Love doesn’t mean women’s fiction – Prue Leith
By Prue Leith
All the great novels (and plays and operas and poems) are about love. Love desired, love found, love lost, love regained, love dying. Frankly I think love is the only proper subject for a novel. And because we all love a good love story, thriller writers try to work a love interest in somewhere.♥
But here comes my whinge, and this website is probably the last place I should express it, but I am getting rather tired of my novels being categorized as Romantic Fiction, or Chick Lit, or Women’s Fiction, or even Commercial Fiction – just because they contain story threads about love. These books are not reviewed in any of the “serious” papers or book pages of periodicals, and no wonder. Those categories carry with them an often unfair pink whiff of sentimentality, slush and bad writing. Women writers mostly have to rely on women’s magazines to notice them.
But have you noticed that if the novelist is male, writing about love and family relationships etc, his book is never put in the pink-hued box. Its reviewers will talk about “a deep insight into the dysfunctional family, or a penetrating analysis of obsessional attachment,” or some such.
Last week I was in Hatchards, doing what all writers do, checking up on how many, if any, of my books were on the shelves. I trawled the alphabetical fiction section, running along the L shelves with sinking heart. I usually find myself immediately before Kathy Lette and am tempted to replace just one of her front-facing titles with one of mine. But such underhand behaviour was denied me, because not one of my books was there.
But in the lift I read the list of book departments, and consequently went on a wider hunt. In the Biography section I found my memoir Relish, and in the Romantic Fiction were my last four novels. The latest, Food of Love, the first of a trilogy, was even front-facing. So that was gratifying. But worrying too. I had a look along the shelves and it seems to me that all you have to be to get into the Romantic category, is to be a woman writing about people’s loves and lives. There was not one book, however good a love story it might be, written by a man.
If Angela Huth, who could not write a sentimental line if she tried, is there, why isn’t Sebastian Faulks, whose Birdsong contains the best love scene I’ve ever read? The answer of course is she’s a woman and so is assumed to write exclusively for women. Faulks, being a man, must have written a book that would appeal to both sexes, so there he is in the main fiction department. The only exceptions, it seems, are women who write thrillers, like the wonderful Clare Macintosh, or women with male-sounding names like AS Byatt.
Well, there, got that off my chest.
As a cook, restaurateur, food writer and business woman, Prue Leith has played a key role in the revolution of Britain’s eating habits since the Sixties. In 1995, having published twelve cookbooks, she gave up writing about food to concentrate on fiction, and has written five contemporary novels. She lives in London and Oxfordshire. The Prodigal Daughter, the new book in The Food of Love trilogy by Prue Leith, is published by Quercus.