Sunday, February 18, 2018

2018 a year of women?

I vaguely remember the debate around Kamila Shamsie's Challenge  a couple of years back that 2018 should be a year that the book industry only published female writers. I don't know if it was ever a truly serious suggestion, it was certainly a provocative one, with reasonable condemnation from most quarters. One publisher has taken up the challenge though, And Other Stories are small enough for it to make sense, and to benefit from the publicity.

I'm not sure if I'd heard of them before I saw the BBC article (I thought I had, but non of the titles look familiar, so maybe not) but I'm intrigued by what I've read so far - and actually more impressed by the move out of London than the all female list for 2018. I'll be combing through their backlist with interest, as well as being excited to see what they've found for this year.

I was less impressed (downright annoyed) by this article in The Guardian  and the news that Penguin and Waterstones are teaming up to run a pop up shop in Shoreditch for a couple of days in March which will sell only books by women.

Why just Shoreditch? London isn't short of bookshops with the floor space to accommodate all sorts of displays or pop ups to focus on women, the rest of the country isn't so well provided for. My city certainly isn't, we have a very small Waterstones, a Christian bookshop, a branch of The Works, and WH Smith to sell us books. My local university bookshop closed down through lack of use. We do have any number of empty units throughout the town centre which would benefit from some imaginative pop ups.

Leicester (the city, rather than the county which has an entirely different demographic) does not do well in quality of life surveys (as This Guardian article also demonstrates). We're not a cultural desert by any stretch of the imagination - this is a fantastically multi-cultural city with an impressive history,  and some great things going on, but there's plenty of space for more. We really need to see more of what we can be outside of London.

Specifically promoting the brilliant range of women's voices in print deserves a much better effort than a publicity stunt in Shoreditch, and definitely needs a much wider, more diverse audience then this will reach.


  1. Well said! I think efforts like this come off as looking more like stunts that sincere efforts to promote diversity/equality. I think the intention is probably good but by doing it on such a small scale and in a market where consciousness of the issue is already high the impact is definitely lessened.

  2. I really miss having a good sized bookshop in the general vicinity, the nearest is now Nottingham (which has a large Waterstones), there’s a really good independent bookshop in a village about 10 miles out of town, but it’s small, and not that easy for a non driver to get to (the bus fare is a whopping £5.60 return, which is almost a paperback). Which is fairly typical for a provincial city - I get really worked up about this.

  3. Agreed. The bookish world seems very Londoncentric. Like you, I have a local Waterstones, The Works and a WH Smith. I think the WH Smith needs to decide whether it is a proper bookshop or not, because their range of books is not good.

    1. Our W H Smith also has the main post office in it, squeezing the books even further. I don't want to be unfair, because books are only a small part of what Smiths do, the people in the works are lively and I often find good stuff in there, and they're really helpful in Waterstones too, even if they hardly ever have what I'm after. But they're all small, and non of them have particularly imaginative ranges. I do wonder what sort of impact a good pop up shop might have on a city like mine, I like to think that there would be some serious enthusiasm for such a thing. I also wonder what English publishing would look like if so much of it wasn't Londoncentric.