A screenwriter has launched an award for a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
Bridget Lawless founded the Staunch Book 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 is judging the prize along with actress and writer Doon Mackichan of “Smack the Pony”.
Lawless 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”.
Lawless told The Bookseller this attitude towards women affects them “both directly and indirectly, and reflects a prevailing attitude towards women - as helpless, as victims, and as prey”.
She said: “In the light of the allegations emerging now, it’s finally clear that that attitude extends into real life for a lot of men and how they see and treat women.”
The writer, who has written for TV programmes such as "The Bill" as well as feature film “Almost Heaven”, decided to abstain from voting for the British Aacadeny of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs) this year "as I didn’t want to risk rewarding someone who later proved to have abused women in either the making of their own career, or the making of a particular film”.
Lawless believes that “strong role models both real and invented are incredibly important to women’s fight for equality” and that “fiction can do a fantastic job of showing what can happen when women stand up and speak out about injustice and refuse to be victimised”.
She added: “I want to find the writers who’ve come up with something different.”
The screenwriter wants to demonstrate that the “great stack of brilliant material is available not only readers, but to producers and directors for the screen, and very importantly, for actors both female and male who might then have a wider choice of parts in which they’re neither cast as victims or sexual predators”.
Fellow judge Mackichan grew frustrated with the preoccupation of abuse against women in the genre, partly through her acting career. She wrote and presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary, "Body Count Rising" in 2016, exploring the issue and how it feels to be the woman playing the on-screen victim of violent assault.
In September, and article in the Pool entitled 'Can thrillers really be feminist?', asked: "How do you write a book about people doing awful misogynistic things without writing an awful misogynistic book?"
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.
The website includes more details on the prize as well as short films satirising the use of violence against women in the thriller genre.
Following the mounting allegations against Weinstein, which he denies, as well as other key figures in various industries, a survey conducted by The Bookseller revealed that more than half of the 388 respondents had reported sexual harassment in the book industry.