The Two Paths of Women Writers

The Orange Prize for Fiction is one of the UK's most prestigious literary awards and goes to the best novel written by a female author of any nationality. 

In an interview with the Guardian, this year's chair of the judging panel said, "...female authors appear to have suffered a collective sense of humour failure".

Daisy Goodwin went on to say that she could barely read through all of the submissions, calling them "grim" in tone and explaining that "a lot of books start with a rape...pleasure seems to have become a rather neglected element in publishing." She then goes on to accuse publishers of "lagging behind what the public want" (which is a different argument altogether). 

Why is this?

Perhaps it's because women writers long for serious consideration. Our writing is still largely ghettoized in genres like Romance and (the horrendously named) Chick Lit. Not to knock these; many female writers have paid their mortgages with book profits from commercial categories. But they don't win prizes or the acclaim of critics.

A lot of us writing today are striving to produce work with literary merit. We want to create art. We think think it is possible and desirable to have both - critical and commercial success. 

But the unisex truth is it's easier to write dark and emotional stories than to write humor. Being funny on the page is hard. Really hard. 

Amanda Craig, one of the novelists longlisted for this year's Orange Prize, said: "There really is a sense that women writers have two paths – on the one hand, towards chicklit; on the other, the serious route. And if they take the latter, there's a feeling that they have to be extra serious in order to be treated with respect."

If women can balance work and home, surely we can balance light and dark in our writing. Goodwin raises a good point. No one wants to read through 200 pages of unadulterated tragedy. Life isn't all bleak, and our stories shouldn't be either.