Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Orange Prizes Girls

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.
This year’s winner was 25-year-old Serbian/American author Téa Obreht (pictured left), with her first novel, The Tiger's Wife. She is the youngest-ever author to take the Prize.
Other first novels to make the 2011 longlist were: Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Canadian), The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin (British/Nigerian), Swamplandia! by Karen Russell  (American), Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile (British), The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (American), The Seas by Samantha Hunt (American), Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma, Henderson (British), The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi (Indian).
It is encouraging to see first time novelists receive such acclaim, and women authors get feted.
Detractors of the prize include writer Tim Lott, who was quoted in The Independent newspaper recently, as saying, the prize is a ‘sexist con trick’ and ‘the Orange Prize is sexist and discriminatory, and it should be shunned.’
If the Writebulb stats are anything to go by, there are a lot of women out there writing fiction. Most of the ones who get published never get recognised for their work. The Orange Prize serves this purpose and this is to be celebrated.
As it turns out, my fears on that cold November day were unfounded. I have come to discover that there are a lot of people interested in writing in my area. The love and support we give each other, speaks volumes about the kind of people that they are, regardless of their sex.
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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brigid,

    I too share your concerns around the esteem that men are held in when writing. I've recently been in touch with a female Gay Romance author and received the following from her:

    "I think male authors tend to get more respect too, which is probably only fair seeing as how you have direct experience of being gay men and us women have to rely on research."

    Personally, I think that women who write Gay Romance should get more respect as they've written a convincing point of view WITHOUT being a gay man. Research is research, after all.

    P.S. When did you stroke my iPad?! LOL x