What does fiction look like in a post-#MeToo world? Why choose fiction to talk about sexual violence? How should a writer approach this difficult topic? If anyone has the answers to these questions it’s authors Rosie Price and Candice Carty-Williams, whose debut novels tackling sexual violence have hit the shelves to critical acclaim. The Kenilworth Arts Festival hosted a platform for them to speak on the issues their respective novels centre around.
“It’s just easier!” quips Carty-Williams, when asked why she chose fiction over non-fiction. Her novel, Queenie, follows the life of a young black woman facing violence. For Carty-Williams, it’s important to be able to manipulate the narrative herself. She believes every person has a unique viewpoint they can bring to a narrative, and fiction is the safest way to do that.
For Price, authorial control is the most important aspect of fiction. Her new book, What Red Was, deals with a young woman starting out at university, making friends with a young man only to face a life-changing act of violence. Price chose fiction because it allowed her to frame sexual violence in a way she chose. It meant she could introduce characters within her own parameters to effectively relate the truth of her message without having to adhere to factual events.
Price says she found it completely overwhelming, she had to distance herself from the news to remain true to her narrative
Both authors were amazed to discover since their publication, the number of people who have approached them to share their personal trauma and thank them for their contribution to what’s being described as “#MeToo literature.” Both said they found it rather overpowering and stressed their need to distance themselves from their work, however well that work might speak and an increasingly emboldened abused group of people.
But neither of these books is actually post-#MeToo. Both were in draft form by the time #MeToo hit the news. Price says she found it completely overwhelming, she had to distance herself from the news to remain true to her narrative.
“Timely” is often a word to describe books like these, so it’s interesting to know that literary expressions of sexual violence pre-dated the #MeToo movement. It certainly feels like these kind of narratives have been a long time coming.
They’re the emerging voices of a generation that are opening up about abuse and finding their voices
“If you could erase one book, character or author from the literary canon, for #MeToo purposes, what would you choose?” I asked. Without hesitation, Carty-Williams replies: “The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis” for its patriarchal gaslighting of women. Price’s answer: “every crime novel ever written by a man!” and ominously adds “actually, I’m more terrified by what hasn’t been written because of people who’ve been silenced by abused.”
And that is the sobering thought that dominates these novels. They’re the emerging voices of a generation that are opening up about abuse and finding their voices. Books like these would never have been published, 50 (or even 20) years ago. Rosie Price and Candice Carty-Williams are pioneers, setting the stage for a new attitude in women’s writing.