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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The difficulty of dressing your heroine in a crime novel

Crime fiction is a genre that teems with heterosexual men and uninhibited women so breasts, like long legs, do feature. I was blessed with the former, but not with the latter, but no matter. I have learned to rise to the sartorial challenge that short legs pose. Breasts are more complicated things though. Three friends have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. Each one has shouldered the burden of recovery with stoicism and grace.

This is why I am here in a dimly lit room filled with odd-looking machinery. I am wearing a hospital gown that covers little, but there is a pile of fashion magazines on the table so I pick one up. I think again of Mark Twain’s assertion about naked people having little or no influence on society. This is true. Nakedness is something that must be covered up.

My book is done, book tours loom. I must buy some frocks. They are an essential part of this writer’s recovery programme so I phone Cheryl Arthur of Hip Hop Clothing and say ‘please, dress me again.’ I worked for her twenty years ago and she is someone who knows how to make a woman look fabulous. Nipped in waist, full skirts, all very Mad Men. So one phone call later and my future is all frocked up.

But here I am still, waiting for the radiographer. I think about being nearly naked in a public building and how docile it makes one. I think about fashion and crime. Clothing is crucial in crime fiction and it has given me a lot of trouble in my writing career. Dressing in crime fiction is utilitarian and ostensibly peripheral, like all that takeaway food that is consumed in such vast quantities in the genre. Despite the fact that so many women read crime, it remains a masculine genre and much of the action takes place in the public domain where clothes and shoes do cover the men. But men rarely need to about what to wear.

 

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