Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sam Spade in lipstick and a dress

This is a piece explaining The Polka Dot Girl which I wrote for the Evening Herald last Saturday:

 

The classic noir-style detective story always features a femme fatale: gorgeous but deadly dames whose loyalties are questionable, who’d as soon stick a switchblade in your back as kiss your face. The wise-cracking hero, with his trench-coat and ever-present cigarette, desires and fears her at the same time. The femme fatale is a human black widow.

When I came to write my take on the noir mystery, I decided to bring this one step further – and fill the book with (potentially) fatal femmes. All the characters in The Polka Dot Girl are women.

That’s right: every one. The homicide detective, Eugenie Auf der Maur, investigating the murder which opens the novel. The coroner and patrol cops at the scene. The fearsome de facto ruler of Hera City (my invented setting for the story). Genie’s fellow detectives, their bosses, their bosses’ bosses. The psychopathic assassin who uses an extendable steel baton to kill. The local mobster who runs gambling and dodgy nightclubs. The hired guns and heavy muscle, forensics experts and psychologists, lawyers and judges, politicians and priests.

And yes, the femme fatale: Cassandra the wonder woman, an angel come down to earth – or maybe a devil in disguise.

They’re all women, which makes The Polka Dot Girl pretty unique in literature; certainly, I’ve never come across a novel like this before, but I stand open to correction. And there’s an added twist of spice in the genre itself: these aren’t a bunch of girls hanging out, being nice and placid and, you know, girly.

They’re bad-ass and kick-ass and evil and brave and ruthless and self-sacrificing. All the things you get in a great noir story, but filtered through a feminine prism. As the book blurb has it, this is Sam Spade in lipstick and a dress.

That was kind of the whole point, I think, in writing a book with only female characters, set in a fictitious all-women universe. You’d always be hearing about the lack of good female roles in, for instance, cinema: famous and well-regarded actresses constantly bemoan the paucity of decent jobs, especially when you’re not young and pretty.

But even then, women get the short straw. They’re usually reduced to ciphers: the girlfriend, the supporting act, the victim, the sex object. Hardly ever are they given really complex, interesting, believable and challenging parts to work with.

There’s even a thing called the Bechdel Test: to pass it, a movie must have a scene where two or more women have a conversation about something other than men. Not many films pass the test.

Virtually the only movies where women are the main characters are sappy melodramas, and maybe they don’t want to do those kinds of stories. Not every woman wants to make them, and definitely not every woman is interested in them. Lots of women love action and suspense and violence.

Books are better when it comes to gender balance, but not wonderful either. Much literary fiction, for instance, either ignores women for tedious, up-their-own-bottom explorations of self-indulgent male academics, or ghettoises them in those self-consciously arty novels about six generations of an Indian family, or what-have-you.

Crime fiction is better yet – the field has a lot of female writers, at any rate – but again, most of the heroes are male, as are their associates and the villains. In fairness, this probably reflects the real world of crime and punishment fairly well, but still: I wanted to do something nobody else had done, and populate an entire mystery novel with women.

I read yet another interview with a Hollywood star lamenting the lack of good female characters, and thought, fine: I’ll create something with nothing but women, and see what happens.

The Polka Dot Girl isn’t a pastiche or a spoof; there’s no post-modern winking at the audience, no in-jokes about the fact that there aren’t any men; it’s all played out totally straight. (Actually, there are two or three in-jokes, but they’re so understated, I’m probably the only person who’ll get them.)

It does pay homage to classic noir stories, for sure, with all the requisite elements of that genre: the aforementioned list of characters, and also a serpentine plot, outlandish deeds, larger-than-life feel, a mystical-religious undertone. But it’s its own book, with its own style, taking place in its own world.

Hera City is a hermetically sealed universe. It’s never explained, as such; there’s no back-story, no historical background, no quasi-scientific explanation for how a society of women can evolve, have children and so on. And although all relationships are between two women, there’s no homosexuality per se, because there are no men, so there’s no heterosexuality.

These women just do, and are. The reader suspends disbelief and buys into the concept, much like they would do with a fantasy novel or any kind of fable.

And within this world, we have dozens of women who act and talk like noir characters always do – tenderly, violently, brutally, lyrically. This, I hope, creates a really interesting tension between the darkness and edge of the genre, and the fact that the protagonists are female: traditionally seen as sweet and submissive.

Of course, I made sure it was a good, twisting, entertaining yarn anyway – the story would stand on its own, even without the all-female hook. But that is what it hangs on, and I’m glad I wrote it. It was about time somebody did.

Advertisements

Buy my book & win literary immortality!

My second crime novel, The Polka Dot Girl, has just been published. It’s a noir-style mystery with a twist – all the characters are female. And it’s fabulous, so you should all buy a copy. Or twenty. I won’t stop you. See here for more info and here or here to purchase.

Now, to sweeten the deal – though it hardly needs sweetening, considering how great the book is – and mark publicatio, I’m running a competition. Buy The Polka Dot Girl and you’ll be entered into a draw, run by me under the strictest conditions of fairness and probity. And the prize is: I’ll name a character after you in a future book.

A published book, not just a file I have lying around my computer marked “Completely Unpublishable Avant-Garde Junk Prose-Poem.” Although that does sound good, now that I think about it.

It may not be a major character, but it’ll be someone cool, nice, interesting. It won’t be a villain or a character who has something embarrassing happen to them or anything like that. It’ll be good. The minor details will be decided by fate.

The book might sell a million. (Ahem.) Or it may not sell much at all. But one way or the other, literary immortality is assured.

So email me at darraghmcmanusATyahooDOTcom, or tweet me @McManusDarragh, with a picture of you and the book. (Or you and the file beaming out of your e-reader thimgamabob if it’s the electronic version). And you – that’s right, YOU – could win yourself a place in history.

[Winner to be decided by swirling bits of paper around a giant hat. Judge’s decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into. The Darragh Corporation accepts no responsibility for anything whatsoever. All rights reserved. Quality guaranteed. Guarantee is not a guarantee. Patent pending etc. etc. etc.]


Women on the radio

A few days ago I wrote this piece in the Irish Independent about the lack of female presenters on Irish radio. The head of RTE radio, Claire Duignan, contacted me about the piece to argue a few of the points raised – I’m reprinting her letter below (with her permission), in the interests of fairness and the right of reply.

(Incidentally, I replied to Claire myself that, to be devil’s advocate, the really important detail is that there are only three women presenters on some 10 Radio 1 shows from 7am to 10pm weekdays – the prime slots for radio – and none at all from 9am-4.30pm. I said two, should have been three. And also to be devil’s advocate, I still think the situation could be much better. There really should be a 50/50 split? People may decry enforced gender quotas and positive discrimination, but their arguments only stand if we lived in an equal society – we don’t – women always have to battle an ingrained negative discrimination. Finally, the piece was mostly about presenters, not reporters/contributors.)

Anyway, it was very decent of her to write such a detailed response – and this is what she had to say:

 

 

Dear Mr McManus

I am writing in response to your article in the Irish Independent (Friday 4 January 2013) entitled Radio Often Feels Like Last Bastion of Old Boys’ Club.

I always enjoy reading your reviews and your informed analysis of radio in Ireland. I do think however that your article underestimates the presence of female presenters on RTÉ Radio. While I cannot speak for other stations, RTÉ Radio features a significant amount of women on-air, in richly varied roles, working across our four FM services and six Digital Radio channels.

Your article refers to RTÉ Radio 1 having “only two women across more than 10 shows” on the air. This is a significant underestimation. Morning Ireland alone features two regular female presenters, Aine Lawlor and Rachael English, along with Deirdre Purcell, Fiona Kelly and Valerie Cox, who regularly presents the programme’s It Says in the Papers item. On Drivetime, Mary Wilson is the regular presenter, whilst Audrey Carville presents our political and current affairs programme, Late Debate. This is closely followed by music programme Late Date, regularly presented by Lillan Smith.  During our weekend schedule on RTÉ Radio 1, we have an abundance of female presenters including, but not limited to, Eileen Dunne (The God Slot), Marian Finucane (Marian Finucane Show), Marian Richardson (Playback), Miriam O’Callaghan (Miriam Meets) and Avril Hoare (This Week). It is also worth noting that Claire Byrne has presented her own weekend news and current affairs programme, Saturday with Claire Byrne, each Saturday between 1pm – 2pm since September last year. This is not to mention the host of female stand-in presenters (Kathryn Thomas, Edel Coffey…), reporters (Valerie Cox, Brenda Donohue, Della Kilroy…) and regular contributors (Olivia O’Leary, Éanna Ni Lamhna…) that RTÉ Radio 1 avails of.

It is also necessary to have a look across the schedules on all of RTÉ Radio’s services to get a true sense of the importance that RTÉ places on women’s contributions to public service broadcasting in all its forms. RTÉ 2fm, RTÉ lyric fm, RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta and indeed RTÉ Radio’s digital stations all employ a high volume of female presenters and contributors. I have attached a document detailing RTÉ Radio’s regular female presenters for your perusal.

You are not the first writer to shine a welcome light on this topic, and this is not the first time that I have written to journalists and newspapers on this topic.. I agree with you that we cannot underestimate the need for gender balance on our airwaves-indeed this is a theme to which I have returned many times during my career in broadcasting. In assessing whether or not that balance is achieved, it is important however to fairly reflect the role that women do play. RTÉ Radio is a proud leader when it comes to women on air, and I feel it is only fair to fully acknowledge the extent of representation of women on air across RTÉ Radio.

Kind regards,

Clare Duignan

Managing Director, RTÉ Radio

 

LIST OF RTE RADIO PRESENTERS AND REPORTERS

RTÉ Radio 1

Morning Ireland: Aine Lawlor, Rachael English, Deirdre Purcell (It Says in the Papers) – Mon – Fri 7am – 9am

The John Murray Show: Kathryn Thomas (Stand-in presenter) – Mon- Fri 9am – 10am

Today with Pat Kenny: Valerie Cox (Reporter) – Mon – Fri 10am – 12 midday

Mooney: Brenda Donohue (Reporter) – Mon – Fri 3pm – 4.30pm

Drivetime: Mary Wilson, Olivia O’Leary (Contributor) – Mon – Fri  4.30pm – 7.00pm

Arena: Edel Coffey (Stand-in presenter) – Mon – Fri 7.30pm – 8.30pm

The Late Debate: Audrey Carville – Tues – Thurs – 10pm – 11pm

Late Date: Lillian Smith – Mon – Fri – 11.25pm – 2.00am

The God Slot: Eileen Dunne Friday 10pm – 10.30pm

The Weekend on One: Grace Waller (Stand-in presenter) – Saturday – Sunday 6am – 8am

Playback: Marian Richardson – Saturday 9am – 10am

Marian Finucane: Marian Finucane – Sat & Sun 11am – 12 midday

Saturday with Claire Byrne: Claire Byrne  – Sat 1pm – 2pm

Countrytime: Sandy Harsch – Sat 11pm – 12 midnight

Miriam Meets: Miriam O’Callaghan – Sun 10am – 11am

Sunday Sport: Jacqui Hurley – Sun 2pm – 4pm

This Week: Avril Hoare – Sun 1pm – 2pm

RTÉ 2fm:

Weekend Breakfast with Louise McSharry: Louise McSharry – Saturday, Sunday 7am – 10am

Ballbusters: Fiona Looney – Saturday 12 midday – 2pm

Weekenders: Ruth Scott – Saturday, Sunday 2pm – 5pm

Jenny Greene’s Electric Disco: Jenny Greene – Fri & Sat 7pm – 10pm

RTÉ lyric fm

Liz Nolan’s Classic Drive: Liz Nolan – Mon – Fri 4pm – 7pm

Trish Taylor’s Daybreak: Trish Taylor, Saturdays, 7am – 10am

Movies & Musicals: Aedin Gormley – Saturdays, 1pm – 4pm

The Music Box: Trish Taylor – Sundays, 10am – 12pm

The Sunday Matinee: Aedin Gormley – Sundays, 12pm – 2pm

Trish Taylor’s Daybreak: Trish Taylor – Sat & Sun 6.30am – 9.30am

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

Nead na Fuiseoige: Gráinne Ní Dhomhnaill – Mon – Fri 7am-8am

Adhmhaidin: Gormfhlaith Ní Thuairisg Mon – Fri 8am – 9am
Iris Aniar: Eibhlín Ní Chonghaile– Mon – Fri 9.10am – 11am

Barrscealta: Áine Ní Churráin – Mon – Fri 11am – 12 midday

An Saol O Dheas: Helen Ní Shé – Mon – Fri 12.10pm – 1pm

Nuacht a hAon: Máirín Ní Ghadhra – Mon – Fri 1pm – 2pm

Thall ‘s Abhus: Sinéad Ní Uallacháin Sat 10 am

An Ghealach Ghorm: Áine Hensey – Sat 9pm – midnight

Béal Maidine:  Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha, Áine Hensey – Sat & Sun 7am – 9am

Ceol Binn ó na Beanna: Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha – Mon, Wed & Thurs 7pm – 9pm

Blas: Louise McCreesh – Sun 9.30am – 10am

Spórt: Gearóidín Nic an Iomaire

Sruth na Maoile: Mairi Anna Nic Ualraig – Mon 2pm –3 pm

RTÉ Digital Radio

RTÉ 2XM: Aoife Barry, Caoimhseach Connolly, Jacqui Carroll, Louise Noone, Paula Flynn, Niamh Hegarty, Gabby Sanderson Ann-Marie Duffin and Annabelle Brossard

RTÉ Pulse: Orla Feeney, Aifric O Connell, Zoe Mc Grath, Hilary Rose, Ciara Buckley

RTÉ Junior: Emma Power, Audrey Donohue, Grainne Clear, Louise Denvir, Rhona Tarrant and Emma O’Driscoll


A right Royal palaver

Not a lot of people know this about me, but I’m actually of royal blood. My real dad is a guy called God – he’s like the King of this place Heaven? Major big deal.

He sent me down to earth to spread peace, love and good vibes, and also brutally kill and dismember all of Take That if I get the chance. “But don’t stress it if you don’t get around to that one, Dazzler”: those were the last words of my pops, God, before I hopped on a cloud-bus and scooted down to your planet.

By the way all this is top, top, TOP secret, so I’m swearing several thousand U magazine readers to silence.

The reason I mention it is because the royals have been in the news loads lately, especially because of Kate and Wills’ impending bundle of joy. This boy or girl is, quite literally, heir to the throne, and not just in the sense that some dingbat who owns a carpet warehouse will hold up his infant and declare proudly, while pointing at Rugs-R-Us Discount Vortex of Death, “Someday all this will be yours, my child. You shall inherit it all.”

The royal baby really will inherit a throne, a crown, one of them Bo Peep-style crooked stick things with jewels all over it, a flipping big castle, a few more flipping big castles, and some other stuff I couldn’t be bothered to list off here. Servants and land and the right to whip the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a cat-o’-nine-tails down the Olde Kente Roade for scurvy treason, that sort of thing.

But is it right, this institution of inherited privilege? Should Baby Katwill be given all that wealth just because of who their parents are – or to be specific, their father?

I think you should have to apply for the role of royal. Now, I have no problem with the childer of existing monarchs getting first dibs, and if they pass the test fair play to them, they get the job. But if they prove not up to the mark, we give someone else a try.

First up, a questionnaire. Do you like eating quail? Can you ride a horse? Do you look a bit like a horse? If male, is your name Henry, John, George or William? If female, is it Elizabeth, Catherine or Anne? Do you have someone dress you every morning? Do you believe that the concept of social equality is bad? Are you likely to be shoved up against the wall and executed in the event of a revolution?

If you answered Yes to all of the above, you’re halfway there.

Next, the physical test. You must shoot a pigeon from the sky while snorting in an odd kind of way, guffawing loudly at something quite hilarious Esmeralda said about Tarquin, and slapping a working-class oik about the head for daring to address you common. Oh, and you must be squiffy on champagne at the time.

If you can manage to do all this while still retaining enough bodily co-ordination to commandeer the old man’s Bentley and drive it through the front door of Tossingley Manor, you’re two-thirds of the way there.

Next, the audition. Can you sing stupid rugby songs, if male? Or do side-splitting impersonations of chavs you’ve seen on telly, if female? Alternatively, dress up as a Nazi or African chief, complete with “black” face, and go to a fancy dress party, with absolutely no sense of shame.

If you can do this, you’re almost there.

The final test: genealogy. We must be sure to get the right kind of blood on the throne, eh? So: are all your ancestors related to each other quite closely? And are you fairly likely to marry someone you’re related to? And have children whose genes are so completely fubar that it’s a miracle they’re not born with 12 toes and four heads?

If you answered yes, then congrats: you’re ideally qualified to be a royal!

Of course, here in Ireland we don’t got no aristocracy, having bombed the baxterds out the country in 1920 or thereabouts. But we do have a Presidency, on which we vote every seven years.

The only problem with this is that the public are, by and large, a shower of morons who can’t be trusted to do the right thing. It’d be much better if I just picked a president-for-life, right here and now, and then the nation can get back to me when this one dies and we need a new one.

And our new overlord is: me.

Oh go on, you knew I was going to say that. Anyway I already have the kingly beard, the megalomania, the 12 toes, and I simply adore eating quail and beating the plebs. Or eating plebs and beating quail, whatever.

 

First published in U Magazine December 17 2012