Recently I reviewed The Treadstone Resurrection, a brilliant novel that forms part of the Jason Bourne universe.
The book is gripping and enticing, but it lacks one crucial element; the presence of any realistic female characters.
Even in the male-dominated security landscape, women still play a vital role, and if you’re describing just about any scenario then it will doubtless include numerous women.
What this novel lacked was women who were anything more than mindless lovers. They were all obsessed with the men they were connected to, and as such were simply an extension of them.
In real life, women are much more complicated and actually have free will and independent thoughts. I have never met, or heard of, or witnessed, a woman unbuttoning her blouse in the presence of a man she fancied. Yet that’s genuinely a scene from The Treadstone Resolution!
If you really think about it, most of the women in popular spy novels and movies are either eye-candy or staff. James Bond is one of the best examples I can think of; in the books, his women either sleep with him or mother him. In the films, it’s pretty much the same story.
The reason that these books are all utterly clueless about women is because they are, pretty much, all written by men. The spy novel genre is dominated by men, and if we want to enjoy reading about better female characters in spy novels, then that’s going to have to change.
As women are great readers of spy novel and thrillers, and big readers in general, we should be able to get a foothold in this market, but when you visit a bookshop and check out the spy thriller section, you’ll see a noticeable absence of female names. We’re able to work a wide range of jobs now, and female authors have made big names for themselves in the writing arena, but unfortunately the spy thriller genre remains a male-dominated space.
Women have started to make headway, but that doesn’t mean that things are perfect. We still need more women to write spy novels, and for publishers to push their books with the same verve and vigour as they do the latest John Le Carré.
By encouraging women writers to tackle the spy thriller genre, publishers could also help women readers to enjoy it more.
After all, one of the biggest barriers for many women who are eager to tuck into a new thriller is the lack of believable, relatable female characters. It was literally the only criticism I had of The Treadstone Resurrection, which was otherwise an amazing and gripping read.
So, in summary, I’m eager for more women to write and publish spy thrillers. For a major, meaningful change to happen in the industry, the publishing market needs to open its mind and start welcoming and encouraging more women to write books in this genre.
In the meantime, if you or know of a female spy thriller writer, or a male one who writes great depictions of female characters, then reach out and I’d be happy to work with you to promote your work. I think it’s valuable to have lots of great representation of women in this market, so I’m always here to support writers and help them grow their readerships.
5 thoughts on “Why We Need More Female Spy Writers”
ME! ME! ME! I write a female Bond.. The Independent did an article on me – ‘Authors creating feminist heroes for a post #MeToo world’
Hope all well with you, Hannah. I am just updating my website and wanted to check it is OK to include our interview? It has been a big year for Winter since we spoke. Nominated for best Thriller 2020 at the Audies in New York just before lockdown (lost to Stephen King) and in development for the screen…
Enjoying the blog! all the best Alex
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Of course! Feel free to include it! And well done on all the achievements!
You make some excellent points. I stopped reading a thriller recently that had a female lead, because frankly the way she was written it was almost like the author had written a man’s part and then just done “find:replace,” he for she. I had picked up the book because I was looking for something engaging and different, but the character read a bit like Jacqueline Reacher, and not much inner life, nothing unique about her experience or outlook.
My character Imogen Trager (as you know) isn’t a spy precisely, she’s FBI. But I did spend time finding out what challenges female agents face in the Bureau, and I made sure early/beta readers were looking at how I was presenting the work, friendship and partner dynamics in a believable fashion.
The third Imogen Trager thriller, Emergency Powers, comes out in October, and I’d love to know your views.
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