Congrationlations to Svelta, Gina, and Phoenix Grey! They each won an ebook copy of The Red Files by Lee Winter!
Did you ever read something and think “Oh, I wish I’d written THAT!” That has happened to me more times than I can count. Most recently with The Red Files by Lee Winter.
Check it out, this is Lee’s debut novel. And it’s really that good. What does this mean for all of you? You should read it. Now. Right now. Seriously. Here’s a link so you can buy a copy.
And, because she’s cool and Ylva’s cool, they’re also giving away three ebook copies. You should enter the drawing. Leave a comment. Right down there. And I’ll draw the winners October 2.
Reign of the Sassy Queens
By Lee Winter
I have a mad passion for old newspaper movies – the black and white classics with the clatter of typewriters and pall of cigarette smoke above desks. Rapid-fire dialogue was in vogue back then – charismatic women like Rosalind Russell would strut in, all elbows and angles and wicked shoulder pads, deliver a snappy retort, and dash off again. Not a second to waste.
As a newspaper journalist, I’ve long wanted to capture that old, frenetic, sassy vibe, but set it in modern times. In my new, debut novel, a lesbian newspaper mystery called The Red Files, I got to introduce a legendary reporter with arched eyebrows and snarky rejoinders, whose designer heels drill a staccato beat into the newsroom floor and even hardened newsmen duck when they see her coming.
But it’s easy to forget that the romantic image is just that. The truth about newspaper offices, old and new, fictional and real, can be unpalatable for women – even for those beautiful hard-nosed reporters with attitude by the strut-load.While there was something delicious about seeing Russell in 1940’s His Girl Friday commanding and demanding respect from her colleagues, movies this empowering were leaner as the years rolled on.
For every Bette Davis, going shoulder to shoulder in the trenches, phoning in her stories in Front Page Woman (1935) in a bid to show her rival that females were as good as male reporters, there was a flick like Woman of the Year (1942). It boiled down to a political reporter (Katharine Hepburn) whose husband resents that her abundance of talent prevents her from being a more traditional wife. By the time Doris Day was rocking pencil skirts in Teacher’s Pet (1958), playing a successful journalism lecturer, newspaper films had gone from proving that women were men’s equals to suggesting men should remind those sassy gals who the boss really was. The dinosaurs were always leering but lovable rogues. Because, hey, what’s not to love, right?
It was 1987 when I started in newspapers. I was 17 and working on a now-defunct paper, the Daily Sun. The paper was pleased to have me onboard as a copy kid, because, look world, equality! Just like the copy boys I worked beside, I ran groaning piles of newspapers by hand up four flights of stairs from the presses in the basement.
I learned quickly never to wear light-coloured clothes or the freshly inked front page would imprint itself on me. On the first week my brand new white shirt got branded, upside-down in smeared ink: EXCLUSIVE: BUS FARES RISE!
My job included a nightly drinks run for the almost-entirely male sub-editing staff as soon as the first deadline passed. So, at seven each evening, I could be found buying beers and flagons of wine for the news team to chug at their desks while they made late changes for the next edition. Did I mention I was underage? (No, no one ever checked my ID.)
I had to manouver this load of booze on a trolley up one of the more dodgy streets in the city, where barely clad women with rouged pouts shivered against rough brick walls and blew me kisses as I bolted past. Occupational Health and Safety wasn’t much of a thing back then.
The paper’s attitude towards women staff was to simply assume we would have no problem with anything a man was expected to do. I suppose that was enlightened in its own way.
I spent several years trying to get a cadetship with the main paper in town, but kept getting knocked back at the final interview. The year I finally won the job, all was revealed. The previous hirer had been only snapping up perky blonde women and it was costing the company a fortune. Because every time said perky bombshell was fully trained up, a local TV station would swoop in and recruit her. It seemed the sea of blonde heads in the newsroom eventually got a little too hard to miss and so the company’s general manager was brought in to do interviews the year I was hired.
That should have been my first clue my paper in was a little on the blokey side. My next clue came when an earnest little story a female colleague had written about how women with poorly fitted bras faced backache. The men in the office thought this story was an innuendo theme park built just for them.
Now, you might think my esteemed male colleagues would exhaust their excitement and juvenile titters in the first hour. No, no. Never underestimate a newsman’s need to metaphorically nudge our boobs around for three hours more. So, yes, I heard four hours of non-stop boob jokes that day.
I ended up working all over Australia for the next 25 years, but I never saw a macho culture like the one I’d begun my career in.
These days it’s interesting that the newsroom has shifted from male dominated to female dominated. The ethos has changed, too. No more bellows, aggression and humiliation that felt more like boot camp to a poor harangued staffer.
No more tales like that of the lawn bowls writer being dragged through the office by the earlobe and shouted at by the editor for an hour before he realised he was dressing down the wrong journalist. The lawn bowls writer got a promotion to the New York bureau. Fancy that.
But for all this culture shift, is a female newspaper journalist’s lot better? In Australia, sure. Down in the trenches no one questions, Bette Davis style, that you can actually do the job, from politics to police beats. No one suggests any more that you have to have a long boozy session after work at the pub every night to be taken seriously.
But women running the show? There are always exceptions, and quite a few now, but from where I sit, the rule is still firmly male. I find this also depends a lot on where you are. Female deputy editors and features editors abound in the bigger cities.
Regardless, women at the top, ruling the roost? For every Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) crushing all comers in publishing, you hear many tales of editors putting women in senior positions just for show. And when said women offer opinions on what they think should be the news, it’s like whistling in the wind.
It’s changing, though. Everything always does. The way that sending the underage girl through a prostitute’s alley to get the blokes’ nightly booze fix is no longer done, any more than allowing smoking at the desk is. This is the new modern newsroom we inhabit. A mix of feminine ideals and masculine rules.
In the slow and inevitable transition to true equality, it makes me appreciate how incredible some of those old newspaper movies were, subversively and unashamedly glorying in successful career women.
Besides there’s just something special about a 1940s reporter giving a rat-a-tat, snarky retort then swishing off in a sway of hips. And for that romantic image, seared lovingly into my brain, I shall be forever grateful.
Lee Winter is an award-winning newspaper journalist and in her 25-year career has lived in virtually every state of Australia, covering courts, crime, entertainment, hard news, features and humor writing.
These days she’s a sub-editor at a Sunday metro newspaper, lives with her girlfriend of 16 years and has a fascination for shiny new gadgets and trying to understand the bizarre world of US politics.