Literary agent Piers Blofeld has joined the judging panel of the Staunch Book Prize, which aims to find the best thriller in which no woman gets beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
Blofield joins prize founder Bridget Lawless and actor and writer Doon MacKichan on the judging panel.
Blofeld said that he was not only "delighted and honoured" when asked to be a judge but also "very creatively excited".
"There is a sense that the world of storytelling is over reliant on certain tropes", said Blofeld. "Violence against women is a huge and hugely significant factor in our society, but continually emphasising women’s status as victims can perhaps get in the way of celebrating their agency and power and I am thrilled to be part of this process to find new ways of telling visceral and gripping stories in new and exciting ways."
Lawless added that it was "great" to have Blofeld on board. "Here’s an agent who for years has been actively looking for the kind of work the prize is aiming to find. I’m really looking forward to the vigorous discussions the judges will have as we read and select the winners", she said.
Lawless founded the prize, worth £2,000, because she had grown “so fed up with the endless depictions of violence against women” in the thriller genre. She is currently funding it herself and will begin a crowdfunding campaign to support running costs.
She told The Bookseller that the idea was partly inspired by the allegations against US film producer Harvey Weinstein, as well as other film industry figures, and the subsequent '#MeToo' movement. She was also dismayed by the amount of abuse and violence inflicted against female characters in thriller novels “formulated and described so casually and is so commonplace that it makes women seem ‘natural’ victims for fictional violence, sexual assault and murder”.
However, the prize has also been criticised by some writers for discouraging crime fiction that tackles violence against women head-on.
Writing in the Guardian, author Sophie Hannah said: "The prize clearly has good intentions, and wishes to take an important stand against violence towards women. The problem is that it’s not the violence that’s on the receiving end of that stand; it’s writers and readers. Brutality is not the same thing as writing about brutality.
"The Staunch Prize could instead have been created to honour the novel that most powerfully or sensitively tackles the problem of violence against women and girls. Reading the eligibility criteria, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the prize actively sets out to discourage crime fiction, even of the highest quality, that tackles violence against women head-on."
Meanwhile, crime writer Val McDermid tweeted: “I expend vast amounts of time trying to write creatively about difficult things. Somewhat resent being lumped together with the crass, the incompetent and the pornographers of violence.”
The Staunch Prize is open to female and male authors of any nationality over the age of 18 and may include traditionally or self-published print or e-books. Entries for the prize open on 22nd February and close at midnight on 15th July.
Shortlisted novels will be announced in September and the winner will be revealed on 25th November coinciding with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.