Time For A Sex Change

Hector's HouseHa, yes, it’s a cheap trick but now that I’ve got your attention..

On Friday night I had a most enjoyable time, listening to writer S J Watson ‘in conversation’ as part of Warwick Words Xtra events.

‘SJ’, as you may know, is the author of best-selling thriller Before I Go To Sleep which was made into a film last year (we all wanted to know what Colin Firth was like!!) and his second novel, Second Life zoomed in at number five on the Sunday Times bestseller list within 3 days of being published last month! (jealous? moi?)

What you might not know, is that ‘SJ’ is a man – Steve, to be precise. Because the protagonist of Before I Go To Sleep is a woman (and, indeed, so is the lead character in his second novel), most people think ‘SJ’ must be female. He gets asked all the time about his choice of female protagonist(s). Apparently, one of the many foreign publishers who bought Before I Go To Sleep insisted on seeing a photo of ‘SJ’ – they were so convinced that the book must have been written by a woman.

Which made me think about women who write from the point of view (POV) of men. JK Rowling does a pretty good job with her detective Cormoran Strike and no-one ever questions Kate Atkinson’s ability to get into the head of her male lead character (also, coincidentally, a detective), Jackson Brodie. So, what is it about men writing from the POV of a woman? It seems rather sexist to be surprised that they can do it!

There’s an interesting article here, from The Guardian, asking the question ‘Can Men Write Good Heroines?’

I must admit, I hardly ever write from the POV of a man, just because it doesn’t occur to me to do it. I am more in-tune with women’s issues and potential problems. But perhaps I’m limiting myself! That’s it, I’m having a sex change. The next story I write, will be from the point of view of a man! And..er.. he’s going to be called Hector! Oh no, that’s too Greek-mythology/Hector’s House-ish (remember Hector’s House?).

Do any of you prefer to write as a member of the opposite sex? And, secondly, any ideas for a good hero’s name?

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12 Responses to Time For A Sex Change

  1. I quite enjoy writing from the POV of a man! I’ve written both poems and stories that way. Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by them – I have a brother (no sisters) and I live with three men (husband and two sons before you jump to conclusions!). I do also write from the female POV but I love switching.

  2. Debbie W says:

    Hello Helen, Yes I like to write from the POV of a man. Living in a household full of men (although not including me, I am not a man, honest!) means I’ve gained an understanding of life from their POV. Saying that, I grew up in a house full of women (I have four sisters). Try it, I’m sure you’ll like it!

  3. rosgemmell says:

    I’ve written a few stories from the POV of a man, which I do enjoy, but I had four brothers! I also know a couple of well published romantic novelists who are men but write under a female name.

  4. I was about to ask if the female writers who use the male viewpoint had brothers or sons. Just what I thought. So far, you all do.

  5. juliathorley says:

    Give it a go, and let us know how you get on. I didn’t realise when I first watched ‘Wire In The Blood’ on telly that it was based on books written by a woman, and I was surprised that she could have created some vicious stories.

  6. Linda says:

    I can only think of one story I’ve written in first person where ‘I’ is a man. I enjoyed doing it but I did wonder if I’d got it right (mind you, he was supposed to be a bit of a weirdo!) In other stories where a man is the main character, I’ve found it easier to distance myself and write from a 3rd person viewpoint. I also show him interacting with women.
    I think Lynne Hackles has a good point. I don’t have any brothers, and I went to a girls school so I suppose I grew up thinking that boys and men were almost a different species. I now have a husband, son and son-in-law, but I can’t claim to know how their minds work!

  7. Keith Havers says:

    I find no difficuty writing from the POV of a woman as my wife of 43 years is always offering me her opinion. I do agree about Kate Atkinson. She’s brilliant.

  8. Kim Fleet says:

    Another thought provoking blog post! Thanks! I’ve written from a male POV and found that I needed to really know the character before I was comfortable with the ‘voice’. So I did a lot of writing just to find the character. I’ve also written from a male, Aboriginal POV – that was tricky, as it was not only a different gender but a totally different culture, and I wanted to be as authentic as possible.

  9. charliebritten says:

    All this reminds me of a story I tell my web design students, about a company that used the main h1 heading ‘Free Sex Boys’ to draw attention to its merchandise (car parts). (Google picks up h1 headings and uses them when drawing up lists of results.) The company got blacklisted.

  10. philippabowe says:

    It is a very interesting issue, Helen. The first ‘proper’ short story I completed (for the writing course that got me actually writing rather than just dreaming about it) was written from the POV of a 70-something year old rural French man – I wanted to get as far away as possible from my own experience, not to box myself in, challenge myself. Since then I have used both male and female POVs and enjoy the endless freedom of choice we have as writers – we can be anyone, anytime, past, present or future! I’m not sure that being at ease with writing as the other sex has any connection to the femaleness/maleness of your environment: as a writer, you need to be able to delve into the minds of others, regardless of sex. And yes, as a woman, you’ll no doubt find it easier to delve into women’s minds, but that needn’t be a limit. I’ll admit to viewing men writing women with more suspicion, because you have the added layer of the stereotyping of women and imposing certain roles on them that persist in our patriarchal society. But there are many fine examples: I recently read Irvine Welsh’s ‘The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’, written from two female POVs, and the heroines are pretty amazing. Though I wonder how he researched the (detailed) sex scenes between them…

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