In honour of International Women’s Day this week (March 8th) I’ve decided to do something a little different with this post. I open this with a warning. Very rarely will I use this blog to talk about “politically charged” issues. This is not a post about writing tips or how to best edit your latest draft. Today is a post about being a woman in a male dominated market. It is about being a writer, a female writer. And it is a dedication to the amazing women who have paved the way and keep me inspired to keep going, keep fighting and keep believing that one day my name will grace the spines amongst them.
I am a woman. I am very proud of this fact. I guess I’m a feminist too. I believe in equality. To me, Emma Watson summed up my feelings pretty well in this short clip.
I do not believe in using feminism as a weapon against either other women or men. I simply want the field in which I work to be fair, just and equal.
And I don’t think that is too much to ask for.
I want to be able to wear ribbons in my hair, stiletto heels and perfume and not be judged as weaker for it. But equally I do not believe in getting dressed up in a power suit and becoming “one of the lads”. To me, that is not the point of feminism either. I want to be respected and be feminine.
VIDA is a website dedicated to women in the literary arts. Most people won’t have heard of it. Every year, they conduct a survey called “VIDA Counts” where they look at the representation of women in the arts. They look at statistics like the number of female reviewers at a given magazine, or the percentage of female to male authors reviewed. To pick, Harper’s Magazine, for example, only 34% of book reviewers were female and only 30% of reviewed authors were female in 2015. The London Review of Books, only 22.5% of reviewed authors were female. New York Book Review was more positive. Women actual swing the vote when it comes to writing reviews (albeit marginally) but still trail men in featured reviews (40%). The Times Literary Supplament made for grim reading with only 25% of reviewed books having been written by women. (Please see link for full stats)
But it isn’t all bad news. Firstly, these figures are improving (believe it or not). And second, women are getting noticed. The Guardian released its list of top selling books in 2016. 4 of the top 10 were written by women (JK Rowling, Jojo Moyes x2, Paula Hawkins) and one of the ten was the Guinness Book of World Records, so it’s really 4 to 5 and here’s the best part, JK and Paula are one and two and when you add up the number of books sold, women outsold men at 55% of the sales. And if we are in the mood to be pedantic, the only three “adult fiction” books on the list were written by women. The men counted for children’s fiction and healthy eating.
So what’s my point?
Women are making their mark in the fiction world. I could, for example, talk about how that same top sellers list looks sickeningly like a “usual suspects” list. It was so refreshing to see Paula up there. Someone new. Someone breaking into the club. But that is not a problem exclusive to women and so a rant for another time perhaps. The point is, we are represented and this post is a celebration of that. It is a thank you and an acknowledgement to the amazing female writers out there, past, current and future.
I turn my eye to those who have made it. Who are flying the flag and paving the way for those of us to follow. We each have our own sources of inspiration. On another day, in another post, I could talk to the male writers (equality after all) that have inspired me to be the writer I am today but today, this week, is about women. And these five amazing women have helped light my literary fire.
1. JK Rowling
I imagine this entry is no surprise to any regular reader of my blog. I fangirl over Ms Rowling. A lot. To me, she is amazing. She wrote a series that inspired an entire generation and she did it when she was at her lowest point. She risked everything and took a chance. And it wasn’t a smooth ride. The story of her numerous rejections is now infamous as is the story of how she finally got her deal. A little girl picking up a book about a boy wizard and telling her dad he simply had to publish it.
JK and her universe are the reason I write. My parents bought me Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone when I was seven years old. Before it became anything. Before anyone had heard of it. And I fell in love. With the world. With the characters. But also with the idea of magic. It made me realise the true joy in reading and it made me want to give that joy to others. Within a year, my by-then eight year old self had finished her first fan fiction adventure. It was terrible. But I don’t care. It lit the spark. I still have it. In some ways, it is one of the works I am most proud of even now.
JK has done so much for writers, especially female writers. She has made being an author “cool” again. She is a Cinderella story for us all to aspire to. She is a lesson in perseverance and holding your ground when it matters.
2. Martina Cole
I had the immense pleasure of meeting this amazing author last year. I don’t know what I expected but the woman I met was so amazingly down to Earth and approachable. Here was this multi bestselling author chatting away to me about my (literally a week before) published debut novel. Giggling as we shared stories of writing disasters and sharing our gripes with the writer’s problems we all face. I will never forget her grabbing at my hands and grinning at me in nervous excitement as she waited to be called up onto the stage for interview. I just remember thinking “wow”, she had no airs, no graces and she was all the more charming and worthy of my respect for it. I remember thinking, “I hope I’m like that. If I ever find success in this. I hope I am just like her.”
She is a UK crime fiction giant. If ever there was a man’s world that’s it. She took them on, and she beat them into submission. According to wiki, “she has achieved sales of over fourteen million in the UK alone and her tenth novel, The Know, spent seven weeks on The Sunday Times‘s hardback best-sellers list.” She’s also a massive campaigner for women’s rights in prison.
3. Emily Bronte
She only wrote one book. Just one. And yet her name is a household feature. Wuthering Heights. The beautiful, heartbreaking, deliciously dark and wild love story of Heathcliff and his Catherine. It has spawned more pop songs than I can name (perhaps most famously Kate Bush’s hit of the same name), at least a dozen movie remakes, leaving generations of mothers and daughers arguing who is the best Heathcliff and more than its fair share of retellings. It was a book that shocked and appalled readers and critics alike when it was first released. It defied convention. She defied convention. Some commentators would go so far as to say she was the first female author to dare write about the same passions and powers as the men of the time. She wrote a book in which women were not just damsels. They were strong. They were passionate. They were an equal to their male compatriots.
One book. She did all that. Pretty awe-inspiring if you ask me.
4. Enid Blyton
I know she isn’t without her controversy but I doubt there was a single English kid in my generation who didn’t have at least one of her books on her bookshelf. Beside Harry, these were the books I grew up with. These are the adventures I went on as a kid. And I loved them. She wrote an astonishing amount of books (762 according to wiki!). And she stood strong as a bestselling author in a field that was undeniably male dominated at the time. I agree that her later works had their… issues, about which I won’t say any more but this does not take away from her achievements.
5. Shonda Rhimes
Don’t worry if you have no idea who this is. I used the word “writer” at the top on purpose. Shonda is not a novelist. She writes TV shows. I’ll bet you’ve heard of her headline, ten seasons and counting show “Grey’s Anatomy” or perhaps her more recent “Scandal”. “How To Get Away With Murder” is under her production banner, ShondaLand. Oddly enough, I’m not a huge Grey’s fan. It’s okay if it’s on. It has some nice moments but it doesn’t overwhelm me. I do not include her on this list for my love of her shows. I include her for the impact she’s had on an industry ruled by men. She is one of the women forcing Hollywood to listen. To stand up and tell our stories too. Twenty, even as recently as ten years ago, would a woman have truly believed it possible that a woman would not only be writing and producing these huge productions, but have a production company in her own name behind her.
If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.