As It Happens

Want to win the Staunch Prize? Write a thriller where no woman is sexually exploited, raped or murdered

Staunch Book Prize founder Bridget Lawless is bringing attention to the all too common trope in thriller novels of violence against women.
Bridget Lawless has set up a book prize for thrillers "in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered." (Clare Park)

Story transcript

Bridget Lawless was tired of reading about violence against women in thriller novels, so she started her own book prize that rewards authors for coming up with original ideas. 

The author and screenwriter has launched the Staunch Book Prize — which awards a thriller where "no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered," according to the website. 

Submissions for the prize start next month. The winner will be announced on Nov. 28, 2018 — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The only criteria  — other than avoiding violence against women —  is that the novel be a well-written thriller in English. The winner will be awarded £2,000 ($3,489 Cdn). 

Lawless spoke with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about why she started this prize. Here is part of their conversation: 

When did you come up with this idea for the Staunch Book Prize?

This kind of came out of ... the [Harvey Weinstein] thing, the Me Too, the Time's Up and my own decision not to vote for the BAFTAs this year because of that. 

I was just thinking how can you keep the conversation going, and this was one small thing I could do.

What do you think is the main problem with the storylines that we see in these kinds of thrillers?

I think there are several problems. One is that it's incredibly repetitive and that doesn't encourage original writing. But the constant depiction of women as victims, and of quite gratuitous sexual description, I think doesn't help anything about how women are treated or seen or how they feel about themselves in the wider world.

How prevalent is this in that genre?

It's pretty prevalent. I mean it's a very useful device, I think, to have women in that kind of jeopardy and it's a bit of an easy get out really for plotting. In thrillers … particularly in crime thrillers, I guess, there's a lot more sexual violence and women as murder victims, as well. But it's not entirely necessary to make a good thriller and I'd love to see more work that's just really more original, really leaving that behind and coming up with some new stuff for a new era.

The prize will recognize novels where "no women is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered." What else will you be looking at when you're judging these books?

Well it has got to be good writing. We can't award a prize to a book that's badly written but a great idea ... It has to be original and exciting and still deliver everything that a thriller needs to deliver but without falling back on that. Apart from that, it's a wide-open field.

One novelist told the Guardian that it's "possible to write about violence against women without being exploitative." Why not honour those books?

They have plenty of prizes to go for in that genre. And yes, it is possible not to be exploitative. But it doesn't mean that everyone wants to read that and the readers that want something different need to be able to find it. And publishers need to recognize that there is a readership for this and pick up those kinds of books. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.