What I’ve Learnt in a Year of Blogging About Women’s Writing

It’s a year tomorrow (13th January) since I began blogging as The Writes of Woman. As I wrote then, the intention behind the blog was for me to read more books by female writers and, in a very small way, attempt to increase the amount of coverage of books by women, considering that the national press were doing a particularly poor job of it.

In 2013, I read 120 books, 97 by women (81%) and 23 by men and lots of you read my reviews of those books – more than I ever expected, I didn’t even expect my mum to read what I was writing, although I understand my dad drops by now and then (Hi, Dad!). So thank you. I don’t exaggerate when I say that running this blog has been one of the highlights of my year. Through it I’ve met lots of fabulous readers, bloggers, writers and publishers and discovered lots of brilliant female writers whose existence I was unaware of (I can’t thank people for this as my TBR overflows and my husband and I try to calculate when we can afford to move to a bigger house).

But what’s been most interesting about choosing to blog solely on books by female writers are the things I’ve learnt. The most important of which is the difference between men’s writing and women’s writing which of course we all know is that women are preoccupied by the kitchen sink. No, sorry, it’s not that at all, it’s that men’s writing continues to dominate the agenda. In a year in which I’ve read books concerned with the themes of, yes, relationships and families but also, sex, violence, work, ambition, religion, climate change, death, aging, war, politics, poverty, class, science, isolation and creativity it’s ridiculous to suggest that women don’t write books that stand alongside their male counterparts. There were a number of occasions when books which should have dominated the book pages/awards/book clubs were neglected and I was left thinking if Jonathan Franzen/Jeffrey Eugenides/Ian McEwan had written this it would have had far greater attention.

But haven’t women had a fantastic year? The Costa Book Award, back in January 2013, was chosen from a shortlist of all female category winners; of the 20 young British writers chosen for Granta’s 2013 list, 12 were women; four of the six novels chosen for the Man Booker Prize shortlist were by women with Eleanor Catton taking the prize, and the latest Costa lists had a 50/50 gender split with an all-female best novel list. Feminism is back on the agenda and people are talking about equal representation and pointing out where it’s not happening. I should stop now, my contribution to the work is done.

Not quite. Or rather, not by a long way. Firstly, you need to keep an eye on the VIDA count which shows the ratio of male to female reviewers and male to female authors reviewed in major UK and USA literary publications. The poor showing of The London Review of Books (despite its female editor and deputy editor) led Kathryn Heyman to enter into an email correspondence with the publication as to why she wouldn’t be renewing her subscription. It’s well worth a read.

Secondly, we had Professor David Gilmour declaring:

I’m not interested in teaching books by women…I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.

Bravo, his students who dare to raise their hands and question why there aren’t more women writers studied on his course, although hopefully they won’t read the comments section on Diane Shipley’s Guardian article responding to Lilit Marcus’ piece about only reading books by women for a year.

Thirdly (although we’re a long way off finally), we had the reporting of Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize win focusing on her looks and using her win to have a dig at commercial women’s fiction while as 2014 began, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s obituarists were more concerned with her relationships than her writing.

Which leaves me happily here for another year, shouting as loudly as I can from my little corner.

I have a couple of changes planned for 2014. The first is that I want to have more of a focus on individual writers, so I’m starting a series called ‘A Woman’s Work’ which will give an overview of one woman’s novels possibly alongside some short fiction, essays and/or memoir, dependent on the particular writer’s output. (It also gives me a reason to indulge in the backlists of some of my favourite writers – old and new.) The second is that I’m aware the blog is UK and American focused and I’d like there to be more of a world view so I’ll be aiming to review at least one translated work a month. This month, I’ll be joining in with Tony’s project January in Japan and in February I’ll be joining Stu in celebrating Pushkin Press’ output. (If you’re interested in translated fiction Tony and Stu’s blogs are both worth regular visits.)

Of course, I’ll still be reviewing debut novelists, new works by established favourites and I’ll be following the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in the spring.

Hopefully you’ll all still be here reading, discussing, recommending and celebrating women’s writing.

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11 thoughts on “What I’ve Learnt in a Year of Blogging About Women’s Writing

  1. Excellent post, Naomi. My feeling is that the Orange (now Bailey’s) Prize, much derided when it was introduced, paved the way for the successes you list. I’m delighted to have found your blog and always look forward to what you have to say. Happy anniversary!

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  2. Congratulations, Naomi! I’m so happy I found you and your blog and we’ve become such good pals. I think it is very sad that women’s situation (it is still a nameless problem, right?) is this bad in 2014, but, on the other hand, there is a net of reviewers and feminist that stick together and fight for a better future. So, yes, we are still defined by the men in our lives, but we are fighting not to be and in the process, we are acquiring new friends and learning about each other’s experiences. Every cloud has a liver lining 🙂

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  3. A fabulous summary and so glad you are going to continue on in the same vein and how fabulous that #readwomen2014 has become a trend. Not just reading women authors, but getting more women writing reviews. Bravo, bonne courage!

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