Closing The Gap

This contest will award $2,800 to someone who writes a thriller without a female victim

Emily Blunt in "Girl on the Train."
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures

In the midst of the #MeToo movement, one writer is asking novelists to boot brutality against women, highlighting how often it's littered throughout thriller literature.

Bridget Lawless, a London-based screenwriter and author of educational materials on violence, is offering a prize of £2,000 — equivalent to about $2,800 — for a thriller that doesn't use violence against women as a plot device.

The inaugural Staunch Book Prize will be awarded to the author of such a tome in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.

"As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high, the Staunch Book Prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés — particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however 'necessary to the plot'), or done away with (however ingeniously)," its website states.

Citing an article from Book Riot, the website reports that, out of 22 thrillers on New York Times Fiction Bestsellers of 2017 List, 59 percent had violence towards women described in the summary of the book.

For 2018, CNBC Make It found that as of Feb. 14, of the six titles snagging the weekly top spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list in the combined print and e-book fiction category, 50 percent of those books had violence towards women described in the summary.

The idea of the contest came, "as a flash of inspired frustration," according to the site.

"I'm certainly not alone in getting increasingly fed up and disgusted with fictional depictions of violence happening to women in books, films and television. It echoes, exaggerates, fetishises and normalizes what happens to women in the real world," Lawless writes on the contest's site. "But I know there are writers creating thrilling and complex work without going there."

The Staunch Book Prize focuses on thriller novels not only because they make up a "huge and important genre," says the site, but also because they are often used as source material for television and film.

Many recent, popular movies like "Girl on the Train" and "3 Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri," for example, feature violence against women as central to the plot.

"We haven't really moved on too far from the silent movies," Lawless tells the Associated Press.

"Women are still being tied to the tracks, but now they have got to be raped first."

In the wake of a watershed of allegations casting light on sexual misconduct in Hollywood, Lawless also recently spoke out against such violence in the film industry. In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Lawless writes, "until films can guarantee nobody was harmed in their making, I do not want to risk allowing even one casting couch perpetrator to bask in momentary glory," adding that she would not be voting in this year's British Academy Film Awards.

The contest is open Feb. 22 through July 15. Eligible submissions include published (within 18 months of the contest's closing date) and unpublished works, and is open to all authors of any nationality who are at least 18. The winner of the contest is slated to be announced Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence.

However, the Staunch Book Prize has drawn mixed reactions, and some female crime novelists have spoken out against the competition, including Sophie Hannah, a best-selling author of crime fiction.

"Brutality is not the same thing as writing about brutality," Hannah writes in an opinion piece in The Guardian in opposition of the contest. "After suffering a trauma, some people find it consoling and empowering to read, or write, about fictional characters who have survived similar experiences. If we can't stop human beings from viciously harming one another, we need to be able to write stories in which that harm is subjected to psychological and moral scrutiny, and punished."

Lawless, though, says that, "I'm not telling everyone they shouldn't write it or read it. It's not censorship or a ban. It's just saying: 'Come on, can't we find some other stories?'" the AP reports.

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