Thursday, 2 April 2015

Tough streets make tough women, by Marnie Riches

Today is the book birthday of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die. Finally, after three years of trying to push this baby into the world - from writing the first sentence to publication - with the help of my extraordinarily hard-working agent and the wonderful team at Maze/HarperCollins, I’ve succeeded. And, as is the case with real childbirth, you forget the pain the minute your progeny puts in an appearance. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t have to labour bloody hard to get to that point.

It seems fitting, then, that George McKenzie, the heroine of The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, should have had a tough start in life, as I did. The product of a crime-ridden council estate, hers has been a hard, violent upbringing – as is the case of the other young people around her. But just as I did, she has learned her way out of the ghetto, all the way to Cambridge, dragging that heavy chip on her shoulder up to the very top of those ivory towers.

Over the years, I have read crime thrillers, middle grade novels, young adult dystopian series, fantasy, literary name it, I’ve read it! There have been some splendid heroines. Lisbeth Salander, Clarice Starling, Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Grainger... But what did I want in George McKenzie? Other authors’ heroines seemed too introvert, too gung-ho without the necessary vulnerability, too squeaky clean, too apologetic. So, I got to work in shaping my kickass leading lady...

When we meet her in book 1, George is an aspiring criminologist, working on her politics degree at Amsterdam University - an Erasmus year break from Cambridge. The studio flat where she lives, in the heart of Amsterdam’s red light district, is under the same steep, gabled roof as two prostitutes’ booths and a coffee shop. George loves the sleaze and grandeur. What a heady mix!

Over time, as I wrote, I realised that I wanted a debate about sexuality to feature heavily in my series. And it does. Without us realising, so much of our daily lives is shaped by the sexual chemistry – or lack of it – between people. Does the guy at the garage fancy you enough to give you a discount on your tyres? Will your tutor give you a hard time over your late paper because he knows you would never look twice at him? Would you treat a friend differently after a tacit rejection where they confess you’re great for a mate, but not for a date? These kinds of questions are centrally important to your life when you’re younger, and George is only twenty in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die.

In book 2, The Girl Who Broke the Rules – which I’m just putting the finishing touches to – George is studying for a criminology PhD on the subject of pornography use by serial violent sex offenders; still flitting between Amsterdam and Cambridge. By Book 3, she’s a qualified criminologist. Dr. McKenzie, no less! I wanted her to be brilliant, sophisticated, able to navigate the social and political labyrinths of academia successfully.

George isn’t just about the grey matter, however. We discover that The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die has all of the skills needed to go head-to-head with dangerous, violent criminals. Tough streets make tough women. She’s not afraid to take a punch and she’s not shy in dishing one out either. If she thinks you’re talking crap, she’ll tell you. If she wants to sleep with you, she’ll let you know alright - take it or leave it. She’ll not beg. George is proud and unashamed of her sexual powers as a woman and her intellectual prowess.

But she’s vulnerable too. Here is a girl who suffers from borderline OCD. Panicking at petty disorder in her life. If she can’t control her environment, she’s lost control. Too easy to blow up in temper, George has learned to keep a lid on it, though she often doesn’t succeed. Admittedly, I have regularly got into hot water because I’m a big gob. Of course, George was going to swear and say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. In her chest beats a strong heart. Her blood runs hot. George is, above all, a passionate woman who can crush a man between her thighs as easily as she can pleasure him!

My editor has billed me as a “home-grown Stieg Larsson”. When I wrote The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, and the first half of The Girl Who Broke the Rules, I had no idea that there would be a fourth book in Larsson’s Millennium series, penned by another author. So, admiring some of the wonderful qualities of Salander but wanting to inject some ghetto-fabulous street-smarts of my own into a leading lady, I wrote George to keep Salander fans going. She’s a character whose story I wanted to read. I hope that I live up to my editor’s expectations and I hope George McKenzie will resonate with readers all over the world who fancy a little bit more grit, a little bit more authenticity, a little bit more of a kick up the ass!