Calling for a New-Wave of Female Writing
By S. J. Robinson
This winter saw me standing in one of the main bookshops in the city centre looking dismayed at the shelves of books that were in front of me. In the top ten best-sellers were E. L. James’s infamous Fifty Shades books – all three of them – along with the latest Irish version of writing in a similar vain to Fifty Shades, The Pleasures of Winter by Evie Hunter. Also in the line up were Maeve Binchy, J.K. Rowling, Marion Keyes, Cheryl Cole, Mary O’Rourke and Cecelia Ahern’s latest novel One Hundred Names which Woman Magazine describes as ‘the perfect warm hug for an autumnal afternoon’. Of the top ten best-selling books, I noticed that nine of the authors were women, and yet, none of the books had any serious merit as being a great work of literature, or made any claim to be such. The one book written by a man was making no claim to be a great literary work either – it was Ross O’Carroll Kelly doing what Ross O’Carroll Kelly does best... laughing at everything. One cannot help but conclude from looking at all of these books that women simply cannot write serious works of literary fiction that deal with powerful and resonant universal themes such as: the corrupting influence of power, technology in the wrong hands, or the inherent human nature of man – whether it is good or evil.
The kind of book that I was looking for on these shelves in this bookshop was just not there, and I am sure that other women face the same dilemma when confronted with this limited selection. Surely women are a lot more intelligent than the writers of these books are giving us credit for? And the bottom line is that not every woman, when faced with such a barrage of smut and ephemeral nonsense, is jumping for joy... especially me. Not only this, the indications are that this present state of affairs is going to deteriorate further. In a recent article for The Sunday Times, Harry Leech reported that writing centres in Ireland, such as the Big Smoke Writing Factory and the Irish Writers’ Centre, have created erotic writing courses to meet the demand from authors who want to write their own Fifty Shades of Grey. Claire Hennessy of Big Smoke is quoted as saying that these courses are for existing authors who want to tailor their writing in order to cash in on the recent increase in sales of erotic fiction. Of course, this means that there will be another deluge of books of the same nature into an already saturated market, unless something brings an end to all of this madness. This could happen naturally because all fads eventually reach their peak and then die out, or it could happen by intervention, that is if the writers call a halt to it themselves and become the setters of trends, rather than their servants.
One of the best examples for me of good contemporary female writing in recent years was a wonderful book depicting the lives of two Muslim women living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. It was a poignant summer read and I was delighted that women had begun at last to start doing themselves proud. However, I had not paid too much attention to the author’s name and later realised that the author was in fact a man, who had written the book from a woman’s point of view. It struck me that something was terribly wrong with this situation- why can’t a woman write a work such as this herself? Is it that women are satisfied with the works they have already written, or is there more to this story, especially when certain female writers don’t seem to be 100% proud of what they have achieved? On the one hand, they seem satisfied with the monetary reward of having a best-seller, but on the other, they seem to be voicing their misgivings about writing such unfulfilling works in the first place. For example, the writers of The Pleasures of Winter (pseudonym Evie Hunter) are quoted as saying to John Murray, in a recent interview for Radio 1, that the members of their own families are ashamed at the prospect of reading their novel; and E. L. James herself is quoted in The Observer as saying, ‘I've got two teenage sons and they are mortified’.
What I’m saying is that women are more than capable of writing great, enduring novels, with plenty of substance in them, and should be going about this task rather than flogging a dead horse. It is high time for a new wave of female writing – female writing with some serious substance, weight and depth – and I am calling all female authors, new and old alike, to devote more time and energy to writing literary works with themes that are worthy of being classified among the great classics of literature, rather than what will inevitably end up in the junk heap, along with all the other offshoots of Fifty Shades of All Grey-Matter Omitted.