Are women hardwired to love thrillers?

A report in the Telegraph newspaper last week,written by thriller author Rebecca Whitney,highlights how it is women who predominantly read this genre of crime novels.


As Mark Twain observed – ‘There are three kinds of lies : lies,damned lies and statistics’ Some of the research findings quoted in this report,such as 68% of readers of thrillers are women,need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Any survey is dependent for its accuracy on many different factors. What’s produced from a poll taken at a conference of fans of crime fiction would produce different results to a street survey of passing shoppers.

This newspaper report makes a number of sweeping generalisations about how the sexes are hardwired differently,that had they been aimed at proving differences between the races,would have caused outrage. Nevertheless,the writer’s thoughts on how women relate to working out how to resolve an unhappy situation to restore order,is a precise way of summing up what happens in the story arc of a thriller.

Crime stories are one of the best selling genres of fiction,with the figure of 25% commonly bandied about for online sales. This partly influenced me,when I was thinking what to write about for my first novel as 2014 began. I’d already written fourteen short stories and novellas,as well as several hundred poems in the previous eighteen months. These tackled love and romance,science-fiction,the paranormal,self-identity and thrillers with a twist to them.

I had a number of concerns that I wanted to address about the state of modern society. These included CCTV,the dehumanising effects of video-gaming,exposure to violent images and how demobbed soldiers remain traumatised by what they’ve seen and done in combat zones. Such themes suggested a psychological thriller to me,and as part of the overall atmosphere of paranoia that I intended to create,I would emphasize how the system,the establishment,protects itself with cover-ups when it makes mistakes.

I worked long and hard on ‘The Perfect Murderer’,which took some 4,000 hours to produce. I was pleased with the result,while being unsure if it worked as a story that would grab a reader. Fortunately,a good and trusted friend volunteered to be my first reader. She has a fine mind and keen eyes,so is good at pointing out semantic mistakes and dodgy grammar. I was interested to know what she would make of the plot,as she doesn’t normally read thrillers.

The Perfect Murderer - a novel about a serial killer who makes no mistakes.

The Perfect Murderer – a novel about a serial killer who makes no mistakes.

I was pleased at recent feedback that I got from her,as she said something about smiling at the thought processes of a psychopathic murderer. This man is completely repellent in the way that he considers people,and in what he’s done by murdering a victim a year for forty years,but he’s superficially charming – to get what he wants from people,as psychopaths do. He also has his own physical frailties and eccentric preoccupations,so I tried to make him human through these – wrong-footing the reader,who suddenly realises that they’re feeling sympathy for a serial killer ! It looks like I pulled that trick off,from my friend’s reaction.
Writing is a bit like being a magician,in that you know how the trick is done,but you’re not sure if your sleight of hand and misdirection has worked on the audience.
Whether ‘The Perfect Murderer’ will sell is another matter. Its success may be assisted by my bumbling attempts at self-promotion through the social media,and also by my free book giveaway on Smashwords.
I hope that what Rebecca Whitney says about women being the main readers of thrillers is true,if the downloads of my erotic verse collection is any indicator of my potential reading public. 500 have taken ‘What Do You Like ?’,and I suspect that they are mainly female. I pray that they also like psychological thrillers,and that they remember my name when I publish the novel.
As a marketing strategy,giving away sexually suggestive poetry as a way of selling a novel featuring two sociopathic killers,sounds unlikely to me. But then who knows ? As the old saying goes – ‘You have to go fishing where the fish are’,which is what I’m trying to do.
I wonder if my bait will work.

Plot Development

I spent most of 2014 writing my first novel,called ‘The Perfect Murderer’. It’s about a serial killer,a veteran soldier who has become a player in real life role-playing game where the victims are really killed. His activities awaken the hibernating blood-lust of a psychopathic murderer,a man who is a respected member of the establishment. He would never be suspected of being homicidal,even though he’s killed once a year for forty years. The moral twist is,that the people he killed were all hardened criminals – so it could be argued that he’s been making society safer.

I started my writing with a loose and adaptable storyline. I didn’t want too rigid a plot,as I knew from previous experience that characters in a story can sometimes behave in ways that one can’t predict. I also reckoned that I’d be learning a lot about my subject matter as I went along,which might alter the narrative. The story involved a massive amount of research,including psychopathy,forensic pathology,police procedure,post-traumatic stress disorder,the conflict in Serbia and self-identity and personality.

I wasn’t sure how long the novel would be,and didn’t have a specific target to reach. Mind you,it was still a milestone to pass the 100,000 word mark,though that made me wonder quite how far I had left to go ! I anticipated that I’d end up at about 150,000 words. I was right,though after the climax of the hunt for the killer,I soon realised that my story had left a lot of characters’ fates unexplained,including several undiscovered corpses.

This can be a stumbling block with murder-mysteries. There are at least two unidentified bodies in ‘The Maltese Falcon’,though they were dismissed as red herrings. Nonetheless,I felt compelled to add an afterword which added another 18,000 words. This felt fitting and right,as I’ve always been a bit disappointed when a thriller simply ends as soon as the villain is dispatched.

It was more of a coda to the main part of the story,and it gives the reader some comfort about what becomes of the investigators after their harrowing experiences. It was rather discombobulating to finish,mainly because I wasn’t quite sure if the whole thing worked as a tale that would engage a reader’s attention. I’d varied the pace of the action,offering different points-of-view from the detectives and killers,thrown in a few dead ends and sprinkled several of my own red herrings around – but did it work as a psychological thriller ?

This was impossible for me to judge,for after all I knew what happened next ! Although I did a lot of editing as I went along,I still devoted ten weeks to going over everything with a fine tooth comb. When one examines any piece of art in this microscopic way,it ceases to be what it is to a consumer who’s enjoying it at face value,and becomes more of a tiresome obstacle course. I was appalled by what I’d missed,particularly in repeating nouns and verbs. The search function in Open Office Writer helped to identify these,though I was still uncertain about how well the plot developed and flowed.

While prowling the literary blogs recently,I came across one by Natalie M Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. One of her postings on ‘Adventures In Agent Land’ is about plot development,and is well worth a look. In fact,she offers really useful practical advice for any writer.

I was pleased to see,from a graph that she included,that the storyline of my novel conformed to what is reckoned to be the approved pattern.

This find was reassuring,and her dot method of judging the ebb and flow of a story is a useful tool to use. I’m still not sure how well my novel works as a reading experience,but I have a trusted and wise first reader who is currently working her way through it,and she says that it’s “gripping.” I am grateful for her assistance,as she’s pointed out several errors that needed straightening out in grammar and punctuation.

Writing,then editing a novel really is a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.


The Bad Sex In Fiction Award

Writing about any form of sexual activity in a story causes all sorts of problems. Not the least of these,is that the delight gained from sex is just about the most subjective thing one can do – what pleases one person might disgust another.

Just finding the words to describe any act of sex is awkward. Should one be earthy and use coarse expletives and four letter words,or be discreet with vague allusions and metaphors used to indicate the action and thoughts of the lovers ?

Even the finest authors stumble over this predicament. This led to the Literary Review founding an award in 1993 to acknowledge what they consider to be the worst description of a sex scene in a novel published in the preceding year. The given rationale is “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it”.

It’s aimed at literary authors,who are a bit up themselves,as an Australian might say. There’s reams of pornographic/erotic fiction in book form and online,of course – but this award appears to be trying to puncture pseuds who try to elevate their descriptions of copulation to an art form. Brits are prurient about sex anyway,so as soon as somebody starts to talk about it,let alone write about it,the sniggers begin. Some of the winners did produce some hilarious descriptions however.

Mind you,if you think about ways of describing any intense physical sensation,it’s tricky isn’t it ? Stuff like taking a motorcycle ride,eating a tasty meal,being moved by a favourite piece of music or having an orgasm are best experienced internally. Once you put them into words,it’s bound to detract from their power and pleasure.

This is partly why I wrote an unusual,out of left field,huh? sex scene in my new novel ‘The Perfect Murderer.’ I’m laughing up my sleeve a bit,imagining what readers will think about it. The activity involved is a paraphilia. I won’t say any more about it at the moment,as I’m still mulling over ways of publishing the book.

I haven’t tried writing anything erotic recently,though I feel that simple and concise would be more effective than anything too flowery. Years ago,I wrote erotic short stories to commission through an ad in the Erotic Folio Society ( long gone bust ),and the strangest one was for a woman who was drawn sexually to wardrobes – having sex inside them,on them and with them !

There’s nowt as strange as folk.

But you and I are completely normal,of course….

Here are two examples from the 2009 nominees,including the winning entry ( no pun intended ! ) by Jonathan Littell

The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave (Canongate, £16.99)

Nick Cave, The Death of Bunny Munro

“He slips his hands under her cotton vest and her body spasms and slackens and he cups her small, cold breasts in his hands and feels the hard pearls of her nipples, like tiny secrets, against the barked palms of his hands. He feels the gradual winding down of her dying heart and can see a bluish tinge blossoming on the skin of her skull through her thin, ironed hair.

“‘Oh, my dear Avril,’ he says.

“He puts his hands under her knees and manoeuvres her carefully so that her bottom rests on the edge of the settee. He slips his fingers underneath the worn elastic of her panties that are strung across the points of her hips, slips them to her ankles and softly draws apart her knees and feels again a watery ardour in his eyes as he negotiates a button and a zipper. It is exactly as he imagined it – the hair, the lips, the hole – and he slips his hands under her wasted buttocks and enters her like a fucking pile driver.”


The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (Chatto & Windus, £20)

The Kindly Ones by Jon Littell

“Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair. She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn’t even bother to lower her panties, just pushed the lace to one side and spread her buttocks with both hands: in the slit, nestling in hair, her anus gently contracted. I spit on it. ‘No,’ she protested. I took out my penis, lay on top of her, and thrust it in. She gave a long stifled cry. I was crushing her with all my weight; because of the awkward position – my trousers were hindering my legs – I could only move in little jerks. Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: ‘I’m going to pull the lever, I’m going to let the blade drop.’ She begged me: ‘Please, fuck my pussy.’ – ‘No.’ I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.

If you’d like to read about the last round of the Bad Sex In Fiction Award for 2014,have a look at this link :

Charles Bukowski

The career of Charles Bukowski should give encouragement to any writer who starts to apply themselves late in life to writing. He was 49 when he finally quit working at menial jobs,including as a filing clerk at a post office. As he said :

“I have one of two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

He’s sometimes been referred to as the ‘laureate of American lowlife’,and he was certainly familiar with the seedy side of poverty. An inveterate drunk,he turned his experiences into a script which was filmed as ‘Barfly’,starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway.

He penned an amusing Roman a clef called ‘Hollywood’,in which he wrote of the making of the film adaptation of ‘Barfly’,using pseudonyms to disguise the names of the actors.

Bukowski’s weariness with the world meant that he said a lot of truthful things,in what sounds like a cynical way. Even his gravestone is cryptic,with the inscription ‘Don’t Try’. What he intended with this advice was explained as being waiting for inspiration to write something – one shouldn’t try ,shouldn’t force work out of one’s system – if it doesn’t come naturally,leave it.

His poem ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’ explains his philosophy well,and should be read by anybody aspiring to be a writer.

‘So You Want To Be A Writer’

Charles Bukowski, 19201994
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer is an author,who specialises in illustration. He’s versatile,making work for children and adults that includes delightful tales,protest posters and books,advertising,surreal cartoons,erotica and autobiography.

Tomi Ungerer

He’s good at taking a satirical view on things,and his images are compelling,humorous and occasionally unsettling. For such an enormously talented artist,his work and name are not as well known in the English language as they should be. Thankfully,many of his books are being republished by Phaidon,including the lovely children’s stories.

From ‘Fog Island’

From ‘The Three Robbers’

His attitude to human sexuality is open-minded,so this sort of illustration is not for the prudish. He believes that if we were free to express our erotic nature,then the problems of pornography would be solved.

Ungerer’s observational humour on human relationships,including power struggles and the search for loving fulfilment is amusing and well observed.

Tomi Ungerer tried his hand at farming in the early seventies,which he later turned into a book called ‘ Far Out Isn’t Far Enough’. This has some beautiful illustrations of the landscape of Novia Scotia,as well as some gritty depictions of rural poverty and life and death. This title was used for a film about his life.

Guy de Maupassant

The short story form is not easy to master. Many accomplished writers who attempt it produce tales that lack resolution. My favourite author of such brief forms of story-telling is Guy de Maupassant,a Frenchman who wrote in the nineteenth century. He says in a few pages what some cannot convey in an entire book.

Most of his stories are only a few pages long,and I prefer them to the six novels that he wrote. The most famous of these is ‘Bel-Ami’,which has been filmed several times. The Franco-Prussian War formed the backdrop for some of his work,showing ordinary citizens caught up in events beyond their control.

He liked writing moral stories about the peasants of Normandy,with their sly,earthy and penny-pinching ways. A good example of this is ‘A Piece of String’,in which a misunderstanding over a miserly action leads into an accusation of theft.

Death stalks the worlds that his characters inhabit,and revenge is always imminent. Maupassant eventually descended into madness,but not before penning several brilliant depictions of psychological horror. Of these,the disembodied and murderous hand in ‘The Hand’ has been stolen several times for films and television horror series.

‘The Horla’ is a haunting description of a man who is joined by a supernatural being,or is he imagining things – or losing his mind ?

‘Idyll’ is laden with eroticism,while ‘Regret’ is a cautionary tale about how faint heart never won fair maiden. It should be read by anyone who has a long felt want for a prospective partner. The text may be read from the following link :

Richard Brautigan

Richard Brautigan is one of the most unusual writers you’ll come across. His style has been described as naive,and he’s certainly surreal,humorous and dark in places. I love his novels,short stories and poetry. He has a unique style,with very short chapters,sometimes of only a couple of sentences. His prose reads like poetry,with clever metaphors.

I discovered him by chance,while working at Marylebone public library in Westminster,London in the early 1970s. I was drawn to the unusual title and the cover photo of ‘The Abortion : An Historical Romance 1966’. The story is set in a strange library,where the books on the shelves are brought in by the people that wrote them. It reminds me a little of epublishing,now that I think of it. There’s a romance between the shy librarian and a stunningly beautiful poet. Brautigan poses with a singer called Victoria Damalgoski in the cover photo – she was a folk singer who made a couple of albums,but has since disappeared. She’s a dead ringer for Vida in the story.

Brautigan’s writing makes you think,and some of his observations are wistful and chillingly accurate. One of my favourite works is ‘The Hawkline Monster:A Gothic Western’,which is violent,sexy and funny. It has one of the most amusing entities in fiction. The characters of the cowboy gunmen must surely have influenced Patrick deWitt in his writing of ‘The Sister Brothers’.

Sadly Brautigan’s sales and fame waned in the late seventies and eighties. He fell prey to various mental maladies including depression,and descended into alcoholism. Long obsessed with suicide,he took his own life in 1984. I miss him.