I once got a letter from a reader that went straight in with the big gambit: ‘You must really understand women,’ it read.
It was a lovely email but, oh, how I laughed. Then I showed it to my wife, who also laughed... a bit too forcefully for my liking. ‘All right,’ I huffed, ‘it’s not THAT funny.’
Despite the reporting of two national newspapers and lot of reviews to the contrary, I am a man. Grr. I eat meat and everything. It's just that, for the most part, I write novels with women at the centre. With my gender-bewildering name (it's my real name, too), some people get confused.
First, there’s Jessica Daniel, a CID officer in Manchester who’s the star of my crime books. She grumps about, obsesses over hot drinks and biscuits, complains about canteen food, and generally solves crimes.
Then there’s Silver Blackthorn, the teenage hero in my adventure-fantasy-sci fi-young adult trilogy. Even in my other crime series, which has a private investigator named Andrew Hunter as its lead, the character I’ve had by far the most correspondence about is his assistant, Jenny.
I get asked a lot why I write about women but it never occurred to me that it was anything out of the ordinary. Since I stopped being a slightly awkward, geeky, naive teenager and went out to explore the real world, I’ve always thought the ‘men are from Mars, women from Venus’-thing was a bag of nonsense. I mean, it is, isn’t it? It might inspire endless magazine articles and dreary self-help books but it’s rubbish.
We’re all people. There will be a woman I’ve never met living in a country I’ve never visited with whom I’ll have more in common than the bloke who lives across the road.
Ultimately, we all share the same emotions; we want to be happy and enjoy our lives.
With everything I write, I try to make it about people, not things. Concepts are great - but if the central characters are walking, talking cardboard boxes, then no-one cares - nor should they. Sometimes that means I end up writing about women, sometimes men. Sometimes it’s a younger character, sometimes older. Everyone has an interesting story to tell somewhere along the line and gender is only a part of that.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong? After all, whether or not I understand women is an opinion even my wife laughs at.