Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them.
The Baileys Women's Prize longlist was announced yesterday, but I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk this article from the Huff Post which asked why more women's fiction bloggers weren't talking about it. I thought it would have been for the bloody obvious reason that women's fiction is not the same thing as fiction written by a woman, but I'm an idealistic fool.
The main point I want to address though is this quote from popular Commercial Women's Fiction blogger Victoria Stone:
They're always books that 'real' women don't pick up. They treat a lot of women's fiction like it's not well-written just because it's not about 'serious' subjects. I just find that those of a serious subject get put a pedestal while those created for fun are mocked when they are both well written. So why shouldn't the more fun ones be in with a chance of winning?
I hate the phrase 'real' women. HATE IT. It's just another way to beat up on ourselves and denigrate others. Got curves? Congrats, you're a REAL woman! Everybody without curves line up on the left for gender reassignment surgery.
I'm a women and for the purposes of this blog post I'm going to assume I exist. I own (but haven't read) two of the books on the 2014 longlist, and three others are on my Want To Read list. If I see some of the others in the library I may well give them a whirl. I am also unaverse to things which are not on literary prize lists, including Sophie Kinsella.
So, I can tell you with some authority that there is a pretty damn good reason why Miranda Dickinson and Lisa Jewell are not on that list and it's nothing to do with the seriousness or other of their subjects. Last year, Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple was on the shortlist and believe me, that is *hilarious*. Go and read it. I'll wait.
As for "well written" - sure, many Commercial Women's Fiction writers produce well written things, but 50% of well written is down to how well it does its job. A well written Commercial Women's Fiction novel is not going to be well written in the way of a Literary Novel. Even Marian Keyes, who by virtually inventing the genre manages to avoid most of the cliches now associated with it, does not stand up in comparison with writers like Kitty Aldridge, or MJ Hyland, or Kate Atkinson, but most importantly she shouldn't have to.
Asking a Commercial Women's Fiction blogger why she's not interested in the Baileys prize is as relevant as asking her about the Jonathon Ross LonCon fiasco, or the situation in the Ukraine. Yes, it's perfectly possible her interests overlap, but the Women's Prize for Fiction and Commercial Women's Fiction are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS, dealing with two (count 'em) different genres (if you'll forgive me for calling literary fiction a genre even though it's a classification).
What I really see here is women being treated as a hive mind once again. If it's to do with women, it can be shoved in a box with all the other women things. The Women's Fiction prize is a literary award intended to rival the Booker. Miranda Dickinson is not going to get a nomination with the books she's written so far.
I find the Costa longlists a really good indicator of books which are both readable and intelligent, but I can't think of a prize which is just for Commercial Women's Fiction (which, I'll mention again, is not the same thing as fiction written by women). Maybe there should be, because I'd love my attention drawn to the best written, most intelligent areas of the genre. I can't be the only one.