A little privileged whining …

Thanks for the overwhelming response to my last blog post on the chick-lit debate. Clearly many people felt very strongly about the topic. And I don’t know whether the moon was in the Seventh House, or Jupiter had in fact aligned with Mars, but there was some kind of synchronicity going on. At the risk of blogging a dead horse, I’m going to take this opportunity to point you in the direction of a couple of other recent links of interest.

Over at Tara Moss’s blog, after attending the recent SheKilda crime festival, she decried the gender bias still rampant in the literary world. I’m sure Tara couldn’t have imagined the response she was about to get, however, when Cameron Woodhead, reviewer for The Age newspaper, weighed in with some extraordinarily patronising comments. Primarily, that it all sounded like ‘privileged whining’ to him. (It’s well worth a read – great stoush in the comments.)

I was almost not going to write the previous post for fear of just such an accusation, and Lisa Heidke, herself a wonderful author of women’s fiction, commented on my blog that she didn’t want to whinge or seem ungrateful … Little wonder young women today are reluctant to identify as feminists, for fear of being accused of being whiny whenever they speak up for themselves.

Wendy Harmer is no shrinking violet, and she picked up the cause and reported Tara’s battle with the critic on her website The Hoopla, (where Wendy also linked back to my blog, thanks!).

I am heartened by all your comments, both here and on my Facebook page, that you would read the books no matter how they were labelled, and I appreciate that, I really do. But not everyone is as sure of themselves. There has been a very interesting development in the digital world, as reported in the Guardian on the weekend. Romance readers are the most enthusiastic migrators to ebooks, where sales are soaring. But the main reason for this is a little sad – no one can see the cover of an ebook, so romance readers feel they can read with impunity, away from judgemental gaze of literary snobs. That breaks my heart just a little.

When my kids were learning to read, their teachers always impressed upon the parents that they must be seen to be reading around their children – newspapers, magazines, recipe books, anything – and that it didn’t matter what kids were reading – similarly, special interest magazines, comics, whatever – as long as they were reading. So if Mum happens to be reading a book, written by a woman, which may or may not sport a girlie cover, is she to be ashamed of this, and hide it from her children?

When did everyone get so judgemental? Are we not supposed to enjoy reading? Good luck getting kids to read at all if that’s the message we’re sending them.

To quote Tara Moss in her follow-up blog (I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t leave this alone), ‘Women’s voices matter’. Our stories matter, our writing matters. What we have to say matters. We shouldn’t have to apologise for it.

The chick lit debate continues

Some of you may have seen this article in the Guardian over the weekend, asking the question if we should mourn the death of chick lit, a death which may, in the words of Mark Twain, be described as an exaggeration.

It all depends on what you mean by ‘chick lit’. Is it a catch-all label for all women’s fiction, or does it only refer to those with the hot pink covers sporting ‘stilettos and Martini glasses’, as mentioned in the article? But is there much more going on inside the covers, and the problem is merely the way women’s fiction is being packaged?

When my first book (above) was published, a male friend asked me what women’s fiction was, and was he allowed to read it? He also said he never would have picked up a book with a hot pink cover, but he was surprised he enjoyed it. Now I don’t mind that our books are marketed to women, women are the biggest buyers of books by far, but has this led to the assumption that all women’s fiction is the same, and worse, that it’s light fluff? There is a whole other discussion to be had – in a future post – about covers and marketing, but this is more about perception. Those of us who read women’s fiction know that it’s often about much bigger issues; that martini glass could be making light of alcoholism, and the shoes masking some painful body image issues.

So why the cutesy label? Because we do mention shoes? Martinis? Love? Or, gasp, is it because it’s written by women? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if men write about relationships or domestic issues, they’re considered insightful forays into the human condition. Perhaps they’re not always lauded, but they ain’t called chick lit either. I’ve heard many excellent female authors shrug and apologise for what they write. I’ve done it myself. ‘It’s just entertainment’. ‘I don’t mind it’s called chick lit’. We wouldn’t want to look like we’re taking ourselves seriously as writers, for goodness’ sakes.

That doesn’t mean you must write only about serious stuff to deserve to be taken seriously as a writer. Look at Nick Hornby and Nick Earls – both wonderful, funny writers whose books are very much about relationships. Their solid reputations are well-deserved. Just not so sure that female writers of the same ilk are given quite the same status.

What do you think? Am I worrying about nothing? Does it matter what it’s called? Do you love the girlie covers or shy away from them? And if there are any blokes out there – would you be caught dead reading one?

What’s in a name?

Well, plenty, I reckon. I’m stuck for a name for this blog, though. I’m thinking it’s probably going to remain ‘dianneblacklock’ so you’ll still be able to find it. I have at least changed the tagline. Must get around to decorating next week …

Names of blogs aside, I love naming things, namely, the characters in my novels. And that’s what has been occupying me lately in my current novel. I have most of the major characters sorted, though the female protagonist took three goes to get right – hoorah for ‘Find and Replace’ on Word. I had a name in mind as I began, but it jarred as I read back over the first few chapters. I tried another name, but it didn’t feel right either, and finally this one evolved – one I’m sure I wouldn’t have come up with in the first place, but it feels absolutely right now.

In a way, characters name themselves, at least they certainly won’t be shoe-horned into a name that doesn’t suit them. When I was writing Almost Perfect, I could not settle on a name for Liam. I had a very long list but I just couldn’t decide. One day, a scene from later in the novel came to me, and I quickly scribbled it down – by the end he was Liam, and he couldn’t be called anything else after that.

I have an admission, I’ve always been obsessed with names. When I was a girl I wanted to have eighteen children, weird but true, and I think at least part of the reason was that I would get to choose so many names. I made long lists of monikers for those would-be children, giving them second, and sometimes third names. It was updated regularly as my tastes changed. I still have an extensive handwritten list – needless to say most of the names make me cringe now.

I only had four children in the end, and didn’t even give two of them middle names. So I have plenty of names to use up! The names of my characters are very important to me: they have to go with the surnames, they have to fit with the other members of their family, they have to be true to the age of the person. And somehow they have to reflect, as best they can, the personality of that character. It really grates on me if names don’t seem right when I’m reading a novel. One thing (among many!) that really bothered me in The Slap was that the names didn’t feel right. ‘Connie’ was a very odd choice for the seventeen-year-old daughter of hippies. And ‘Anouk’ was a white, thirtysomething, middle-class woman – the only explanation for her name is an offhand comment that her parents were francophiles. But as I remember she has a sister called Tracey. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for giving her such an unusual name, and it irritated me throughout.

Maybe it’s just me? Are names in books important to you? Are there names that grate for you as well? Would the wrong names affect your enjoyment of a book? Or would a rose, regardless of its name, smell just fine to you?

PS: Thanks for all your lovely comments and feedback on my first blog! So encouraging xx