Today I welcome back Marnie Riches, author of The George Mckenzie series.
Having read both of Marnie's books I was delighted to be included in her blog tour, and chose to ask her somesearching questions; about her writing, her characters, and what's next for George McKenzie.
Wendy: Why did you choose the porn industry as a setting for your story? And why the emphasis on desire, sexuality and sexual violence?
Marnie: When I was a final year student, although I was doing a degree in languages, I was allowed to “borrow” a paper from the Social Sciences faculty. I chose “Women in Society”, and violent, hard-core pornography was one of the topics that I opted to study. I had intended to embark on a PhD on pornography, but for a variety of ill-thought out reasons, ended up taking a job instead and joining an indie rock band. Decades later, when I was writing The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, I realised that my interest in gender differences, the nature of desire and sexuality had found its way into my story. In The Girl Who Broke the Rules, I already knew I wanted George to train to be a criminologist, so having her do the PhD I had aspired to do and having the story tackle the darker side of desire seemed like a logical next step.
Wendy: I’m going to ask you a question George asks Dermot Robinson here, ‘Do you think erotica inspires men to commit sexually violent crimes against women?’
Marnie: In terms of vanilla or hard-core erotica, absolutely not. In terms of violent porn, still my answer is no, I don’t. And in fact, in the course of my research, I came across an interesting study that had been conducted in the Czech Republic, where pornography had been banned during Soviet Rule. When the ban was lifted, all porn was allowed – no restrictions on child pornography or violent, hard-core pornography. The incidence of sexually violent crimes being committed actually went down once the ban was lifted! So for me, that is proof that there is no causal link between pornographic content and crime. However, I do think that violent hard-core pornography reinforces the idea that women are passive, sexual objects and second class citizens. We still have enough sexual inequality in the first world! We really don’t need to invite more. So, normal erotica is a normal, healthy part of adult sexuality, in my opinion. But violent images in pornography politically feels like a backwards step to me. I’m not in favour of censoring adults’ fantasies about other adults, but published material where profit is made should not shirk a sense of responsibility to 50% of the population!
Wendy: Georgina Mackenzie has a very difficult relationship with her mother. Your other characters don’t fare much better with theirs. Why are dysfunctional familial relationships a theme?
Marnie: When I observe people – especially Northern Europeans – I often see a veneer of harmony and calm masking something fraught just beneath the surface. The stiff upper lip that the British are famous for is just a euphemism for suffering in silence! In my family, however, we’re all of shouty, dramatic immigrant stock. Our dysfunction is laid bare. An only child to a single parent - like George and Letitia - my mother and I argue frequently, though we do get over it and are close. My mother is not Letitia! Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that family dynamics I see around me have inspired George’s toxic relationship with her mother. Never underestimate the manipulative abilities of parents! I don’t want to read about happy, balanced characters. There’s no drama in it for me. I want to explore how mean people can be to those they love the most. Why is George so abrasive? Why does van den Bergen suffer from health anxiety? What has made them the people they are? More often than not, childhood trauma is at the root of adult foibles.
Wendy: Van den Bergen surprised me in this story. He seemed more vulnerable than in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Was this intentional?
Marnie: When you’re writing a series, you’re in a position to give your main protagonists real depth, giving them even more backstory and peeling the layers of their innermost thoughts away to show what lies beneath. I knew in The Girl Who Broke the Rules that I wanted van den Bergen to play a more central role, to give the series some balance. I’m not a huge fan of the two-dimensional Alpha Male who sucker punches his way through a thriller, never giving much thought to his mission other than to get the bad guy and shag the girl. I like to defy gender stereotypes, so although van den Bergen is a successful Chief Inspector and no pushover, I wanted to reveal a more thoughtful side to this artistic, serial-killer-catching misanthrope.
Wendy: Silas Holm is really creepy. How do you think he compares to other crime fiction baddies?
Marnie: I love Silas Holm! He took me by surprise and wasn’t in my original synopsis for the novel at all. I confess, Holm is me, tipping the wink to Hannibal Lecter, although in Silas’ case, he is an anaesthetist with a fetish for amputees, rather than a psychologist with a thing for cannibalism. Anyway, I couldn’t find a name to rhyme with Amputee or Pervert. I suppose I could have had Herbert the Pervert, but he wouldn’t have fitted in a serious story about evisceration and trans-national trafficking. The real baddie-star of The Girl Who Broke the Rules is The Butcher, of course, but if I talk about that, I’ll be spoiling the surprise!
Wendy: There is a huge attention to detail in your story and I imagine you must have spent a long time researching. How much of your research inspires what you write, and how much of what you write inspires what you research? Chicken and Egg question.
Marnie: I spend a month, full time, researching each book and do bits in between as and when gaps in my knowledge arise. The Girl Who Broke the Rules is, in many ways, a medical thriller, so I had to do a mountain of research into the technicalities of The Butcher’s modus operandi. It was the research that gave me the idea to include an endocrinology subplot. I fell in love with the phrase, “catecholamine storm” and ended up doing a pile of reading that spun its own mini-story! Interviewing real life criminologists to help me flesh out George’s working practices generated little flourishes in the story too, but the biggest inspiration came from research I did twelve months ago on trafficking, when I was putting the synopsis for this book together. Coupled with news stories I saw in the media, I couldn’t fail but to be creatively stimulated by the horrors reported there. I write about crime, after all!
Wendy: Did the research upset you? (Did you actually sleep at night?)
Marnie: No. I found the research thought-provoking. I have a strong sense of social justice and thought I’d raise awareness of the problem through my writing. And yes, I sleep like the dead at night, but that’s because I cram an awful lot into the day and get up very early. My brain doesn’t have the space for nocturnal upset!
Wendy: I read an article about women being hard-wired to love thrillers because our brains are more attuned to working things out, our lives are generally more complicated, and we are natural problem solvers. Who are you thinking about when you are writing? Women, or men?
Marnie: I don’t write for male or female readers. I put together the book that I would want to read, telling a story that would interest me. Other than that, I have my agent in mind as my principal reader. He’s the one who sells the series to publishers worldwide, so he’s as invested in its success as me. Plus, he has Pulitzer Prize winners and Man Booker types on his list, so I need to write something really clever that will pass muster with him!
Wendy: Your plotting is a thing of beauty. We are constantly transported from the mind of one character to another and from one plot strand to another. It’s very complex and must require a huge amount of planning. How do you keep on top of everything?
Marnie: I begin with a two page synopsis, telling the story from start to finish and introducing the main characters. Then, I write the first draft, ensuring I have my high points in the correct places. But once finished, I go back and re-plot the entire thing, moving the sections and chapters around so that there’s balance and good flow. I write in distinct scenes from different characters’ POVs, which makes shuffling easy. I make notes – especially towards the end, so that I remember to tie up every loose thread I had intended to tie up!
Wendy: What can we expect next from George Mackenzie? ...
Marnie: The Girl WhoWalked in the Shadows is out soon. I’m currently writing the final scenes, which is FUN! It’s another fast-paced but dark tale that continues themes from the previous George stories. This time, Europe is in the grip of an Arctic deep freeze. There’s a killer on the loose called Jack Frost, who plugs his victims with dagger-sharp icicles, leaving no damning forensic evidence behind. But wait! What has happened to Van den Bergen and how does George get roped into this hunt for a serial-killer? Flashbacks to the abduction of two Dutch toddlers – one of van den Bergen’s cold cases - bring another gripping, heart-rending dimension to an intricate puzzle that only George can solve.
Continue the discussion with Marnie on Twitter
And if you still want to know more, take a look at Marnie's website.
Thank you, Marnie .