The legacy of Jackie Collins

The legacy of Jackie Collins

Jackie Collins has an amazing legacy, thanks to her racy reads, infectious smile and devil-may-care attitude. Here, author Victoria Fox explains why she's her heroine.

Jackie Collins once said to me: "We like strong women, don’t we, Victoria?" After she died, I reflected on how very strong she herself had been, right to the end: pursuing her latest book tour with verve and elegance, all the while keeping her illness defiantly private. Of course Jackie’s novels would have had powerful female characters at their core – how could she have written anything else?

Jackie paved the way for a host of women’s fiction authors to accept that their female leads didn’t have to submit to men. These lady bosses ruled the studios of Hollywood and the mansions of LA, breaking balls in the boardroom and looking gorgeous while they did it. Big hair and shoulder pads were the order of the day, and the leopard-print we’ve come to associate with Jackie was more than a style quirk, it was a reflection of the big-cat mentality, a ruthless grace and languid entitlement particular to the female predator. Everything a man could do, these women could do better. By the end, it was always girls on top.

Women ruled in the bedroom, too. Jackie’s leads brought men to their knees in more ways than one. These girls weren’t sitting about waiting for their knight to arrive and sweep them off their feet; they were the ones in armour and when they found a man they’d tell him exactly what they wanted. When it came to handcuffs, Jackie’s women were the Christian Greys, not the Anastasia Steeles.

This was the loudest thing that spoke to me when I first read Jackie as a teenager. Sure, I adored the sizzling storylines and exciting escape into a world so different to my own, but more, I found reading these novels powerful. I loved the attitude and the sass of the women, their swagger and resilience. It made me think: I want to be like that. In a list of literary feminists, I wonder if more classical authors would set Jackie aside, her books dismissed as beach reads. But they are so much more. They certainly marked one of my first introductions to feminism, without my even realising it. To send such a forceful message with the lightest of touches is a fine skill: Jackie dressed it as fun, but her meaning was clear.

The very fact she wrote about sex as she did was a potent thing. Jackie never shied away, she was confident and authoritative, she had a sense of humour about it and sense of fun, and as a reader you grasped that it wasn’t just these female characters that were taking charge between the sheets: Jackie, the author, was too. I always keep this in mind when I’m writing sex, because nothing is going to make the reader cringe like believing I’m embarrassed. Embarrassment wasn’t a word in Jackie’s dictionary.

I don’t know a glam-fiction author today who doesn’t name Jackie Collins as a major influence: for sparky, smart, full-blooded beach reads, she’s hard to match. 

"We like strong women, don’t we, Victoria?" Yes, I replied. I should have added: And you were the original.