The Huffington Post. It's an issue that niggles away in my mind all the time.
Last week my publisher released the fourth book in my Heartlands Series, People We Love. I happened to be in India at the time, in a magical retreat called Philipkutty's Farm in Kerala. It's a homestay - a kind of cross between a B&B and a guest house. I think in most homestays in India you are provided with accommodation separate from the family, but part of their property, and the food is also provided, although you don't usually eat with the family. Philipkutty's Farm follows this model. It's run by a courageous woman called Anu, who took up the challenge of building some traditional Keralan bungalows on her farm to fulfil the dream of her husband, who died tragically young after a heart attack. She does this with the help of her mother. A venture of this kind run solely by women is rare in India, and Anu deserves real plaudits for what she has done.
Anyway, at the homestay we found ourselves in the company of another ten – very interesting – couples. One couple were on their fifth visit, another their seventh. Both couples used it to refresh themselves and to write or work on projects. (If you really want the perfect writing retreat, I promise you, this is it! Just a pity it's 7,000 miles away.) When I learned that People We Love was out, I couldn't resist telling everyone. I was excited! Everyone was really interested, and asked me what kind of book it was.
So then I hit the problem. I don't write literary novels, though I like to think they are well written. I don't write chick lit or romance, though my books have elements of both. I don't write anything that's simple to define, such as crime or thrillers or fantasy or sci fi or historicals. No – unfortunately, I write what is best described (I suppose) as 'commercial women's fiction'. I tell them this.
Cue knowing smiles.
Aha, chick lit you mean.
Body rippers, then.
Not according to the trade definition, certainly, no.
I write multi-layered stories about the complexity of everyday life, primarily the lives of women and the challenges they face in their work and at home, as lovers, mothers and career women. But the moment I add that word 'women's fiction' I can see the men's eyes glazing over and a look of disdain crossing the faces of women who don't like admit they read 'that kind of stuff'.
I feel their attitudes are degrading and demoralising – but are they right? Is what I write inferior to crime, thrillers, or even 'literary fiction'? Does it deserve scorn? Should it be ignored? Go unreviewed?
Please read Hannah Beckerman's article. And let me know what you think.