The Women On The Run panel discussion at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival kicked off with the authors contemplating what the topic actually meant. A Google search had revealed that it was also the name of a Hong Kong TV drama, an out-of-print short story collection, a list of gift ideas for a certain kind of lady and the name of numerous health, fitness and jogging clubs. It was quickly decided that the three individuals would describe their own crime writing in detail, with a particular emphasis on their female protagonists, heroines and victims.

The panellists included: former journalist and mainstay of the crime-writing scene, Michael Robotham; former model and now a certified private investigator, Tara Moss; and South African writer, Lauren Beukes who has been influenced by her own country’s instability and issues with crime and punishment. Robotham also knew about how real-life events can influence and effect writing because he said that every one of his novels was seeded in an actual event, with the recent story about the trio in Cleveland a case of real-life imitating art.

Moss put it well when she said she wanted to read fiction that explored this darker aspect of human nature while she herself stayed within the safe confines of fiction. Because it is here that you can see justice and resolution without having to worry about the mental health of a real victim or their families. Put simply, it is often all about nice people reading about the bad ones in order to understand them a little bit better.

The three authors also have their own self-imposed limits and boundaries. Beukes says she won’t write about sexual violence while Moss can’t bring herself to write about children as victims, especially as she is now a mother to two young children. Robotham also has his own set of rules but also learnt something interesting when he interviewed fellow crime fiction writer, Peter Temple. The latter had said that the audience have their own set of limits, so they’ll accept you boiling a baby but heaven forbid if you touch the family pet!

Statistically speaking, a serial killer is significantly more likely to be a man than a woman. But we also learned that some terrorist training dictates that if you were faced with a man and a woman each holding a gun that you should kill the latter. The woman is apparently far more dangerous because if she were a member of a criminal organisation she would’ve had to prove herself much more than the man in order to rise up in the ranks.

The take-home message from Women On The Run is that female villains have just as much capacity for cruelty and evil as their male counterparts. The trio also described the Lucifer effect where in the “right” set of circumstances, most people are capable of evil. If you’re not convinced, then read up on the two famous psychological experiments that were also discussed. The Stamford Prison Study saw students assigned the roles of either guards or inmates and the game got so out of hand they had to call off the experiment while the Milgram study saw people continuing to “administer” electric shots because a man in a white coat told them to do so.

Women On The Run was a very interesting session. The three writers were candid about their craft and showed that they all had red-hot fires in their bellies that fuel what is a passion for their specific genre. It was also a fascinating look at the black side of the human psyche and examination of why we like reading about crazed, impotent losers that perform heinous crimes. As Moss had said, perhaps it is because we can have a dark adventure and walk on the wild side without even having to leave the house.

Originally published on 27 May 2013 at the following website:

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