The world of publishing is terrified of coming across as discriminatory in this age of equality for all. It is rightly important that everyone is represented. Unless you happen to be a woman writing ‘popular’ fiction, genre fiction, if you like, contemporary stories, romance, historical, sagas. Then you might as well grab yourself a sackcloth and a bell and roam the streets calling ‘Unclean, unclean’ ahead of you. Misogyny is alive and kicking in our world, though it pretends it isn't.
Only recently Phillipa Ashley and I were having a convo. 'Why don't the telly have a popular fiction series with the big selling books people really buy and interviews with authors in their homes/hometowns and some sneaky looks at the world of publishing and bookselling and supermarket books? They could visit creative writing classes for real people, or go to a book festival, like in Cannock?' she said (she set up the Cannock Chase book festival and it was fabulous!). 'No posh elitist stuff'. She put a worm in my brain that great to the size of a giant anaconda. The pair of us have been batting back and forwards ideas, as well as frustrations.
Take this week. Someone came out on Twitter to say that she watched the Sara Cox book show because she likes her personally, but...
That kicked a nest full of hornets. Why indeed? What is it about our books that terrifies presenters from featuring them? Do they think that they’ll be laughed at by the cool kids for daring to advertise a book full of wisdom and wit that features that stuff of life we all crave – romance (and though it’s classified as romance, sometimes the big love story is about a community coming together or friendship). Will these presenters or journos reveal themselves as inferior beings for choosing a book for their show/publication that doesn’t have a serial killer in it? It is a question not even Stephen Hawking could have answered with all the might of his knowledge: why are our crafted books seen as ‘lesser’?
We have a lot of support from some fabulous journos, it has to be said. Some of the magazines out there are shining stars of generosity, thank goodness. They aren’t afraid to feature crime books too, but then no one is. And yet, for many, there is a reticence, a terror about applauding one of our books publicly especially if they feature women on the cover. Guess what – we have male readers as well, folks. And they say we write ‘men’ every bit as good as men do. Go us!
A couple of years ago I was invited onto a radio programme with Eamonn Holmes to talk about prizes and book shows that totally ignore us. It was, what Mother Teresa might have called ‘a shit show’. I was led to believe I was being guided onto a sympathetic platform to make a case: ‘Why can't we have a show for genre fiction? Why does every book show have to be so blimming highbrow when we know our readers want to hear about US?' I'm doing all right, I'm in supermarkets and bookshops and I get my fair share of PR, but plenty of good authors aren't and they're caught up in a vicious circle of needing to get into bookshops/supermarkets to get exposure, but need the exposure to get into the shops. So chagrin was in plentiful supply as I was told with a snigger that I ‘probably write the sorts of books that are made into films that come out just before Christmas and always feature a lumberjack’. Totally dissed the whole genre, while worshipping at the shrine of his other guest Marian Keyes WHO WRITES THE SAME BOOKS WE DO. When Marian said she knew my books, EH was HORRIFIED that she could mix with the likes of such a lower caste. The irony was that he galvanised every prejudice I had gone onto the programme to prove existed and wanted to break down. Disappointing wasn’t the word, he could have done a lot of good there. An opportunity totally wasted. Just an excuse to use up some excess tomatoes that needed throwing at an upstart author, albeit one who's shifted millions of books, who the researcher hadn't even bothered to look up.
The sniffy people see our books as fluff, insubstantial, 'chick-lit' (oh please - think of something more original!) but maybe they should see them as the big business they are, as oil in the wheels of the industry machine, that keep it going so it can give out fat advances to authors of literary fiction who won’t earn it out. We make profit. No one gives us publishing deals because they feel obliged to. During the pandemic our figures soared as people wanted the dear familiarity of human contact and company and simple pleasures such as going out for some cake and they couldn’t do it in reality, so plumped for it virtually. They wrote more letters to us than usual – and that’s quite a quantity. Thank you for keeping me sane. Thank you for giving me my reading mojo back. Thank you for the escapism, for helping my destroyed mental health, for keeping me company during a long night shift on the ward. The letters make me cry a lot. They can be heartbreaking. We don’t write books to change people’s lives but sometimes that happens as a surprising byproduct. We write templates of happy lives for people who sometimes follow in the footsteps of our fictional characters and realise that with a few small, but essential changes, they can alter a lot they are unhappy with and make it so much better.
We aren't sniffy about other genres, 'My goodness, a story featuring a talking cat, how ridiculous!' (The Last House on Needless Street, incidentally. Read it, it's amazing!) Reading is subjective, there are books for all tastes and exposure should reflect that. It's not for programme makers to censure what people enjoy and want. Give them a wide selection. Give them literary and crime and humour and romance. Chuck in a saga or a good wartime novel.
Last week I sold 7660 paperbacks, only Richard Osman sold more in fiction paperbacks. No mention though of the northern oik impudent female who reached her highest chart position on the Sunday Times bestseller list, especially at this time of year where a sea of big names and celebrities have their books out jostling for space on the shelves. At number nine on the list Phillipa Ashley with her ‘A Special Cornish Christmas’, over six and a half thousand sold. Cathy Bramley and her ‘A Merry Christmas Project’ top of the Amazon charts… Jenny Colgan on the New York Times Best seller list, Trisha Ashley storming it with a hardback, Nicola May who made the publishing trade mag acknowledge her astronomical self-published sales figures and those who came after her … and more names. Every one of these a businesswoman a driven, powerhouse of grit and determination and luckily a backbone of iron.
Oh and if you're thinking 'She's just pissed off that she didn't get a mention.' Too right I am. Because I would have if I hadn't written in my genre and that is my whole point.' I don't need that exposure - I have the love and support of my readers, but it would have been nice and I deserve it - this is a great achievement for me...'And snapping at the heels of Richard Osman is literary writer MJ with a startling X sales this week with her book about being snowed in.' And much as I do love RO, he's been plugging up the top spot so much, I really don't need to read every week that he's still clinging onto the gold with his perma-photo, I'll take it as standard until he's not. I want to hear about X who has written a book about a Christmas market and has thudded into the number seven spot. Where has she come from? What's her back story? Why have I been reading The Bookseller for X years and can't remember the last time a romance writer had a profile piece done about her, apart from Jojo Moyes who has become so massive she is impossible to bypass? Is this the only way then - to get so big they can't ignore you? How it riles when you'll find so many profile pieces on literary writers to box tick, many debut. No debut female romance novelists though. Nor seasoned ones. Rarer than unicorn turds.
(update from the week after... that line about a mention if I'd been a man writing something 'serious' - called it!)
And don't get me started on libraries - you know the places that some would have you believe aren't used any more. Well in the past year my books have been borrowed almost 220,000 times. That's just one romance author... And there are many more popular than me. Why is it so wrong to want to be entertained? No one looks down on Netflix (quite the opposite) - the sole purpose of which is to... entertain!
The Bookseller British Book Seller industry award 'The Nibbies' recently introduced a Crime category. No romance. Maybe as a concession they then introduced 'The Page Turner' award. Nice and vague which allows us to hope we might get on it, allows them to pick us. Guess how many female romantic authors appeared on the shortlist? Actually it's boring even as a game now so I'll tell you. Nil.
Guess what, world, there is a massive appetite for our books! Especially Christmas books written to lift and entertain. And yet the newspapers filled their pages this week with the ‘best books to buy for presents’ and not a mention of any of ours. Do we not fit in Christmas stockings? Are our corners too spiky? Because, as a reader as well as a writer, I’d like to find a book written by one of my peers in my Christmas pile please, Santa. I want to hole up for a few days and immerse myself in a lovely feelgood well-written story that whisks me away while I’m drinking my Baileys. And judging by how fast our books are flying off the physical and virtual shelves at the moment, so do readers. Which leads me ask, who are those ‘lists of must-read books’ written for? Do people who read the ‘posh papers’ not also read popular fiction? Shouldn’t the press serve the readers who want to know about the books of our genre which are available to buy? Are they actually in touch with the people who read their pages? Are the authors of these books of less interest than those who write literary fiction?
Diss the novels and you diss the readers who buy these books. Who are they to decide what their readers might like, after all reading is so subjective. One of the Hairy Bikers reads everything I put out there; I'm his 'guilty pleasure' he tells me. Plus what message are we giving out to future writers? That if they choose to write books that people in their millions love that they’re not actually aiming very high? That’s one hell of a mixed message.
This industry can be ridiculously middle-class and prejudicial ... and cruel and short-sighted. Women writing Christmas fiction in the Sunday Times best seller list? Move along please, nothing to see here, folks. What sums it up is an observation of Phillipa’s, given that the Sunday Times narrative at the side of its lists this week prefers to celebrate ‘Greg the Sausage Roll’ and ‘The Shiit Workout – a parody fitness book telling you to tone up while on the loo’. Phillipa said, ‘Who knows, we might even be considered literary next to books about shit and a sausage roll’. Sadly no; that’s too much of a stretch, Pip… even in the world of fiction!
And just in case you were interested... here are just some of the season's pick of books that you SHOULD be seeing featured more! Written by women at the top of their game, Sunday Times bestsellers, multi-million sales, intelligent, brilliant and thoroughly wonderful novelists at with hearts as big as their talent. Click on the title to read more about them. Let yourself be seduced by a blurb. You won't fancy them all, but you'll definitely be drawn to some - and others will be drawn to others, because, as I said, we all like different books, but all books are liked by someone. I've found some authors just by chancing my arm, widening my reading comfort zone and you may find your new favourite below. So browse, buy see what else these fabulous creatures write ... and treat yourself or a loved one. Maybe both!
(in no particular order at all because they all should be first ..)
by Phillipa Ashley
They soon discover the chateau needs major work and a huge tax bill is due . . . Unable to sell but strapped for cash, Fliss determines to spruce up the elegant old rooms and open a B&B.
But Jacques, the handsome town mayor, is opposed to her plan. When it becomes clear that the only way to save the magnificent castle is to work together, Jacques and Fliss discover that they have more in common than they think...
has just had twins and is finding life exhausting. Even with husband and devoted friend by her side, she is completely outnumbered. Making the transition back to work will be no easy feat but then an unexpected job offer changes everything.
Her maternity cover, , has arrived in from South America to cover but it seems that she isn’t finding life in the peaceful Cotswolds valley as rewarding as she’d hoped, and she is causing chaos.
Then widower and former rock star Connor arrives in Larkford, ready for a new start. He’s not sure how he will fit in with his new tightknit community. Has he made a mistake leaving his old life behind, or will he find exactly what he’s looking for in the beauty of the Cotswolds?
Despite the chaos of the farm getting in the way of her event planning, Molly is looking forward to spending the holidays with boyfriend Shelby and his son, Lucas, hopeful that a happy family Christmas is exactly what they need to draw them all together. But while she is busy making plans on the farm, Shelby, it seems, has ideas of his own.
As the nativity draws near, the team are working hard to pull off a spectacular festive fete - and make sure the animals and humans remain on their best behaviour.
Will this Christmas be merry and bright... or is there more than one surprise in store for Molly and Hope Farm?
Cole loves a project too - though it's usually of the bricks and mortar variety. As a single dad, his Christmas wish is to see his kids again, so getting the new house finished for when they're all together is the perfect distraction.
But this Christmas, magic is in the air for these two strangers. Will it bring them all the joy they planned for . . . and take their hearts by surprise too?
Dido is enchanted by the castle as soon as she steps through the imposing front door. And as Christmas day approaches, her feeling of connection to the old house runs deeper than she first thought.
But when the snow begins to fall and Sabine's family arrive at the house - including Dido's teenage crush Xan - tensions rise around the castle's future and long-buried mysteries begin to unravel...
But for Liza Wynter, it’s a millstone around her neck. It was her father’s pride and joy but now he’s gone, she can’t have anything to do with it. Until her father’s business partner decides to retire and she must go back to handle the transition to his son Ned.
When Liza arrives, she discovers a much-loved business that’s flourishing under Ned’s stewardship. And she’s happy to stay and help for the Christmas season, but then she has other plans. But will the place where she grew up make her change her mind? And can it weave its Christmas cheer around her heart…?
When her sister, Sofia, mentions an opportunity in Edinburgh - a cute little bookshop, the spare room in her house - Carmen is reluctant, she was never very good at accepting help. But, short on options, she soon finds herself pulling into the snowy city just a month before Christmas.
What Sofia didn't say is that the shop is on its last legs and that if Carmen can't help turn things around before Christmas, the owner will be forced to sell. Privately, Sofia is sure it will take more than a miracle to save the store, but maybe this Christmas, Carmen might surprise them all...
Involved in an accident that had devastating consequences for a bitter rival, Kit has never spoken about what really happened that day. Determined to find out the truth, Clover heads to the snowy wilderness of the Austrian Alps, sharing a romantic winter wonderland with a man who can’t stand her.
But as she delves deeper, Clover finds herself both drawn to Kit, and even more convinced he’s hiding something. Is Kit Foley really as cold as he seems?
Nessie has returned to Shetland after two years spent retraining as a blacksmith on the Scottish mainland. She's determined to do whatever it takes to reignite the traditional craft and prove that gender is no obstacle to taking on her family's heritage.
Isla is fresh out of catering college, but she is desperate to prove she has what it takes to run Lerwick Manor's artisan café. Focused on perfecting her grandmother's traditional recipes, Isla has no time for anything else - especially not her pesky ex.
With the island's Yule Day celebration fast approaching, it's the ideal moment for their crafts to shine. But they can't do it alone - and their friendship might turn out to be their greatest creation yet...
Dragged to a Christmas ball by best friend Layla, Poppy meets gorgeous actor Gabe, who stars as a genie in a play. When he asks her what three wishes she would make, she realises it's quite simple: love, a job she's happy in and, just once in her life, to do something extraordinary.
Gabe and Poppy make a pact to help each other make their dreams come true. As they tick off their wishes, their friendship blossoms... But, as they discover, sometimes, what you want for Christmas isn't necessarily what you need...
Forced to sleep under the same roof as her handsome neighbour Finn, Freya realises she's going to need a distraction - fast! So she sets herself a challenge: to cook the '12 Days of Christmas'. Her delicious food soon brings the villagers together, and as each day passes, old friendships are renewed, memories stirred and there's even the flickering of romance...
Mary has been trying to get her boss Jack to notice her for four years, but he can only see the efficient PA she is at work. Will being holed up with him finally give her the chance she has been waiting for?
Bridge and Luke were meeting for five minutes to set their divorce in motion. But will getting trapped with each other reignite too many fond memories – and love?
Charlie and Robin were on their way to a luxury hotel in Scotland for a very special Christmas. But will the inn give them everything they were hoping to find – and much more besides?
A story of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, of pushing limits and acceptance, of friendship, love, laughter, mince pies and the magic of Christmas.