Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What do Writers Want?

Here's a great article by Kate Pullinger on the needs of writers that should be kept in mind as changes occur the publishing industry. And it's a measure of the way that those needs have been squeezed so far that it almost comes as a (ridiculous) shock to find her making such a statement of requirements.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Are Publishers Anti-Male?

Well, after the discussion under my last post, here's an interesting article on the Huffington Post claiming that there's anti-male bias in publishing. Thanks to Sam Jordison via Twitter.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's a Man's World

Anyone who thinks that there is no need for the Orange Prize or any form of such positive discrimination for women, should read Bidisha's witty and excoriating assessment of the gender imbalance in the arts in today's Guardian. She presents an irrefutable list of instances (including review pages, arts events, festivals, theatre, literary prizes) which are overwhelmingly balanced in favour of men. She notes that
in 41 years of the Booker prize the jury has been male dominated 30 times. There have been 28 male winners and 15 female winners. That said, the one time there were four women and one man on the jury, in 1986, they chose Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils over Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. God. Why do women love misogynists so much? Is it Stockholm syndrome? [Yes, I'd say: women are always bending over backwards not to be thought feminists or even female.]
She comments that
it's all the more galling given that women equal or outnumber men as attendees of arts festivals, concerts, readings, discussions and debates, and as arts and humanities students at university. Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men Women make up the majority of executive, PR and organisational staff in arts and cultural institutions. Women's ticket revenue, licence fees, book purchases and entrance fees are being used to fund events at which women artists and thinkers are marginalised with breathtaking obviousness.
She points out too how the perception of this situation is skewed - even for those with the truth most closely under their noses:
When I was judging the Orange prize last year we all noticed how major bookshops consistently stacked 10 men's books to every one woman's book on its "recommended read" tables – in whatever genre. In one bookshop, fellow judge Martha Lane Fox was told barefacedly by the sales guy that this was because men published 10 times as much fiction as women.
She's sick, she says, of being the token woman on panels, and she's no longer prepared 'to give my time and attention – and implicitly, my support – to any event, such as the debates at How The Light Gets In, that gives space to five times as many men as women.'

I suppose this means that she'll no longer light up the discussions on Newsnight Review, or whatever it's called since it dumbed itself down, and on which, I've always noted, the men panelists outnumber the women. Shame.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Problems of Complexity

The latest discussion of my reading group, on Toni Morrison's Beloved, is here.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this discussion is the difficulty the members had with the complex structure of the novel, a structure without which it seems to me Toni Morrison could not have conveyed her material with emotional and psychological truth - which raises some interesting questions about the tension between the cultural and political need for innovation/complexity and its problems.

Edge Hill Long List Announced

Good to see that this year the Edge Hill Short Story Prize has published a long list. It seems to me that if the aim of a prize is to draw attention to and indeed to promote a burgeoning short-story culture, then giving publicity to as many as possible of the high-calibre collections entered is a very good idea.

Congratulations to all on the long list, which includes A L Kennedy, previous shortlister Robert Shearman, and two of my fellow Salt authors, Nuala ni Chonchuir and Mark Illis.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Orange Prize Shortlist, Connections and Misery

The Orange Prize shortlist is announced, and the interesting story of Rosie Alison, the shortlister who didn't get a single national review, becomes even more interesting: turns out she had a prominent books industry connection she made a point of not using, and her now shortlisted novel was turned down over and over until independent Alma Books picked it up.

And Daisy Goodwin continues with her theme of too much misery in women's fiction: 'The Lovely Bones has a lot to answer for', we are told she says today.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

My Reading Group Archive

It's occurred to me to put links to my reading group discussions on this blog - I'm not really sure why it hasn't occurred to me before: maybe the fact that they seem so personal has meant that they seemed most suitable for my more personal, author blog, where I have been posting them in the last year or so (they've appeared on my website all along). But they are of course an interesting insight into the nature of reading and something of the cultural context into which we write and publish books.

We're a mixed sex group - quite often the men outnumber the women - and not a particularly overtly literary group: my partner John Ashbrook and I are writers (and earlier on we had another couple of writers), but the rest are a retired lecturer in criminal justice, a patent officer, a textile conservator, a furniture maker who once dropped out of an Engineering degree, a pharmacist, a counsellor and an accountant. (At one time we had a hospital doctor.) An eleventh member, who was originally a crew member for BA, left the group temporarily to study for a literature degree, and so he's jumped the divide. But it's not a divide, after all, I find: this mixed-sex group of people with non-literary professions is quite passionate about novels. As a writer, I've found this very heartening, but also very educative: while the group may not be exactly a representative demographic, one or two of the members are avid readers of populist fiction as well as the so-called 'literary', and to this writer it's a valuable lesson in reader-expectation and taste.

Our latest discussion was on J G Ballard's The Kindness of Women, which is on my other blog here, and recent discussions have included Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (John's take on it took us all aback) and very divided opinions about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. All of our discussions for the past seven-plus years can be found on my website: a list of the books we've discussed (with links to the discussions) is here, and if you want to see how our discussions have developed, a chronological archive is here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The 'Lost' Booker Prize

Although I am known here to be pretty dubious about competitions including the literary (and of course would be a marketing-literary fool not to be pleased to win one!), I'm giving two cheers for the 'Lost Booker Prize', precisely because it shows up the (often unacknowledged) arbitrary nature of such prizes: the books eligible for this one are those which fell between the two stools of eligibility the year that the deadline for submission for the Booker Prize was changed. Not so thrilled by the voting system, though: anyone can vote online, without having bothered to read all of the shortlisted books, presumably - or even any of them, I guess. Though on second thoughts, that makes a nice mockery of the whole idea of winners, doesn't it...?