Feminine Fiction

ByAbXFtIQAIGln0Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to see Anne Donovan, Carys Bray, Kirsty Logan and Kirsty Wark read at events. As a bookaholic, it comes as no surprise to learn that I’m a bit of a book festival fanatic and travel all over Scotland to hear writers talk about their work. My 2014 festival jaunts included trips to Dundee, Linlithgow, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Auchinleck.

Now that it’s November, I realise that I’ve no more festivals lined up and it made me wonder how many I’ve been to this year.

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A small selection of some of my favourite books by female writers.

The tally was interesting (to me anyway) because one fact that jumped out was that out of the 13 events, only 3 of them featured male writers. Of course, this isn’t a scientific study of data and it could simply be that more female writers appealed to me on this year’s festival programmes but it made me take a quick look at my bookshelves to see whether the female bias was reflected in my book choices.

Sure enough, my book event preferences did match a very obvious slant towards female writers, one that I’ve never been consciously aware of until now. Why do I favour female writers? Is it because the books they write contain subject matter which appeals to me more? I’m not a book snob and like to believe I have an open mind towards most fiction genres (except science fiction!) but I’m not a big reader of romances, chick lit or erotica which are often associated with women writers. My shelves aren’t full of candy pink book covers with images of stilettos and handbags. The types of books I tend to enjoy most are literary fiction  and memoir, and in particular, Scottish contemporary fiction, which explains why my favourite book events of the year were with Janice Galloway, Jackie Kay and Anne Donovan.

shes-a-writerAnd I then realised that most of the writers I follow on Twitter are female (I haven’t got the time or ability to collate the stats) and the blogs I read regularly are all written by females too! I’ve no idea why that is, maybe because generally speaking in social situations I enjoy the company of women more than men.

One of my favourite blogs is The Writes of Woman and Naomi Frisby explains the rationale behind her blog here. Naomi sums up far more eloquently than I ever could why the issues of supporting and promoting female writers need to addressed.

downloadI’m also hugely impressed by the work of the WoMentoring Project who offer mentors for female writers to highlight that, “In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.”

Do your reading habits reflect a gender imbalance? Are most of your favourite writers predominately male or female?



20 thoughts on “Feminine Fiction

  1. What a great post, Helen. I find people’s reading biases fascinating and it’s interesting that you weren’t aware of yours. Those are some fabulous writers you’ve seen at events this year. It’s only as I’ve got older that I’ve appreciated the female community – I follow more women than men on Twitter (lots of writers and bloggers too) and now more of my ‘real life’ friends are female than male for the first time ever, really, and like you suggest in your post, I think they’ve got interesting things to say that resonate with me.

  2. I must admit, in recent years I’ve read more women writers than men. I’ve been keeping a note of the books I’m reading this year and so far 25 are by women and 7 by men. Not sure what that says about my reading habits, if anything?! I just find that these days I naturally lean towards female writers… maybe because they have more to say about what it is to be female?

    • Interesting isn’t it Louise? I’ve been keeping a reading record too for this year and just counted up the totals. I’ve read 36 books so far and 13 of these were by male writers. Again, I wasn’t aware of the bias.

  3. I share your unintentional bias towards women writers. Of the debut novelists I’ve featured in my website Q&A’s, 14 are women and the poor lone man – because of the alphabetical listing – comes right at the end, despite being one of my earlier interviewees. I would like to add more male novelists, but I doubt it’s ever going to be 50-50.

    • Poor man indeed! Although it says a lot that he made it on to your review selection. Now I’m intrigued by who it was and what was the book. I must check your blog… I doubt I’ll ever be near the 50/50 mark either but can’t say that bothers me. We’ve all got to choose the books which appeal most and if they happen to be written by women then so be it.

  4. I quickly scanned my bookshelves and I would say mine are quite balanced in terms of the writer’s sex (they are joint shelves with John, but most of the books are mine). However, much of my reading is borrowed and skewed towards women because I use the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library (as well as my public library).

    • I’ve honestly never considered the evidence before but I’m definitely more inclined to read female writers but that was an unconscious choice and I wonder now if it will make any difference to the books I choose in future. But like you Anabel, thanks to GWL, I’m drawn to the work of women writers more and more.

  5. You raise a very interesting point. A quick glance at my bookshelves, real and virtual, confirms what I suspected: I read male and female writers equally. Maybe that’s a feature of my favourite genre, crime fiction? But I’ve been told I have a ‘blokeish’ taste in films, so maybe it reflects my overall cultural preferences.
    When you’re planning 2015’s festival visits, don’t forget we have a very popular one here in the Borders!

    • Hi Janet, Yes, I guess being a reader of crime fiction will mean your bookshelves have more of a gender balance. I like reading about dark gritty themes too but usually from a female POV .
      I’ve never actually been to the book festival in the Borders (it’s a bit of a drive away and would probably mean an overnight stay) but I must add it to the list. 🙂

  6. I read more women writers than men – and definitely make a deliberate choice to buy women’s books. We’ve had such a raw deal in the past, and it’s still difficult for so many women to get published, that I’m happy to do my nano-drop to keep another woman’s show in the road.

    Having said that, there are some male authors I look out for – Colm Toibin, David Nichols, Sebastian Faulks … so I’m not so biased towards women that I’m shut the door on great men too!

    • Hi Jo, Yes, now that I’ve looked at the evidence it appears I’m the same as you but also want to read the best books our there regardless of the gender of the writer. David Nicholl’s new book Us is on my tbr list.

  7. I read more books by women than men at the moment (at an approx. guess 65/35). I just read what appeals to me which is, at the moment, literary fiction with a bit of crime. I’ve read about five of the books in the pile above.
    Most of my recommendations come through Twitter and I follow far more female writers than male ones (they’re generally more interactive) so I think that’s probably explains my bias. Literary reviews, on the rare occasions I look at them, seem much more male orientated and I’ve seen some stats backing that.

    • Hi Pete, Thanks for commenting, especially as yours is the only male perspective. Interesting that you find females on Twitter more interactive and that you too get most of your book recommendations from Twitter. I blame Twitter for my ridiculous tbr pile! Nice to hear that we share similar tastes in books. 🙂

  8. I’ve never considered that before. You got me scurrying off to look at the books I’ve read this year and my TBR pile and it’s roughtly 75% female. Interestingly most of the books by male authors I’ve read have been non-fiction, with the notable exception of H is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald. I read Carys Bray’s ‘A Song For Issy Bradley’ earlier in the year which is one of my fave novels of the last few years. I honestly don’t think I notice the gender of the writer, I always like that Virginia Woolf quote about great writers having ‘an androgynous mind’, writing being a place where you can escape the confines of gender.

    • Hi Martyn, Thanks for taking the time to consider the question I posed. I’m certainly more conscious now than I was before this blog post and I wonder if your choices in the future will be any different now that you’ve noticed a bias toward female writer. But a good book is a good book, regardless of the gender of the writer.

  9. Yes, thurs eve was great. I traipsed length of Princes St today, and got only copy of Dickson’s first book. Feet up wi vino and choccy now, and book in hand… Result

    • Hi Janet, Yes, it was a great event for a brilliant cause. I follow you now on Twitter but didn’t recognise you at BTW from your floral pic 😉 Sounds like you’ve got the perfect combo for a Saturday night. Enjoy! 🙂

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