I have fond memories of arriving at my first ever NaNoWrimo regional meeting wondering:
a) if there were other people interested in writing in my area
b) what those people would be like
and c) What was I thinking?! I can’t write 50,000 words in one month!
I arrived petrified to find Stu, the Municipal Liaison and one of Writebulb’s founding members (I’m name-dropping here), sitting in a corner, nervously cradling a cup of coffee and looking very a la mode with his ipad. At this time, ipads had just been recently released.
I confess that this was the first time I had beheld the device up close and live. While we waited for the other Wrimos to arrive, we talked about the gadget to break the ice, as I desperately tried to purge the urge to stroke it (a goal which was to be achieved at a later date).
As more people trickled in, what struck me the most was their gender. The majority of those who showed up, were women. If memory serves me well, their ages ranged from 11 to 60. The genres that people were dabbling in were just as diverse; biography, romance (from Mills & Boon to gay paranormal romance) children’s books, young adult fiction, fantasy, and beyond.
Writebulb was born out of those NaNoWriMo meetings held in November 2010. There has not been a single Writebulb meeting that I have been to since, which has not been predominantly attended by females.
When I noticed this trend, I began to wonder: if there are this many women interested in writing from a grassroots level, why aren’t there more female names up there in the higher echelons of published, best-selling and celebrated authors?
It is possible that men go about their creative lives differently to women and therefore don’t feel as great a need to congregate. However, if the level of interest among women is as high as the Writebulb meetings have shown in comparison to that of men, then there is something going wrong in the journey to get published, for this trend not to be as widely reflected on celebrated author lists.
One of the moves to correct this disparity was the introduction of The Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996. According to its website, ‘the prize celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world.’ The winner receives a limited edition bronze figurine of a woman called a ‘Bessie,’ and a cheque for £30,000.
This year’s entries included British/Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love) who graced the 2011 Essex Book Festival. Andrea Levy who was also at the 2011 Essex Book Festival, won the prize in 2004 for Small Island, which subsequently sold 834,958 copies and has now been made into a film.
As for the NaNaWriMo challenge, it was won by most, and participants have since then written more words than we care to admit to counting.
It is possible that amongst us lurks a future winner of the prize, and I hope to be there to witness the day when someone hands her the busty Bessie.