Lee Randall, programmer of Granite Noir

It’s safe to say that Nancy Drew taught me I could take charge. The teenaged sleuth was plucky, smart, independent, a born leader, and wonderfully nosy. Throughout primary school I read and collected Nancy Drew novels, the string of yellow spines accumulating on my bookshelf tangible proof that girls could rule the day.

I’m not alone here. Nancy Drew has been cited as an influence by numerous high-achieving American women, including Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Sara Paretsky, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We were lucky to have Nancy, because representation is everything. Readers must see themselves on the page in order to imagine what’s possible and achievable – both good and bad. Equally, books should challenge expectations and assumptions, helping everyone who’s not like us – whatever “us” you are – set their perspective to the widest aperture possible, to embrace diversity, and understand there is no one right way to be or behave.

Where crime fiction is concerned, it’s vital that readers see women who are not simply victims, who are more than voiceless corpses. Women act, think, engage. We hold power. We care passionately about politics and social issues, and are prepared to roll up our sleeves and get to work changing things.

In his recent essay What’s It Like To Never Ever See Yourself On TV, Taiwanese American writer Charles Yu explained the need for representation beautifully: “Why does it matter? Who cares? Because TV shows (and movies) are both cause and effect. Like it or not, they’re the stories... we tell ourselves and listen to about ourselves. The inputs, the fuel, the background cultural and mental landscape. What we consume and then produce and then consume, where we go to see what we believe about ourselves, and believe what we see.”

If others don’t get a chance to see you, they unconsciously internalise the idea that you don’t matter.

Everything he said holds true for fiction. Though crime novels are still strewn with the bodies of dead, defiled women, they are also populated by an ever-growing number of autonomous, clever, authoritative women. We appear in all the same roles we inhabit in real life, as cops, private investigators, forensic scientists, lawyers, barristers, investigative journalists, spies, and a range of other enterprising truth-seekers.

Crime fiction leads the way in normalising depictions of strong, professional women. I’m especially cheered by the number of female scientists (and computer whizzes) appearing across the genre, since only 13% of the current UK STEM workforce is female. These role models are badly needed to encourage young women to pursue mathematics, computing, engineering, and science.

It’s also instructive and illuminating reading stories where women operate in what’s still a largely male environment (not just law enforcement, but a majority of criminals, too). How do these characters cope with sexism and abuse? How do they circumvent gender-role expectations? How do they challenge the patriarchy? Are there lessons that I can transfer to my daily life?

You never forget your first love, so hat tip to Nancy. If I had to pick a current favourite female sleuth, let me recommend you read about Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley. She was invented by Gladys Mitchell, an early member of The Detection Club. Mrs Bradley is a Freudian psychiatrist, a witch, a murderer, and a true eccentric. She looks like a pterodactyl but has a voice of unsurpassed beauty. She is always right, and I am never bored in her company.

We asked some of the writers appearing at Granite Noir 2020 to tell us about their favourite female detectives.

Ben Aaronovitch

My favourite female detective is Jane Tennison, the Metropolitan Police detective – and later superintendent – we first encountered in the early 1990s TV show Prime Suspect. You talk to some people today and they weren’t even born when Lynda La Plante’s stories first found an audience but I think she’s a must-watch for everyone. She wasn’t the first female TV detective I came across. There had been Juliet Bravo and The Gentle Touch but in Tennison, La Plante created a proper procedural that also fully confronted how a female detective in the Met in that time period would have had to confront sexism at every turn. Everyone should watch it, especially the first and third series. The young can watch it now and just pretend it’s a period piece. The thing about authenticity is that it stays authentic. She wasn’t the first senior television detective but the combination of La Plante’s keenly observed script and Helen Mirren’s break-out performance mean she’ll always be truly memorable.

Heine Bakkeid

"My name is Kinsey Millhone. I am a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I am 32 years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone, and the fact weighs heavily on my mind."

These are the opening lines of “A” Is For Alibi. When I was a kid, I used to pick random books from my parents’ bookshelves and browse through the first few lines before deciding whether to read the whole thing or not. Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mystery series was one of my very first encounters with the crime fiction universe. The beginning of A Is For Alibi, the first book in the series, is such an amazing start to a crime mystery series. No one in their right mind can put that one back on the shelf again after reading those first few lines. I can hardly remember the plot, other than some sporadic scenes, but I still have this image of how Kinsey looked and acted in my head, her mannerisms and pragmatic nature, overconfident, cool and rebellious with a gruesome backstory, a car accident where both her parents were killed with Kinsey inside the car. In hindsight I suspect that Kinsey Millhone may have been my very first “literary crush” at 11 or 12. I guess it really is true that the first cut is the deepest.

Sara Paretsky

V.I Warshawki’s most important ancestor is the amateur detective, Amelia Butterworth, who first appeared in Anna Katharine Green’s That Affair Next Door in 1897.

In creating the middle-aged spinster Amelia Butterworth, Green challenged the romantic conventions of Victorian thrillers. Amelia lives alone except for her maid. She was her father’s heir, and, since she is unmarried, she can control her own fortune.

Amelia is a woman of strong opinions and brusque temper; she moves forcefully to solve a murder in a neighbour’s mansion. She evades police surveillance of her own movements, shows deductive reasoning as acute as Sherlock Holmes’s, uncovers clues ignored by the police and ultimately solves the crime.

She has a sardonic, feminist sense of humour. When a police officer is unable to act after finding the dead woman in Butterworth’s neighbour’s home, she remarks that she might have fainted, “if I had not realized that it would never do for me to lose my wits in the presence of a man who had none too many of his own.”

If I didn’t know from Green’s own sardonic writing about her heroine that Amelia Butterworth despised slang, I would say, “Rock on, Amelia.”

Caro Ramsay

I have always steeped myself in detective fiction with a well-written female lead, growing up reading The Famous Five (George was my favourite), then Miss Marple. I was glued to Juliet Bravo and Policewoman, then Cagney and Lacey.

I have a strong affection for MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin, and with the recent passing of the author revisiting these fabulous books is a bittersweet experience. I really like Agatha. I admire her disregard for housework and the fact that, emotionally, she prefers her cats to either of her men.

Agatha was born in a sink estate in Birmingham. She saved every penny until she escaped to the bright lights of London, where she ended up running her own PR company in Mayfair. Her accent still slips when she gets angry.

At the start of the series the company is sold and Agatha has retired to Carsely in the Cotswolds at the age of 52. She quickly realises that her past career in PR gives her great nose for sniffing out misrepresentation.

She’s intelligent but not brilliant, and unlike some women in detective fiction, she has never, ever been a model! Agatha knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to be disliked, but she’s written with such affection by her creator she’s hard to resist.

MC Beaton manages to walk a very difficult line, writing humorous fiction that encompasses some very dark crimes indeed. Like her namesake in St Mary Meade, Agatha solves the nastiest crimes in the prettiest of villages.

Helen Fitzgerald

I could watch Patricia Arquette all day, and often have. Her character in Medium, Allison DuBois, has premonitions and solves crimes. I love how mixed genre it is. It’s not a detective show but there’s a detective; it’s not domestic noir but there’s plenty that’s domestic; it’s not horror but there are ghosts and jump-scares. I love that Allison’s work and home life are given equal importance. And that she’s happy.

Her husband, Joe, is a believer. There’s no Scully/Mulder to-ing and fro-ing. And there are no affairs in the show, either. The only nod to sex is when Joe and Allison wake up naked together. Aw!

All Allison’s significant others are supportive, including the District Attorney and the local cop. They know she knows where the body is buried. This is so refreshing. Add the fact that Medium is based on a real person, and it’s my dream viewing. There are people who see ghosts. And men in suits who believe them. Yay!

All the writers featured above will be appearing at Granite Noir, Aberdeen’s international crime fiction festival. Author talks, walks, workshops, music events and exhibitions will be held in venues around the city from Thursday 20 to Sunday 23 February. Tickets and full details of the programme can be found at www.granitenoir.com