Booksquawk interviews Evangeline Jennings, author of the roaring compendium of revenge, Riding In Cars With Girls. We chat about feminism, Doctor Who, Ellen Page in Doctor Who, X-Ray Spex and taking Donald Trump for a ride.
Interview by Pat Black
Pat Black: Riding In Cars With Girls references a Drew Barrymore movie, but its tone couldn’t be more different. Which of the current crop of young actresses would be your ideal FemNoir leading lady?
Evangeline Jennings: I know she's flavour of the month, but it's hard to look past Millie Bobby Brown, Eleven in Stranger Things. I don’t know if you saw her in a show called Intruders but she was absolutely fantastic as Madison, a child possessed by an immortal serial killer. In four or five years, she'd be perfect.
I also think Elle Fanning has something special. I could see her doing great things as a lost and vulnerable woman with a gun and a knife.
I don't know if they're "young" anymore, but I would like to see Bonnie Wright and Evanna Lynch play something really dark together. I'd be delighted to write that for them. And Kristen Stewart was born to play a relentless revenge demon.
PB: Reading this book brought it home to me how attitudes have changed towards LGBT people, even in the past 20 years. This is especially true in British entertainment. In Doctor Who at the moment, the Doctor’s current companion is gay, but it’s NBD; a simple, even minor component of her character. This would have been unthinkable in the same show in its initial run. In Emmerdale or Brookside a couple of decades ago, and particularly in EastEnders in the late 1980s, the tabloid press had that winning blend of salivating/becoming enraged at the idea of gay men and lesbians in popular entertainment. Do you think this progress is a boon to the stories we see in Riding In Cars With Girls, or a hindrance?
EJ: Maybe the true measure of progress is I feel free to say I'm thoroughly unimpressed by Bill in Doctor Who, and mildly cynical about the showrunners' motivation in creating the role. If they want to impress me, they need to cast Ellen Page as the next Doctor. Unless they can swing a return for Matt Smith, because I'm Eleventh Doctor for life.
To return to your question, I find it hard to think of it in either way - a boon or a hindrance. If I'm anything, artistically, I'm one very small teeny-tiny part of the same progression in society. When I was young and first discovering who I might be, I found some strength and inspiration in books by authors such as Val McDermid, Mary Wings, and Barbara Wilson. It's marvellous that today's me can get the same and more simply by turning on a show like Supergirl, or pretty much any of Shonda Rhimes' mega shows.
Of course, as you imply in your next question, we all have to resist the current pushback by the tiny-minded tyrants of the world, be they in a mega-church, the White House, or next door.
PB: The book’s retinue of destructive, abusive and ultimately useless males seems prescient in terms of today’s geopolitical climate. If I’m being kind I’ll exclude Theresa May from that. Do you see any redemption for men in your fiction?
EJ: No. All men are contemptible bastards.
More seriously, the political climate in Texas has been years ahead of what's happening now on a national and global scale. Yay Texas. And yes, it has definitely inspired much of my writing. But I do write sympathetic male characters from time to time. For example, I've written a YA fantasy – unpublished, Percy Jackson meets Lord of the Rings - which has a teenage boy as its hero. And there are many decent men in my Trumpocalypse saga, Burning Down The House. But when you're writing about the more extreme problems faced by girls and women - abuse, trafficking, domestic violence - it’s often hard to find a positive role for a man. And when you have hate-filled fascist theocrats and their enablers abusing us on a global political scale, it’s often hard to want to.
One thing I will never do is write a Taken - great though it was, not to mention successful - where a big strong man comes along to rescue the poor ickle girl. That's not in my blood.
PB: Perhaps this is a two-part question. If you took a road trip with Donald Trump, what car would you drive, where would you go, what is the top song on your playlist, and what would you do when you get there?
EJ: Since the so-called president is such a fan of white supremacists, I'd like to introduce him to the grand old Texas tradition of chaining a man and dragging him for miles behind your truck. If that’ not technically a roadtrip, then my car would need restraints and a very effective gag. We'd drive to the Grand Canyon, and full-on Thelma-and-Louise it into eternity. With Pence, McConnell, and Rupert Murdoch in the trunk. Or maybe I could use the bus from Speed? Think of the fun we could have filling all those seats.
I honestly can’t imagine Trump or any of those people ever enjoying music - although on second thoughts, I could maybe see Trump as a Jagger wannabe - so I’d handcraft a mix to show them what they've been missing, and we'd go over the edge to “Oh Bondage Up Yours”.
Incidentally, if the FBI is watching, at this point I'd like to make it clear that I'm exercising my first amendment right to indulge in poetic self-expression, and not actually threatening your leaker-in-chief. Or anyone else for that matter. Unlike so many of the evil orangutan's rabid fans, I don't even have a gun and if I did, I'd be more of a danger to myself than to the most corrupt, dangerous, and yet ridiculous man in the world. But, you know, her emails.
PB: Tell us about what’s current for you, and what’s next.
EJ: Jail time probably. Failing that, I'm writing fantasies. I've finished a Gamesy-Thronesy novel which is probably the darkest thing I've ever written, and I'm starting out on something which might turn out to be a New Adult Urban Fantasy, whatever that means. Crime. Magic. The Bible. Modern London. The End of the World. Let’s say it’s Modesty Blaise’s daughter meets Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and kicks the shit out of him.
Read the review of Riding in Cars with Girls here.
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