Women's Writing World Woes
BY AMY THEODORE
When you think about the world of writing, names such as George R. R. Martin, J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien or E. L. James (the lady who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey) may come to mind. Considering half of those names are females, you may think women are represented pretty well in the writing industry, but that is not the case.
Despite women having a bigger foothold overall, men still hold most of the top jobs. Just take a look at those spearheading some of the top publishing houses. The current CEO of Penguin Random House is Markus Dohle, the CEO of Hachette is David Young, and the CEO of Harper Collins is Brian Murray.
While these days women may not be publishing under male names, Newcastle author Joyce Morgan feels they are still trying to hide their gender.
‘Thriller writer L. A. Larkin uses her initials rather than her first name, Louisa. From her initials, it is unclear what the writer's gender is. I suspect it is still easier to be published as a male in certain genres and readers are more willing to buy a book written by a man than a woman.’
While as a nation our embracing of women writers may be lacking, as a city, it seems Newcastle is picking up some of the slack. This is something that local poet and co-owner of The Press Bookhouse Café, Ivy Ireland, has noticed. As a poet with various published works, including Incidental Complications (2008) and Porch Light (2015), and one of the Poets Union Australian Young Poets Fellows in 2007, writing has always been a passion of Ivy’s.
‘I grew up in a small town, so I had to turn to my imagination a lot for entertainment. I quickly became an avid reader – I distinctly remember the librarian at the central school I attended dragging my parents in to grant permission for me to read the high school books, as I'd worked my way through all the kids’ ones – and the transition to writing seemed natural.’
‘Newcastle has an amazingly supportive writing community, considering (or maybe because of) its small size. One of the biggest events for 2017 in our small venue here in Newcastle was our International Women's Day poetry reading, which was entirely devoted to the reading of works by female poets. We could not accommodate everyone who turned up to listen.’
It’s this celebration of women in the industry and awareness raised by the feminist movement that Ivy believes is helping bring this issue to the forefront.
‘I think promotion of women's writing and events featuring female writers, thinkers and publishers is always key to any positive change. I think the feminist movement has been so important and imperative to all change in this area. Many amazing women in publishing houses, on arts councils, etc., have worked tirelessly to ensure that female voices are being heard.’
Fiction author Wendy James has also noticed the welcome reception Newcastle gives to female writers.
‘Newcastle has given my writing a very enthusiastic reception. I’ve been a guest at the Writers Festival a number of times, and the local papers have been kind enough to feature my work. My latest book, The Golden Child, is actually set in Newcastle, and it’s been very interesting to get feedback from readers regarding my characters’ views and ideas about the place.’
While being female in the industry may be proving to have its speed bumps, Joyce notes that financial issues are also proving to be a roadblock for many trying to make it in the writing world.
‘I took a leave of absence from the Sydney Morning Herald to write Journeys on the Silk Road and produced my biography of Martin Sharp after I left. I was fortunate to have had a long career as a journalist behind me before I ventured into non-fiction. Making a living as a writer has become more difficult in the past decade or so, as publishers’ advances have shrunk significantly.’
Wendy also still struggles with making her writing full-time.
‘Like most Australian writers, my writing work doesn’t come close to providing a living. This means that while writing is my profession, it has to take second place to the work I do to keep food on the table. Even though I enjoy my job, it can be slightly dispiriting when people assume I just write for fun or as a “creative outlet” rather than professionally.’
Newcastle is full of amazing literary female talent, including thriller writer Jaye Ford, Kaz Delaney and Maggie Ball, to name only a handful. While there may still be a struggle to have female voices heard on an equal level in all aspects of the writing world, as Wendy points out, female writers are still holding down their position with a great intensity.
‘Female fiction writers are a force to be reckoned with, and have been historically. While the literary canon might contain more male writers, many critics consider the novel to be a female form – with women novelists reigning supreme.’