Pan Macmillan author M.J. McGrath talks about Killer Women – a group of sixteen London-based crime writers who would regularly come together and share their ideas, enthusiasms and expertise with crime fiction fans.
Crime writers are a lonesome lot. Of necessity we spend a great deal of time in the sole company of our keyboards thinking up our dark, twisty tales. It’s easy to forget that this is quite a weird way to live your life, particularly since we do what we do because we’re interested in people and human relationships. Come and meet us at any crime festival, however, and you’ll see that, relieved of our keyboards, we’re a famously friendly, chatty bunch, eager to knock back the wine in convivial company.
This was why fellow Pan Macmillan criminista Louise Millar and I founded Killer Women, a group of sixteen London-based crime writers, with the idea of holding a quarterly salon where we could meet round my dining room table, chew the fat and talk about our passion for crime fiction. It quickly became clear that our combined creativity and energy called out for something larger and more ambitious, a group that would not only meet with each other but could also share our ideas, enthusiasms and expertise with crime fiction fans, most of whom, like us, are women.
From chatting to our readers and attending author events ourselves we knew crime fiction fans wanted new and exciting kinds of interaction with authors, not just discussions about books, but murder mysteries, debates, workshops and interviews with forensic psychiatrists, detectives, and crime experts. We also knew that a good many crime fiction readers have their own dreams of writing. So we decided to use Killer Women as a platform for putting on different kinds of events, workshops and socials.
Before long Killer Women had a logo and a website and we were ‘out there’, but we had no real sense that we’d stumbled on an idea whose time had come until, with our publishers behind us, we held an official launch in London which garnered a great deal of attention in the press, both nationally and internationally.
Though our original aim as Killer Women was to socialize and swap ideas, among ourselves and with our readers, in doing that we’re also tackling the underrepresentation of female perspectives in our genre specifically and in the media more generally. For all the talk of women as victims in crime fiction, there’s less discussion of women as forensic scientists, lawyers, detectives, intelligence operatives. And also as killers. In the debates we’ve organized, on subjects from women and violence to ‘the bitch’ in crime fiction, we’re exploring new territory.
According to research by US organization Vida, women buy two thirds of all books sold and just over half of crime writers are women, but figures gathered by Sisters in Crime suggest that books by men still tend to dominate the reviews and awards lists. In the New York Times Book Review, only 36% of crime genre reviews were of books penned by women (up from 17% in 1987.) Here in the UK, research quoted by the Guardian indicates that, in 2011, 65% of all book reviews were of books by men. And anecdotal evidence suggests that, as writers, men are often taken more seriously and their books stay longer in print. We continue to enjoy the work of our male colleagues, and we count many honorary Killer Blokes among our friends and supporters – one of the great joys of setting up Killer Women has been seeing how many men turn up to Killer Women events. But we’re conscious too that women crime writers deserve more play.
Our publishers continue to do wonderful work for us as individually but working in a Killer Women team, pooling our resources and know-how and deepening our friendships has been uniquely empowering. Activist and technology entrepreneur Sheryl Sandberg famously said that women need to ‘lean in’, and that’s what we’re doing with Killer Women. Leaning in. Together.
Killer Women are: Jane Casey, Tammy Cohen, Helen Giltrow, Paula Hawkins, Alison Joseph, Erin Kelly, Anya Lipska, Alex Marwood, Colette McBeth, M. J. McGrath, Louise Millar, K. T. Medina, Kate Rhodes, Helen Smith, Louise Voss, Laura Wilson.
Lean in with us! Whatever your gender, visit our website, sign up to our newsletter, email us, come to an event and let us know what you’d like to see Killer Women doing in your area. More details at: www.killerwomen.org or follow us @killerwomenorg.