Saturday, 31 May 2014


If you spend any time at all on twitter, you should have a look at the hashtag #ReadingWomen2014. The brainchild of writer Joanna Walsh, it was started in response to the bias of literary editors towards male writers (and indeed male reviewers); not to mention the tendency of publishers to dumb down their female authors’ books by giving them non-scary covers (ie pink).

Walsh thought she might get it in the neck, as twitter is wont to do. Instead, it took off.

As Walsh puts it ‘I’ve listened to female writer friends grouse when their books are given flowery covers though their writing is not; when reviews, or even publishers’ press releases, describe their work as ‘delicate’ when it is forthright, ‘delightful’ when it is satirical, ‘carving a niche’ when it is staking a claim.’

One literary editor (ironically, Claire Armistead of the Guardian) told Walsh that her ‘own feeling was that there is an issue of confidence among women writers’. Walsh disagrees and so do I. Most of the female writers I know are confident and ballsy. Just look at the twitter feeds of Amanda Craig and Daisy Goodwin, Linda Grant and Susan Hill, Sophie Hannah and Jojo Moyes, if you need convincing. Whether of so-called commercial women’s fiction, domestic suspense (god forbid that women crime writers be called crime writers), or plain old literary fiction (although arguably they get a marginally better ride from reviewers) and they have one thing in common: they are all fed up with being put in the corner in a pink frock.

Walsh is not the first to draw attention to this. Jennifer Weiner – the American author of bestsellers In Her Shoes, Good In Bed and many more – has made it her business to shout about the imbalance, arguing that if her name were Jonathan (Franzen) or Jeffrey (Eugenides) her books would have had an entirely different reception. My instinct is, she’s not wrong.

As a female author with some pink-ish covers to my name, I’m all for it. But as a reviewer, I don’t want to evict male writers from this blog - I’ve read some amazing books by men in the past year or so, just as I have by women, and have reviewed accordingly. But for the record, here are some of the novels by women – be they commercial, literary or crime - I’ve read and enjoyed in the last year.

Dark Matter, Michelle Paver
The Burning Air, Erin Kelly
Sharp Objects and Dark Places, both by Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn
Life after Life, Kate Atkinson
The Silent Wife, ASA Harrison
Amity  & Sorrow, Peggy Riley
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
Instructions on a Heatwave, Maggie O’Farrell
The Carrier, Sophie Hannah
The Roundhouse, Louise Erdrich
Now You See Me and Like This Forever, both by SJ Bolton
Kiss Me First, Lottie Moggach
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
How to be a good wife, Emma Chapman
Waiting for Wednesday, Nicci French
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
The Camomile Lawn, Mary Wesley
The Hive, Gill Hornby
The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud
The entire backlist of Lesley Glaister
Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty
The Other Typist, Suzanne Rindell
Firefly, Janette Jenkins
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes
Longbourn, Jo Baker
Almost English, Charlotte Mendelson
The Sleeper, Emily Barr
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
Black Sheep, Susan Hill
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
Fabulous Nobodies, Lee Tulloch
The Savage Altar, Asa Larsson
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Tweet the female authors you love with the hashtag #readingwomen2014

(This blog first appeared on Bazaar on Books,, 22 January 2014)

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