I’m thrilled to welcome crime writer, Dinuka McKenzie, to the attic this week. Dinuka’s crime-fiction novel, The Torrent, won the 2020 Banjo Prize, and its publication was much-awaited. She’s recently signed with Harper Collins for a further two novels, so we’ll be hearing a lot more from Dinuka in the future!
In today’s post for the attic, Dinuka talks about going against the trope and writing about a detective who’s in a stable, functional relationship – radical idea, I know!
Dinuka is represented by Alex Adsett Literary. When not writing, she works in the environmental sector and volunteers as part of the team behind the Writers’ Unleashed Festival. She lives in Southern Sydney on Dharawal Country with her husband, two kids and a pet chicken.
Just an Everyday Woman
Can an everyday, relatable woman, who also happens to be a cop be interesting?
It is a question I explore in my debut, The Torrent, a police procedural set in Northern New South Wales, which follows my protagonist, Detective Kate Miles, a heavily pregnant cop tasked with investigating a young man’s death in floodwaters during her last week of work before heading off on maternity leave.
In a genre that adores its flawed protagonists – the drunker, the more unstable, the more dysfunctional their love life, the better – here I was trying to write a crime-fiction narrative about a woman who was none of those things.
When I started writing this manuscript, I was looking after two little people and juggling a career and parenthood, and I wanted to see that experience reflected in my lead character. I thought – what would this juggle look like for a female police officer, working in that world, and then having to come home to playdough and LEGO?
The traditional detective trope so often involves a male protagonist, usually single and childless or with a broken relationship. If there are children in the equation, they are in the background, either grown up or being looked after by someone else.
I wanted to centre my lead in a stable, functional relationship. (A radical notion, I know!) In The Torrent, Kate Miles is an ambitious and highly competent senior police officer, who is supported by her husband, Geoff, a stay-at-home dad, parenting their four-year-old son. Kate is unapologetically committed to her career, a hard-won professional achievement that she has no intention of losing with the arrival of parenthood, just as the vast majority of men in an equivalent position would not be expected to. The relationship between Kate and her husband, is not out of the ordinary, I hope, but rather reflective of where our society is moving to in terms of parenting and the division of labour within families. In depicting Geoff, I wanted to honour the very many dads who carry out their caregiving role as a matter of course, supporting their partners without feeling emasculated or resentful or expecting applause for looking after their own children and undertaking domestic chores. I have been very fortunate that this has been my overwhelming experience, and I wanted to see that reflected on the page.
Kate is a version of the women I see everywhere around me: hardworking, professionally competent, juggling multiple commitments, and often putting themselves last. I wanted her to be realistic and relatable. She is not a femme fatale who does jujitsu in her spare time. The notion that a woman can only be interesting or valuable as a character if she is also beautiful has always irritated me. Smarts and competence count for nothing if it’s not accompanied by a slim figure (yawn!). Beauty is, of course, shorthand for sexual tension – usually between work colleagues, another much loved trope in crime-fiction – built on the maxim that no two colleagues can work together without (eventually) sleeping together. Spoiler alert, The Torrent features a woman in a functional relationship with her husband.
The advantage of long-entrenched tropes in genre fiction is the fun you can have in subverting them. To me, it felt long overdue to place an everyday woman front and centre, and celebrate the quiet strength, determination and resilience it takes to raise a family and carve out a degree of professional success. In the police world, I can only imaging that these challenges would be multiplied and compounded, making it in fact the perfect fodder for a new take on detective fiction.
DOUBLE BOOK GIVEAWAY
It’s such a treat to offer two wonderful books to give away!
Dinuka has donated a copy of The Torrent and last week’s guest, Fiona Robertson, has donated a copy of her book, If You’re Happy.
To enter, simply comment on this blog or any of my social media posts about Fiona’s or Dinuka’s books.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Friday, 18 February, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome but we can only post to an Australian address.