In a year’s time, I will turn fifty. I am not worried about the impending big birthday but I want to mark it somehow, for myself, and with whoever happens upon this blog.
I’m going to mark it with books. My life has revolved around literature and television. A child of the 70s, a teen of the 80s, part of Generation X, I’ve lived my life against a background of popular culture. My first novel was even named after a Saturday night legend: ‘The Generation Game’. But I also have a degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing. And, yes, I am a novelist.
Because of this fusion of classic literature and telly, I am not a book snob. I’ll have a go at reading most fiction, but I am particularly drawn to the female novelist. When I started writing I was desperate to learn and hone my craft. I went to a Creative Writing evening class and I read. A lot. For me, reading and writing go hand in hand and seeing as I felt like I’d ‘done’ the classics at university, I immersed myself in contemporary novels, which tended to be written by women. These novelists – Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Jane Gardam, Lesley Glaister, Janice Galloway amongst many others – showed me a world I recognised, shone a light into the darker places and they helped me make sense of, you know, stuff. But I’ve recently been pulled backwards in time, to the century I grew up in. The century that my mother and grandmother were born into.
At university, in the late 80s, I took a module called Women Writers. It seemed bizarre to me that there was a whole module dedicated to women. But I soon realised this was because the other modules were basically dedicated to literature written by men, (with the exception of Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing). Fast forward to 2017, and still male novelists are more likely to win literary prizes. They are more likely to be reviewed in the Press.* Despite the fact that far more women read fiction than men. So over the next year, I will revisit 100 novels written by women in the 20th Century. A year of my reading life dedicated to women writers across a range of genres, ‘commercial’ and ‘literary’ is a perfectly valid thing to do. (Especially as I am actually a female novelist. Did I mention that?)
I will be random in my approach; that’s how I roll. But hopefully over the year, themes will emerge and a more cohesive picture will be created. The last century saw massive social and political upheavals which affected all walks of life: the vote, wars, work, equal pay, education, politics, migration, social mobility, sexuality, contraception, motherhood, fertility. These are huge issues which affect everyone but they have an unfair impact on women and any changes have been hard fought. This is a vast world of continuous change and yet a world with an unchanging backdrop which perhaps only the novelist can address with a certain amount of truth.
Each week, I will post a review of a novel. I will jump around in time and genre and location and although there will undoubtedly be a British bias as Britain is the country I’ve grown up in and was educated in, I will include writers from the Commonwealth and beyond. The power of books is that they can transport you across the Sargasso sea, to the Belgian Congo, into the bedroom of a teenage boy in Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
Women’s voices are so often obscured and shouted down. Too domestic. Too romantic. Too trivial.
I beg to differ.
Next blog: The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon.
*I can forward you a link to research done on sexism in publishing.