – when I was writing it, way back in ’91/’92, I NEVER saw Calendar Girl as a novel of ‘lesbian detective fiction’, I saw it as a contemporary relationship novel that had some lesbians in it. I still do. (And of course at that time, a novel with ordinary, young, gorgeous, sex-having, non-suicidal, non-separatist lesbians in it was pretty damn rare!)
Of course, it became a series, and Saz stayed a detective etc etc, but my main interest has ALWAYS been in Saz and the world, the character and the world; her place in it, as a partner, as a woman, a sister, a daughter, a mother – and as a lesbian.
The crime stuff has been part of it but for me, not really the main part. (I think that’s obvious in the books!) Which is why I believe those books have transcended the boundaries, they’ve always been read by men and straight women and not just the lesbian ‘community’ and/or ghetto … (they were also, all, favourably reviewed in mainstream UK press, almost always by older men!!)
Anyway, what really interests me, is to find (as I have done often with the Saz books) that they form part of other people’s academic thinking about women crime writers, or lesbian crime writers, or crime writers/writing in general or whatever … but that my own intention as the novelist is secondary to the academics’ interpretation of what I’ve done.
And yes, I know this is what academia does. Takes a thing and extrapolates from it. Takes a thing and removes it from its origins to find out where else it goes. But as the maker of that thing, I find it odd.
After all, surely the death of the author really means the death of the writing? Dead author = no more books. (But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?!)
My grandmother has several PhD Studes do theses on things like colour imagery in her novels etc. They were always turning up and asking stuff like “the gentians on the hillside during the kiss in the Constant Nymph, what did they mean…?” To which the reply was usually something like “Well, it was the 1920s and I couldn’t really go into too much detail about what they were up to, so I thought I’d pan away to a bit of landscape, and it was the Alps in Spring, so…”
None of them ever believed her. I’m always delighted by the way academics believe they know better about works of art than their creators do.
“Lesbian detective fiction has not continued to develop and failed to engage a wider audience”
– but that’s not true – apart from your and Val McDermid’s novels (to name the first UK ones with wide readerships that spring to mind) Laurie R. King’s Martinelli novels have a huge readership of all genders and sexual persuausions; but maybe Inga Simpson’s definition of ‘Lesbian detective fiction’ is too narrow to encompass them? I’d say you were all developing the theme all the time. But hey, I only read, I don’t extrapolate…
Dead author, no more books? More logic than amatter of opinion. Should be like that – lately often isn’t, as in Sayer/Jill Paton-Walsh, Adams/Colfer, but they don’t share the same writerly soul, which I guess is your point, though the Sayer/Paton-Walsh aren’t bad.
Not sure how she wants the novels to develop though – may get a copy in wh case, you’re welcome to borrow it. x
ok, got it – she must define ‘lesbian detective fiction’ as ‘fiction written by lesbians featuring lesbian detectives’. So a self-limiting thesis, as it deals only with specific writers and then with specific novels in those writers’ output, which means LRK is disqualified and your and Val’s wider (and because later, much more likely to develop the themes that concern you) work is also out of bounds, except for Mouths of Babes. Which kinda ties her up in her own hypothesis! x
well, I’m happy to read before refuting!
it’s more just that most academic work seems to assume an agenda from the writer (see Serena’s gm’s hillside gentians) and I really don’t think most writers write with those kind of agendas – nor do I believe it would help us if we did! story, story, some character, a chunk of plot, some more story … that’s what makes a good book.
I think it might be because in order to be successful, academic work needs to start with an agenda/idea/issue and work through from there – whereas fiction that starts from an issue/agenda is all too often rubbish!
Hope you read the whole article, Stella. Your Saz series provides a great example of believable and complex relationships with real issues. You write beautiful sentences, too, which helps.
Your work is certainly referenced in a positive way in my thesis, abeit within its necessarily narrow defining framework.
For the record, I am a writing practitioner with a PhD, not an academic as such. I was interested to read (accidently) your response to the abstract, though, and would love the opportunity have a proper chat about some of these issues – perhaps more privately – one day.
hi Inga, I def want to read it, but as I said, the McFarland site isn’t really conducive to buying!! no help there at all …
glad you think that about the Saz series, while I am always interested in responses to my work, the Saz books are quite old for me now and so I suppose I am wont to feel a little nervous about how they – and therefore my current/ongoing work – are interpreted!
(just wondering, and honestly NOT being snippy! – what’s the difference between a writer and a writing practitioner?)
No difference, really. Was trying to emphasise the doing rather than talking about it, am conscious that my novels are, as yet, unpublished, and make my living through various forms of writing and writing teaching. I’d be happy to send you a copy of the article, if you like, though this edition of Clues is an interesting one as a whole.