To say that bestselling British crime author Martina Cole has "balls" (as one colleague does) doesn't do justice to this iconoclastic woman, who prefers piloting her speedboat and writing about killing people with apple corers to chasing after men.
A single mom whose life was once "all work and graft and paying bills," Cole doesn't apologize for the commercial nature of her books. She's proud of both her boat and her "Malibu luxury caravan" — "it's one of the most expensive in the world, it's got a viewing tower and everything" — and she doesn't feel self-conscious for not writing more "literary" fiction. "The Booker prize money," she says, "wouldn't even keep me in cigarettes." She's neither bashful about her success nor regretful of a harder time — when a friend expressed pity over her difficult life, she fired back, "'Actually I felt like that about you at times."
On men, she says,
I can't live with anyone except my children, these days, do you know what I mean? Men get on my fucking nerves after a while, they drive me up the wall, if you'll excuse my French. I always say, 'I like a man, I just couldn't eat a whole one.' I think I'm too independent now, I've been on my own too long.
She's equally eloquent on her struggle to be taken seriously as a female crime writer:
You know what? I've always had critics right from day one. They go on about the violence but you know someone once said to me, if you was a man you'd have been the Irvine Welsh of the south-east. But I'm not. I'm a blonde. Worst of all I'm a blonde Essex girl. Do you know what I mean? And I don't just mean that there's still prejudice against Essex girls. I think there's prejudice against most women. I think there always will be and always has been.
I don't care what nobody says, you still have to do better. If you're in a job, it's a male-orientated world, and my job is very male-orientated. Statistically, women buy more books. But statistically men get paid more money. You tell me if you think there's something wrong with that?
Plenty of women have said all these things before — that a man is not a prerequisite for a happy life and can even be a hindrance, that women have to work twice as hard for the same respect as men, that money is useful and boats and cars are cool. But a woman who discusses her success without false modesty, her acquisitiveness without guilt, and her independence without reservation is still pretty shocking. And awesome.