THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

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PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

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‘No one lives this way unless they want to hide something.’

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap, they jump at the chance for a week away from home. After the difficulties of the past few years, they’ve worked hard to rebuild their marriage for their son’s sake; now they want to reconnect as a couple.

On arrival, they find a house that is stark and sinister in its emptiness – it’s hard to imagine what kind of person lives here. Then, gradually, Caroline begins to uncover some signs of life – signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music in the CD player might seem innocent to her husband but to her they are anything but. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone she used to know; someone she’s desperate to leave in her past.

But that person is now in her home – and they want to make sure she’ll never forget . . .

I’ve grown to love a good domestic noir and The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet definitely didn’t disappoint. Unlike some of the reviewers of this book, I’m a sucker for flawed characters.  Bring me your adulterers, your screw-ups, your goodies who do bad things for good reasons. In fact, just bring me your goodies who make mistakes because damn, don’t we ALL make mistakes? I’m always a bit perturbed by readers who want perfection and holier-than-thou goodness in their books, almost as if they don’t understand that sometimes people can be selfish and shite and get things wrong. I’m ALL for a bit of reality in my reading material, which is why domestic noir and psych thrillers, and yes, horror books, are right up my street.

I am so pleased that I found this book. I was having a bit of a rush on thriller books at the time and devouring a new one every weekend, and when I saw this, I read the blurb and knew I had to download it and I’m very glad that I did. I loved the premise of the story -without even knowing the story behind the characters, the idea of a house swap, to me, already held a ton of sinister promise, that I couldn’t wait to find out more. I mean, it’s one thing to go and stay in someone else’s house, but the idea of that person staying in yours? Of course, the film The Holiday did this already, but forget a handsome Jude Law dancing under your Christmas tree or a quirky Kate Winslet jumping on your Egyptian cotton bed linen, because The House Swap turned the ‘cute’ concept of house swapping on its head and gave me all the creepiness I was hoping for and more.

I loved the characters, flaws and all. Were they selfish at times? Did they make me want to reach into the screen and grab them by the scruff of their necks? Yes! But, so what? I want characters that rile me and keep me on the edge of my seat. I don’t want Ovaltine and cookies before bed. I want something that grips me and characters that challenge me and I got all of that in this book. The plot and characters were woven together so well that it kept me guessing most of the way through. There was something so tragic about all of the relationships, but so real and I found myself connecting with all the characters and understanding the choices they made, while not always agreeing with them.

All in all, I found this to be a brilliant thriller that I struggled to put down.

 

crime fiction · REVIEW TIME

Tell Nobody by Patricia Gibney

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I discovered this book, quite by chance, when another Bookouture author favourite of mine, Shalini Boland, mentioned it on her Facebook. I ended up downloading it and I’m so glad for that recommendation, because I loved this book from start to finish.

The boy’s body was so white it was almost transparent. But that’s not what caused the nausea to rise up her throat. He was so young. His body was unmarked, surrounded by a halo of plucked wildflowers.

One hot summer evening, eleven-year-old Mikey Driscoll is on the way home from playing with friends. Two days later, his body is discovered on a bed of wildflowers by some local teenagers.

The case is assigned to Detective Lottie Parker and this time it’s personal. The victim was a close friend of her son, Sean, from the run-down Munbally estate on the other side of town. Sean tells his mother Mikey was behaving normally before he died, but Lottie can’t help but feel that her son is keeping something from her…

Then days later, another boy is found dead, surrounded by wild flowers next to beautiful Ladystown Lake.

On the hunt for a twisted individual with a terrifying calling card, Lottie must uncover the web of secrets within Mikey’s circle of friends. Someone is hiding something but who are they protecting and can Lottie find out before it’s too late? Lottie is desperate to catch the killer before he strikes again because this time her own child could be in terrible danger…

I discovered soon after starting that I was reading book 5 of a series, but fear not! You can dive straight into any Lottie Parker book and not be instantly confused that you’ve missed something vital. There’s a few hints at backstory which are clearly in the previous books, but you miss out on nothing by starting later on in the series as I did.

The story quickly grips the reader as the prologue starts with a girl/woman (we’re not sure which at this point) who is staggering through the streets, in pain, possibly injured, and who ends up shunning the opportunity to seek help near the local football clubhouse and instead, stumbles down the tunnel next to the canal. I mean, nothing good can EVER come from walking alone near the canal, right??

The next, we are watching the aftermath of a children’s football match where one of the goal-scorers leaves the post-match party to walk home, only to accept a lift from someone he clearly knows, but who we, the reader, know must have sinister intentions after the journey takes a different route to the one the boy was expecting. Again, accepting a surprise lift always ends in disaster… the tension levels were through the roof already!

What follows is a complex but well-crafted plot of missing children, a missing baby, a confession of murder, and way too many locals who have connections to all the sinister goings-ons. In all honesty, at times, I had no idea how Detective Lottie Parker didn’t wring the necks of all those who obstructed her in her investigation. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap people within an inch of their lives as the wall of silence in the community and families went up. Everyone seemed to have a secret. Everyone was suspicious as Hell! On top of that, Lottie had to deal with her own son’s connection to the case, her new (but hopefully temporary) life living back with her opinionated mother and the fallout she still continues to deal with following the death of her husband.

I loved Lottie. I mean, I do love a damn good female detective anyway and am always intrigued by an author’s ability to make their female protagonist tough and ballsy in a world where she needs to be tough and ballsy, without making her instantly unlikeable to readers. There’s always a fine art to getting srong female characters right (trust me, I know) and it can always go one of either two ways – the Marmite effect, I like to call it – but Patricia Gibney completely nails it with her main character.

The story was compelling and complex, as I have said, although not in a way that confuses the reader because I was able to follow the plot and the numerous characters all the way through. At first, as the story was laid out, I was trying to work out how everyone could be connected, if at all, and it was fun guessing who were the villians of the piece. I always love a story that keeps you guessing and turns even the most innocent of characters into possible suspects, and Tell Nobody certainly ticked all my wannabe detetctive boxes!

This is a total rollercoaster of a read, that went through so many twists and turns that I couldn’t stop swiping at the screen. I can totally see this as a TV crime drama, it was so gritty and so real, that each character came alive on the page as if I was watching a TV show. As the pace began to pick up, I found myself addicted to every word, desperate to find out the secrets in Ragmullin.

This was a brilliant book that I would thoroughly recommend. Now I just need to go back and read the first four! Patricia Gibney definitely just gained a new fan!

PSYCH THRILLERS · REVIEW TIME

The Perfect Family by Shalini Boland

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‘Mummy, she’s gone…’

Gemma Ballantine is getting ready for work one morning when her eldest child comes running down the stairs, saying the words every mother dreads.

The front door is open. And her six-year-old daughter has disappeared. Frantic with fear, Gemma starts a nail-biting search for her little girl.

After what feels like forever, her mother-in-law Diane finds Katie wandering lost a few streets away. Relieved to have her youngest child back in her arms, breathing in the sweet scent of her hair, Gemma thinks the nightmare is over.

But then her perfect family starts to fall apart.

And she realises it’s only just beginning…

I always start reading Shalini’s books with a certain amount of apprehension, not because I think I won’t like it, because I know that within just a page or two, she’ll throw us into some horrible nightmare that’ll have me turning every page in anticipation.

The Perfect Family was no exception. I stayed up late to read as much as I could, then made myself late getting ready for work just so I could read another chapter and then I sat in the car outside the office just so I could finish it before I started work.

As always, I spent my whole time trying to work out which character was the villain of the story and was suspicious of practically everyone. Shalini has a knack of keeping the reader glued to every page, with situations that could be so real and I really do think it’s that which keeps you hooked – that sense of believable horror that these things could happen to you.

This was another fabulous page turner and I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author. My only complaint is that I read it too quickly and didn’t want it to end!

A definite five out of five stars from me.

horror · REVIEW TIME

The Lingering by SJI Holliday

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This was another brilliant find from the fabulous Orenda Books who seem to have a skill of discovering astounding, talented writers. In fact, these days many of my Kindle buys tend to be from Orenda or Bookouture authors. 

The Lingering intrigued me from the start, the cover is eye-catchingly creepy and the blurb definitely had me hitting that One-Click button on Amazon (how dangerous is that damn button???).

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

At once an unnerving locked-room mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m really enjoying seeing a bit of a revival on ghost stories recently. It seems writers had moved away from the good ol’ ghost tale over the years, and I don’t think I’d read many myself since the days of the David Ash series by James Herbert and I couldn’t help but always feel there was something quite sad about the fall of the Great Ghost Story.

Reading tales of things that go bump in the night was probably where many of us gained our first experience of horror stories as children, but at some point, we all became a little desensitised to horror and needed shock tactics to bring about the fear factor – think gory horror movies: Saw, Hostel, turning zombies from shuffling shop mannequins to scary AF monsters that could run at you like Usain Bolt on acid. However, with the Netflix production of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror The Haunting of Hill House, the concept of the ghost story and the horror it can hold has become desirable again. I feel as if I can’t go online or into a bookshop now without seeing more and more ghost stories on the screen and shelves. I’m sure there are those among you who will say the ghost story never went away, it was just overshadowed by vampires and werewolves and Walking Dead rip-offs, but for me, it’s been a pleasant and enjoyable discovery to see that the genre has risen from the dead (pardon the pun). 

Of course, The Lingering could have turned into one big walking spooky cliché. Yes, we can tick the box for ‘haunted house that was once a hospital where ever so slightly dodgy practices took place’ but that’s where the cliché can remain in its box, because Holliday took me back to what I loved most about ghost stories, while giving it a contemporary twist that kept me hooked. It was spooky, twisted, disturbing and definitely had the goosebumps rising on my skin a number of times as I wandered through the creepy confines of Rosalind House.

I must admit, at the start, I was a little thrown by the switching of POV’s between 1st person present tense and 3rd person present tense, but I am, alas a bit old school (I mean, I just said ‘alas’ which is sadly a dead giveaway, right?) and it took me longer than most to get my head around the contemporary trend of present tense fiction and the switching of POV’s. I read a lot on Wattpad where switching POV’s is a BIG thing and unfortunately, only a gifted few seem to get it right, so I’ve always been a bit sceptical, but, after a couple of chapters of this in The Lingering, I actually found myself really liking it – so much so, that I’m considering experimenting with it in my own writing.

Holliday’s use of POV method was a fantastic tool in aiding reader-character relation. It’s almost like reading subliminal messages within the text and once the story began to open up a bit more and I discovered, not everything was quite what it seemed at Rosalind House, that’s when I realised just how clever Holliday had been with her POV structure. The characters I thought I could trust, turned out to have their own agenda and the ones I was instantly suspicious of, were not necessarily the villains I expected them to be. The whole thing was very smartly constructed and helped ramp up the creep factor throughout.

A haunted house with a tale to tell, suspicious house guests and an addictive plot that kept me swiping the screen for the next page, this was a gripping read. Thoroughly enjoyable!