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Today another extract from Transgression seems appropriate in view of recent allegations concerning MPs and the young women who work in Westminster.
During the 1987 general election in Britain a woman comes to a local journalist in the constituency of a Conservative MP seeking re-election. This extract has been edited to fit the space but contains her allegations and his response.
I had no ‘inside knowledge’ to inform this imagined scene. However, I had often enough witnessed the way some men – too many, in fact – behaved towards women in the workplace and it seemed to me when I wrote the scene, and still does, that Westminster would be little different from any other office or workshop.
The question that remains is this: at what point does flirting spill over into unacceptable behaviour? Is any kind of flirting acceptable? What do you think?
A cameo suggested by The Writing Reader’s exhortation to write about the night before the morning after.
Joanna tried to remember when it all went wrong. Was there a single moment, or was it the culmination of a series of small events, insignificant in themselves but building to create, first, suspicion, and, then, the certainty, that Carl was no longer the man she had married?
It was supposed to have been a night to celebrate five years since their first date. A candle-lit dinner in a quiet corner of their favourite restaurant. Why did he have to invite Celia? His PA was having a hard time, a messy divorce on top of a recent bereavement. Even so, he could hardly have found a worse time to console her.
Geno had given them a strange look whilst he set the third place at their table. And why would he not? She and Carl had been coming here regularly for so long that Geno knew them well; knew their tastes and their moods. Above all, he knew the importance of the date. So he was probably as surprised as she to learn of the presence of a third person, an unexpected guest.
Carl played the part of the perfect gentleman so well. No-one could have been more attentive to his companions. Was it Joanna’s imagination or was Celia getting more attention than she? She tried hard not to show her true feelings. Told Celia how sorry she was to hear of her problems, offered practical advice based on her years of experience in a solicitor’s office. Somehow, Celia seemed far more interested in Carl’s enthusiastic description of his latest project and how much he looked forward to working with Celia to bring it to fruition.
And then there was the way Celia had dressed for the occasion. Nothing about her appearance suggested she was suffering emotionally. On the contrary, the low neckline and high split hem of her dress made it plain she was pleased to be single again; free to flaunt her sexuality in a way her lately deceased mother would never have approved of.
By the second bottle of claret Joanna was beginning to feel a little tipsy. But Celia’s behaviour gave the impression she was beyond tipsy. That couldn’t be – Celia had not consumed more than her. She must be play acting, using the appearance of being drunk as a cover for deliberate flirting. More, it looked like an audacious attempt to seduce Carl.
Joanna slugged down a long draft from her glass and poured another, ignoring Carl’s frown. When Geno came to clear their desserts and offer coffee and liqueurs she ordered a double Pernod. After Carl dropped her at their apartment saying he would see Celia home, returning later, she poured a generous shot of Vodka and slumped in the settee. That was the last thing she remembered until waking to the stink of vomit two hours after she should have been at work.
When I was young, an ‘outing’ meant a day out. A trip to the seaside perhaps, or the zoo. Later it came to mean the practice of revealing the secret sexual orientation of a public figure.
At the UK general election in 1987, I acted as agent to a Liberal Party candidate. There was speculation about the sexual preferences of the Conservative incumbent. Although the man would appear in the constituency at election times with a glamourous female in tow, the rumours persisted. Several of our party workers wanted us to refer to these suggestions in our election literature. I refused, as did the candidate. We argued that what he got up to in his private life did not effect his ability to carry out his duties as a public representative. We would, we believed, win the seat on the strength of our policy proposals. As things turned out, this was not to be.
I used the incident in my novel Transgression, reversing the situation so that the Tory MP, on being faced with possible exposure of his inappropriate behaviour towards women, responds with the threat of exposing his Liberal opponent’s homosexuality: “What do you suppose the good citizens of Topford would make of the idea of having a shirt-lifter for an MP?”.
My book is an exploration of the changes in attitudes to sex and sexual orientation that have occurred over the past 70 years, through the experience of 4 fictional characters, one of them the MP.
A few years later the real MP admitted his homosexuality after having been ‘outed’ by Murdoch’s despicable rag, the ‘News of the World‘. He lost the seat to Labour in the 1997 landslide.
As a footnote to this story, I was given a rare insight into the insensitivity of some older members of the British Conservative party when a Tory Councillor related a story against his local party chairman. This was supposed to have taken place at a party meeting shortly after the 1987 election. The MP had, at the time, a black PA (also gay). Both were present at the meeting. The chairman gave a speech thanking party workers for their efforts, concluding with special thanks to the agent whom, he claimed had ‘worked like a n***er’.
Tell me how changes in the way we view matters of gender, sexuality and race have effected you.
Yesterday I posted an extract in which two people discuss the possibility that a third might be a paedophile. In this second extract the accuser recalls an incident involving a radio DJ when she was 14.
“He was staying in a small guest house just off the promenade. He invited us in. Got us dancing. I didn’t like the way he started groping us. We were lucky. He didn’t try to stop us when we ran out.”
She resumed that business with the front of her jeans. Smoothing, scratching, smoothing. He guessed there must be something else. A memory too painful to put into words.
“But that’s not the end of the story. I wish it was. I learned much later that Gillian went back. She missed her purse, thought she’d left it at the B&B.”
There was another long pause. Roger heard her swallow hard. Wanted to reach out to touch the hand that was fretting her jeans. His voice low, he asked, “Had she?”
Her head was silhouetted against the copper glow from the car-park lighting and he saw her nod. “He made her do something horrible to him before he’d give it to her.”
She sniffed. He handed her a tissue. “She told you this?”
She nodded again. “In a letter. After she hung herself. Swore me to secrecy. Said she couldn’t tell her parents.”
The idea for writing Transgression came about as a result of the original revelations about Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall. A writer’s friend is accused of being a paedophile. In this brief extract, the writer discusses the prospect with his partner.
“You’re very quiet,” Connie said.
“I was just thinking about what Sally said. You know, that if her father was much older than Madge he was probably a paedo who couldn’t stop himself, that there are probably other victims out there.”
“Like all those women who came forward after Jimmy Savile was outed?”
“I suppose, yes. And then all those others came to light. Max Clifford, Stuart Hall, DLT – although some of the accusations have not stood up to the rigours of a court examination.”
“Much as I dislike him, I would not go as far as to suspect Douglas of paedophilia. You’ve known him all your life, surely you’d know if he was like that?”
“I wonder how many of Rolf Harris’s closest friends knew about his dalliances with young women.”
“Perhaps they knew and turned a blind eye. I often wonder if the laissez-fair attitudes that prevailed in the seventies and eighties made some of those things inevitable. I would never have said so at the time, but that is just the point, people were breaking free of the Victorian notions that had dominated for generations. Anyone who expressed fears about where it was leading was viewed as a spoil-sport.”
I’ve written before about how I feel comfortable writing female characters. I said I thought it might have something to do with having been brought up without significant male role models. In this interesting article the author points out that, if you worry about writing from the point of view of someone of the opposite gender to your own you are mistaking stereotypes for characters.
I am pleased that most of those who have read my book Transgression (you can purchase it by clicking the image on the right) have praised the characterization. The Irish author and playwright John MacKenna said my “characters came alive”. I could not have hoped for better praise than that.
Here are the opening paragraphs of Harrison Demcheck’s post. If you want more, click the ‘read more’ link.
Neither all men nor all women are written equal.
It’s inevitable: Some women struggle at writing male characters. Some men struggle at writing female characters. We’ve all seen it in one novel or another. I know I have, although of course, as a developmental editor, at some point I see almost everything. And because I do this for a living, one of the questions I receive is how—that is, how do I write a woman? How do I write a man? What should I do differently?
Moving beyond our own personal experiences into the head of another character—someone who is not us—is one of the trickiest parts of writing fiction. It’s also one of the most essential parts. And when it comes to writing the opposite gender, there are a few important ideas to keep in mind.