Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Passion with a Purpose by Erin Cawood: thoughts on violence in literature

Last summer, Erin Cawood and I started talking about violence in our fiction, and particularly domestic violence in women's fiction, chick lit or even romance.  We both write about violence, to varying degrees, in our work, and we both grappled with what our responsibility is as writers when we touch it.

Honestly, I can't tell you why it came up.  It may have started with Fifty Shades of Grey, but then there was a mass shooting in Colorado, a local politician arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, another shooting in Connecticut, a horrific gang rape in India and the hundreds- thousands, millions- of things that have happened before, between and after.  It almost makes you wonder how you can get away with not touching it in some way.

I'll let Erin take over now...


Power struggles and control are becoming more and more prominent in fiction. You just have to look at bestsellers of the twenty-first century such as Harry Potter and Twilight to see the common theme. But what happens when relationship power struggles start upping the ante?

Yes, Mr Not-So-Perfect-Grey from the Fifty Shades Trilogy was all hot and steamy, but he was crazily controlling and turned on by the idea of physical punishment. And the theme of sexual violence against women in Stieg Larsson’s The Millennium Trilogy was inspired by his hatred of violence against women after he witnessed a gang rape at fifteen. So is it okay to say ‘don’t worry its only fiction’?

Well, actually... no, it isn't.

Erin Cawood
It is continually drummed into us that we learn from our media influences and like many teenage girls I discovered love and romance in the pages of a novel. Of course I’m not saying that one character will be responsible for bringing down girl power. But when it comes to issues like sexual control and violence against women in fiction as a writer you have to maintain reality, especially in romance.

I write contemporary romance / women’s fiction / romantic-comedies. I hate the term ‘Chick-lit’ but yeah, there’s a bit of the bubbly, hearts and flowers, boy meets girl malarkey going on here. My genre is stereotyped as fluffy and frequently dismissed as idealistic and only for entertainment. But my characters are real women. When you join my character’s world, they already have a life. Like any new friend, they’ll tell you all about how they got to be the person they are as you travel towards their new destiny. When you part you won’t necessarily get a happy ever after because I’m afraid... we all don’t live happily ever after.

I’m currently working on a darker series where one of the key themes is domestic violence. (Deb's note: The first book is already out.)  Spousal abuse doesn't just affect the married couple, however their marriage pans out. It affects their children, their siblings, their parents, their friends, their colleagues ... It has a ripple effect throughout the people within their lives.  There’s a lot more behind just one person’s lashing out and the other’s reluctance to leave when they’re at risk.

The most important thing we must remember is domestic violence and violence against women is not a class, race, religious, cultural, or geographical issue. It happens every minute of every day in every city in every country in every part of the world. So if we’re going to write about real issues, let’s keep the reality of them in view. Let’s not write something spectacularly entertaining and then dismiss the important issues it raises. If Romance novels can teach us unrealistic expectations of how love is supposed to be then why shouldn't they also teach us how relationships are NOT supposed to be?

Erin Cawood recently published Tainted Love, the first book in her series, Valentina Secrets.  


  1. Thanks for featuring my thoughts on a really important issue Deb!

  2. My pleasure! I got a lot out of talking it through with you.