Monday, 6 April 2015

Guest Post: George McKenzie – the thinking reader’s heroine by Marnie Riches

A few weeks I was invited to be part of the cover reveal promo for The Girl Who Wouldn't Die and today it's my pleasure to be part of the blog tour and welcome author Marnie Riches to talk about her heroine George McKenzie.

The women in my family are all tough as old boots. They’ve been through plenty, and times have been lean indeed. You know the type: Matriarchs. Grafters. Keeping their heads above choppy water. Small wonder, then, that I was cut from similar cloth. I’ve always had too much to say. Always had a rebellious punk spirit in me. And, like the women in my family, I have a pair of giant cojones that I don when the occasion arises and some fool tries to cross me. 

When it comes to literature and TV, I like to see a heroine who measures up to my expectations of what heroism is. She’ll love hard. Fight hard. She’ll be fearless, fiercely loyal and have a mouth on her. Naturally, she’ll be too cool for school. And, oh, she’s got to be smart. Right? 

Sadly, though, great heroines in fiction, whether it be on the page or the screen, are hard come-by. Clarice Starling mesmerised Hannibal Lecter and caught Buffalo Bill, but she was an understated sort, obscured in the long shadows cast by the men in Silence of the Lambs. Never mind, though, because we got Salander! Lisbeth Salander definitely kicks ass. She’s a rebel, defying people’s wish to label her sexuality and psychological quirks. Except Salander’s a very low-key figure, isn’t she? She performs many heroic feats, but mainly using her laptop. And she doesn’t say right much. And she gets that bloody boob job – surely something a female author would not have had her heroine do.

So, when it came to devising my crime series, my heroine, George McKenzie had to be many things. She had to be sexually confident in the way that Salander was. She had to get her killer, in the way Starling did. She had to be incredibly intelligent but gobby at the same time – ah. There lay the rub. There was no precedent for a sexy, gobby, brainy, argumentative fighter in fiction, unless you looked to male protagonists. Because women who are all those things are traditionally bitches. 

Consider for a moment, heroines in film – there aren’t many that pass muster. They might be sex-crazed murderers like Sharon Stone’s character, Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct. They might be cartoonish violent characters, like Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass. That infernal bore, Trinity in The Matrix. The terribly reserved and tragic Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Uma Thurman’s vengeful victim, Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. In the main, those characters prop up a male lead. They are rarely nuanced. Or too nuanced, lacking spine. 

In fiction, we have the assassin, Aomame in Murakami’s IQ84. I found her far too controlled and dispassionate. In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen has strength of spirit and is an accomplished fighter, but doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of humour or complexity in her character. 

Nope. The precedent just wasn’t there. British TV was full of quiet, middle class heroines, who brooded and showed their strength through sullen silence. Too passive aggressive for me! So George was born out of necessity.

Here she is: In book 1, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, George is a council-estate girl made good, trying to climb the academic ladder at Cambridge University. Studying for an Erasmus year at Amsterdam University, we find she has picked up the language quickly, lives in the red-light district above a coffee shop and a brothel, has immersed herself in Amsterdam’s underworld as well as excelling in her respectable political science course. She drinks, she smokes dope...if she wants to get laid, she gets laid. It’s her body, after all, and what a body that is! I was careful to give her an hourglass figure – womanly curves and thighs that could crush a man! Why not? Why should our heroines be reed thin and demure? Demure was something I wanted George to kick against. If she thinks you’re being an idiot, she’ll tell you in language that could almost turn your Kindle Paperwhite blue. But, as could be expected from a well rounded heroine, her mouth gets her into trouble. Her feelings are easily hurt by the people she loves. Allies quickly turn to enemies, fuelled by envy and indignation. It was important for George to have some vulnerability and never is that more pronounced than in her curious relationship with her mother – a dynamic that is gradually unveiled in the novel – and in her romantic relationships – George finds herself not just in a love triangle but in a love rhombus at one point!

Ultimately I hope I’ve created a heroine whom some will admire and whom some will desire. Which will it be for you?!


When a bomb explodes at the University of Amsterdam, aspiring criminologist Georgina McKenzie is asked by the police to help flush out the killer. But the bomb is part of a much bigger, more sinister plot that will have the entire city quaking in fear. 

And the killer has a very special part for George to play… 

About the author

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. Able to speak five different languages, she gained a Master’s degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German from Cambridge University. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, mainly to offset the wine and fine food she consumes with great enthusiasm.

Having authored the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series, she now writes crime thrillers for adults.

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