There are few things that warm the cockles as much as the initiative launched by Joanna Walsh to get us all talking about and reading more female authors, first reported on The Guardian.
As someone who has almost exclusively read novels by female authors for 30 odd years, I feel as well placed as the next (wo)man to throw my two pennysworth into the mix, and as a reader who also happens to work for a publisher I can see both sides of the never-ending arguments surrounding both the terms used to describe certain books written by and (predominately) for women, and the covers they are given.
I’ve been known to swing both ways. I’m happy to accept I’m way too old to be categorised as the chick in ‘chick lit’, but the term itself doesn’t particularly bother me…. although if I was an author, I’m pretty sure I would feel differently – especially if I wrote about the kind of reallife, hard-hitting themes that more often than not are featured in most of these books (divorce, death, abuse, loss, infidelity etc).
‘Commercial women’s fiction’ means nothing in the real world. Surely every author, writing in any genre, would want to be a commercial success on some level? After all, the Costa, the Baileys, the Man Booker, heck, even a Richard & Judy slot can ‘make’ an author…
But since there are just 6 recognised (by bookshops, libraries, publishers) categories for fiction – General, Historical, Crime, Thriller, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and Romance and Saga – I’m at a loss as to how best I can be assured the books I buy are going to be the books I want to read, other than if they have generic pink, glittered jackets with a woman (normally wearing red) staring mournfully out to sea/giggling on a beach/in a trio of girlfriends with a glass in her hand… and either a baby, a bag or, in one recent example, a giraffe by her feet!
Of course, I have a list of some 100ish authors who are fail-safe options for me. I know their work. I love them. I would buy their shopping lists at full RRP if they wrote them down. But what about debut authors? What about authors I have yet to discover?
I don’t always want to rely on an algorithm on a website to make my buying decisions for me. I’ve been burnt too many times with the “if you loved X Author, you will love Y Author” lines I’ve been fed. On the whole, the media (newspapers and magazines) don’t hand over column inches by the bucket-load to cover the type of books I enjoy. And whilst I am a massive fan of the relatively new phenomenon of book bloggers, I have a demanding full-time job and a husband doing an Open University course – so don’t have time to fit everything in as it is, let alone trawl the web looking for blogger reviews.
With the best will in the world my local bookshop/supermarket/newsagent doesn’t have the space to shelve every book published every month that might appeal. So I have to trust that the publisher of those books that belong on my shelves will package them with a jacket that gives as true a representation of the contents as possible – or at least in a way that means I will know the book is aimed at me. So yes, I have many pink books. And many of those have glitter on the jackets. And a large proportion have a lady in red posing with her back to me…. but you know what, I can cope with that. I’m reading women. And that makes me proud.
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I’m often asked when and where am I most inspired to write. This question makes me laugh. If I were to wait for ‘inspiration’ to strike I’d never write a word. Discipline is the word that springs to mind when I think of writing and, tragically, I’m not the world’s …
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