I love a good murder-mystery-whodunit. I mean, really love. I’ve read (and watched) a lot of them. I could probably have put a deposit on a house with what I’ve spent. OK, maybe not a house. Maybe a unit. In the suburbs. In the ’90s.
Anyway, a few years ago, I realised my favourite genre had a serious flaw. And the more murder-mystery-whodunits I read, the more obvious and annoying that flaw became. It was this – the victims were very often, too often, women, and these women were almost always stalked, tortured, sexually assaulted, held captive or brutalised in some awful way.
Why were the ladies so disproportionately represented as victims? Why weren’t more women heroes and detectives? For that matter, why weren’t there more lady villains? And why was the violence so grizzly? So graphic? Wasn’t there enough trauma in the real world?
It was entirely possible that my personal circumstances at the time added to my irritation and exasperation.
Just six months before my little epiphany, I’d been diagnosed with a permanent neurological condition that ended my career. I was the host of a network TV channel, and the head scriptwriter. The scriptwriting I could do, but my neurological condition, which causes the whole left side of my face to spasm, is triggered by heat, lights and stress. That’s pretty much the definition of live studio TV.
As understanding as my bosses were, and they were understanding, there are only so many times you can wink uncontrollably at the person you’re interviewing before a problem develops.
There’s a brain surgery option to my condition, but it comes with a substantial risk of hearing impairment and neurological damage. In other words, I could be left deaf, or brain-damaged, or both.
The winking is starting to look good now, right? I thought so too, especially when the first words bandied about were “brain tumour” and “Bell’s Palsy”. Perspective is an amazing thing. Funny enough, this wasn’t the condition that led me to my epiphany. Nope, several months later I developed another much more serious condition that led to long stretches in boring hospital wards. That’s where I read and re-read my favourites.
That’s where I decided I was sick of being sick.
Sick of being a victim. Sick of drama without laughter. Sick of mysteries that helped me to escape, but not into a better world.
So, I decided to write the murder-mystery-whodunit I wanted to read. One that not only turned the tables on traditional victims, but was filled with laughter. A book where women are flawed and wonderful and crazy and hilarious.
While I was at it, I decided to fix a few other things that had begun to itch me.
Stereotypical Dragon Ladies and studious-violin-playing-kids aside, why were there so few Asian-Australian characters? I grew up with kids from Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, Cambodia, Burma. I have cousins whose surname is Yic. Where were they?
I also wanted to see some First Australian characters who were way off the over-beaten trope track.
And since I was doing as I pleased, I decided that as well as women in their 20s, I might like to see women in their 30s, and 40s, and 50s and 60s and even 70s and 80s in my comedic mystery.
After all, you don’t disappear after 35, or 45, or 55, even if it feels that way.
The cast of Heiress On Fire would (and did) come together, each empowered in their own way, each making a unique contribution that helped our heroes to unravel the mystery/s.
Since I was going for broke, I also added fantasy food, high-end fashion and crazy rich furnishings. Why not? I’m never going to live in a $20m home, or own 50 pairs of Jimmy Choos, but my imagination can live anywhere it wants. There’s no budgeting in my brain.
It’s amazing just how lavish you can get when you’re not limited by pesky things like bank balances and pay cheques.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough dread in the past 12 months. I could do with a good dose of laughter and empowerment with my highly entertaining mystery. And I wouldn’t mind a bit of caper and romance thrown in.
If you’ve mumbled, “Yes” to anything here then maybe you should treat yourself to a little mental Heiress On Fire vacation where laughter, and levity, and women, always rule.
Kellie McCourt’s Heiress On Fire, published by Harper Collins, is available now
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