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Author Simone Campos on writing a feminist thriller

Author Simone Campos on writing a feminist thriller

Brazilian author Simone Campos opens up about writing a feminist thriller and tackling real-world issues like sexism and racism

RD: Nothing Can Hurt You Now is your first thriller. What made you want to write a thriller? How was it different from your other work?

I get bored doing the same thing over and over again. I’ve tried so many different genres, including an interactive novel with many different endings! 

"I tried to write what I would like to see in the genre"

With thrillers, I’ve always wondered why the typical victim is a white woman with lots of traits that are considered sympathetic. You have to pity her. And if she’s not innocent and basically a saint, it’s like, should we not feel empathy for her? Doesn’t she still deserve to be saved? I wanted to get into the mind of complicated women and explore their characters fully. I tried to write what I would like to see in the genre, basically.

Has your experience as a translator affected your approach to writing?

Yeah, professionally I started translating technical work. My vocabulary expanded a lot. I started out studying American English, so I have more of an American accent. Then I decided to do a little immersion in the UK, and I went to London when I was 16 writing my first novel. I think reading in English from that age meant I was getting outside influence for my writing style.

Do you think there are differences between feminism in America and Brazil? 

Well, no feminism is perfect. I think there are some differences. I was living in Silicon Valley and there was a lot of so-called “girlboss feminism”. That’s not my thing. I don’t think feminism is about being the boss, you know, there’s no rosy path to success. 

Maybe we need to fight the patriarchy more than emphasising how we need to be successful in a traditional way. I think we should question what it means to be successful, not just for women but for every gender.

Rio, Brazil

Rio, Brazil

In Brazil, I think there is more intersectional, anti-colonial feminism. Obviously there are still criticisms you can make of any feminism but I think intersectionality is really important. I’m not into conservative ideologies disguised as feminism, you know, I’m pro sex workers, pro trans people.

Also in Brazil women are struggling with different levels of salary and wages, with not being well received by the police when trying to escape from stalkers or abusive relationships. I mean, that happens all around the world, I saw it in America too, but I think it’s worse in Brazil at the moment.

When it comes to tackling complex, real-world issues like sexism, racism and violence, what do you think fiction can bring to the table? Can it offer something that non-fiction perhaps can’t?

I think with fiction you can weave in lots of profound character building and different points of view, which might not be the case if you have, for example, a memoir or a documentary. Of course these are important too, I don’t think non-fiction has to be in competition with fiction! 

"What we call fiction is a manner of constructing truth, really"

But what we call fiction is a manner of constructing truth, really. It’s modelling the world you see around you in a way you can understand. 

How do you approach writing characters with different lived experiences than your own?

Some things you can just feel from inside, but with other things you need to do your research. I really like learning in a class setting, reading material and preparing notes. I have a PhD, which I adored getting, so you know, I really enjoy research groups and all that!

So I went to a teacher from a small independent programme, Sueli Feliziani, and I took a course on the history of non-white feminism. It was very enlightening. I hadn’t read bell hooks, for instance, or Angela Davis. It was a punch, but I needed it! It was really good to do this reading and ground my characters in this research.

"When you go really deep into the process for writing something, I find it often leads to self-discovery"

It was really interesting because while researching autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which my character Vivian has, I realised it was too easy to write her character. I started to look into it and say, oh, I think I might have this. I kept that to myself for some time. Then I joined this Facebook group for Brazilian autistic women, and they had doctor recommendations if you wanted to get an official evaluation. I did that and voila, I am on the spectrum! You know, when you go really deep into the process for writing something, I find it often leads to self-discovery. The road often leads back to you.

What made you put a sister relationship at the heart of Nothing Can Hurt You Now?

The seed idea for this book was about how the media distorts our perceptions of ourselves as women. Having sisters at the centre of this felt natural because girls growing up together often feel a pressure to compete with each other. 

Simone Campos

Simone Campos

I explored this through Lucinda and Viviana. At the start Lucinda has this dream of being in front of the camera but in the end it’s her younger sister who becomes a model, just by chance. So that’s the beginning of the book and it sets the tone for their relationship. It’s almost like the original sin—afterwards there’s a price to pay for both of them. 

That competition between them, as well as being tied together by their relationship and their past together, was really intriguing for me as the basis of a thriller. I feel you don’t see this often in thrillers, you know, a focus on relationships between complex women, so I really wanted to explore that. I also wanted a more hopeful ending! Without giving spoilers, I didn’t want to mask the suffering that they experience but I also didn’t want to glorify it. I wanted to have a little bit of hope at the end.

What’s on your reading list for 2023?

I’m trying to be open to reading any book that comes my way! Currently I’m halfway through Fé no inferno by Santiago Nazarian, a Brazilian writer of Armenian descent. I’m not sure if it’s out in English. It’s called Faith in Hell in English, and it’s really good!

I also recently read an English book that I loved, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. I love the way she weaves so many stories together. 

Nothing Can Hurt you Now by Simone Campos

Nothing Can Hurt You Now by Simone Campos (Pushkin Press, £16.99) is available now

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