“So you don’t just bang on about feelings?” asked one tongue-in-cheek male reader before downloading and thoroughly enjoying one of my hard-hitting, fiercely uncomplicated short stories about drugs, male violence and life on the streets. I appreciated his honesty. A question is always better than an assumption.
For probably the last five times I told a stranger I write books their first question has been, “Is it romance?” The two muscles I use on either side of my face to create an understanding (and definitely not annoyed in any way whatsoever) half-smile are starting to ache. When I asked, politely and with as few expletives as possible, “Why do you suspect I write romance?” a substantial number replied along the lines of, “Well, you’re a woman.”
For over a century, women have fought hard to be published, often resorting to using male pseudonyms, like the rebellious political essayist and women’s rights advocate, George Sand. When a young Charlotte Brontë sent her first poetry anthology to poet laureate, Robert Southey, his response went down in bookish history: “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life.” To their credit, Charlotte and her talented family proved their doubters very wrong. When JK Rolling unmasked her male identity, ‘Robert Galbraith’, to the editor of her crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, he replied, with honest surprise, “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.”
Of course, much has changed and many women are published purely for their talents as exceptional writers, their great ideas for books and their determination to succeed in the profession they care most about, but there are still a few sexual skeletons in the literary closet and I personally believe the imbalance is down to either sexism in the readership or harsh marketing stereotypes. Continue reading