Women writing spy novels

Like almost every other aspect of culture, women are swimming upstream. But this article argues the time for change is at hand. Is a change coming to Tesco?

Back in 1995, though, Lynds sent her debut spy thriller Masquerade to a New York publishing house. Its president, she told the Wall Street Journal, at first agreed to buy it, but changed her mind the following day. “Her reason? ‘No woman could have written this novel’,” Lynds told the WSJ. She went to another publisher, and it became a bestseller.

“I hope no one would say that now,” says Manda Scott of Lynd’s experience. Scott is qualified to speak on the topic: the spy thriller author won the McIlvanney prize for best Scottish crime book of the year for A Treachery of Spies. Disclaimer: I judged the McIlvanney, and A Treachery of Spies blew me away: it’s ridiculously gripping and complex. Scott is also the author of a series of spy novels set in ancient Rome, which were published under the name MC Scott – a deliberate decision by her publisher before the first, Rome: The Emperor’s Spy, was published in 2010. “They made my name gender neutral because somebody had said ‘nobody in Tesco will buy a spy book by a woman’,” says Scott. “I don’t think that would happen now. Publishing has become much more gender-blind. If it’s a good book they’ll publish it, whereas before it was: ‘Only blokes can write this’.”

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