Sounds refreshing? We thought so. Time for something more original.
How did it start?
The Staunch Book Prize was launched to make space for an alternative to the overload of violence towards women in fiction. While women in the real world are fighting sexual abuse and violence, being disbelieved when they report rape or assault, or being murdered because they’re women, the casual and endless depiction of women as victims or prey sits uneasily alongside their fight. While real rape survivors struggle to be heard and counted, fictional rape victims take the stage – usually as two-dimensional characters – in stories that celebrate the cunning (often, charming sexiness/astonishing brutality) of serial rapists and the dogged brilliance of detectives.
Not everyone feels the same about depictions of violence, of course, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but since this prize was announced, a huge number of people have contacted us to tell us they agree, that it is long overdue, that they’ve given up on thrillers altogether – and that they can’t wait to read the shortlisted and winning novels.
For this audience in particular, but for readers everywhere, we invited thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés. When we launched, our tongue-in-cheek video Night Stalker (left) called for new and original narratives. This October, at Variety’s Power of Women event, actress Natalie Portman made an impassioned speech echoing that sentiment and challenging her film-making colleagues to take ‘A year off from violence to women’. Her call to action can be found at 12.54′ on the video below – but the entire hard-hitting speech is well worth a watch.
What were we looking for?
Certainly not just thrillers that feature men in jeopardy instead of women, but stories in which female characters don’t have to be raped before they can be empowered, or become casual collateral to pump up the plot. Stories that feature a woman in a strong leading role were even more welcome. But as long as the main criteria were followed, any thriller novel was eligible for entry.
We focused on thrillers because they’re a huge and important genre in their own right – and frequently also source material for film and television. We wanted to show not only readers, but producers, directors and actors that there are amazing, complex stories being written today by authors with truly fresh ideas, great imagination and brilliant plotting skill.
What happened next..?
We were overwhelmed by the number of entries we received over five months from all around the world. Published and unpublished writers sent in their work with thrillers of every genre represented. Some came directly from the authors themselves, some from publishers who have embraced the idea wholeheartedly. Then the hard work of reading and forming a shortlist began.
Everyone loves Staunch!
Well, no, not everyone does. It must be said we have our detractors! Some outspoken members of the crime fiction world have been particularly set against the Staunch Book Prize and its aims. Mainly because that genre deals more than any other with the rape and murder of women. We’ve engaged in live discussions, been the subject of angry articles, been trolled on Twitter and talked about behind our backs. All of which has helped carry news of the prize around the globe and enabled us to reach a much wider audience. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to the ‘debate’!
So it’s all been fixed now?
Nope. In the year since we started planning the Prize, not enough has improved from women. #MeToo has led to many initiatives, but we’ve still seen dozens of high-profile men accused of sexual misconduct, the Kavanaugh debacle, Google employees walking out in protest at the way the company treats women and minorities – and a £90m payoff to Google high-flier accused of misconduct by women who were for once believed – setting a precedent for the handsome reward of unacceptable behaviour. This is an issue that is not going away.
We’ve just got started.
We are delighted to announce our 2018 shortlist, selected from an extraordinary range of entries demonstrating style, originality and some exceptional writing.
Here’s what author Joyce Thompson said about the Prize…
To solve a serious social problem, you need to attack it “in the round.” The Staunch Prize is about consciousness—about what we make to entertain and how we allow ourselves to be entertained—and/or titillated.
Stories in which women are safe or powerful tend to endorse female safety and power. To generate them.
When a culture feasts on violence as entertainment, it endorses real life violence. And rewards it as a cultural meme. To remake the world, we need to raise our kids—boys and girls—to respect all humans. We need equal pay, equal protection, equal representation in the courts as well as in the arts.