Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Labelling women's fiction

Yes, I know we have had this debate before.

In the early days of this blog I wrote a post about how I didn't read chick lit, or rather I thought I didn't, but then I realised that in fact a number of books I had enjoyed were actually packaged as chick lit. My post provoked a flurry of comments ( very exciting when you are a new blogger!) and aroused some strong feelings.

I still have trouble with the term chick lit. For a start I am not a chick, I am far too old! Even when I was young enough, I think I would have felt insulted if anyone called me a chick...somehow it seems to demean the depth of women's experiences in their twenties and thirties. But I do know that chick lit provokes a lot of controversy, both pro and con. In order to learn more about the chick lit phenomenon, I have become a regular reader of Trashionista, which reviews chick lit and related matters from both sides of the Atlantic. I have to admit it has led me to some interesting books, especially through their non-chick lit More on Monday slot.

Anyway, I recently read an interesting debate on a forum about the labelling of fiction and thanks to Carenza, I found this piece by Dorothy Koomson. To be honest I have never read any of Dorothy's books, but I will now look out for them as the latest two, certainly, sound like novels I might enjoy. But it is interesting that she doesn't want her work to be labelled as chick lit and indeed the covers appear to indicate that they are perhaps aimed more towards readers of Jodi Picoult than of, say, Sophie Kinsella. That interests me because I think Picoult market will also be the one to which my own fledgling novel is likely to appeal.

I like Dorothy's input into the labelling debate, even though I am not sure whether heart lit is actually that much better as a term than chick lit! Why can't publishers just call such books something like contemporary women's fiction and use covers which appeal to women of all ages? I suspect a number of decent books may have been done a disservice by pastel-coloured, cartoon bedecked covers and a whole audience for other women's fiction lost because they only look for chick lit style covers.

So when some people in the trade are quoted as saying chick lit is dead, I don't think it necessarily means that the genre itself is dead, but that it perhaps needs to be repackaged to appeal to a wider audience who may have been put off by the name and the covers.

Three notable things:

1. School started back today. The house has been blissfully quiet.

2. I have finished my scarf. Just need to sew the ends in now. I am pleased with it...I know there is at least one 'deliberate' mistake in the pattern, but hey, nothing handmade is perfect!

3. I managed to get some work done, despite being called out to taxi son 1 to and from an appointment... 'It's too hot to cycle, Mum!'


Yvonne said...

It's a term I'm not comfortable with either, I think it is too broad. I'm sure I've missed out on some good books because of their packaging or blurbs. Unfortunately chick lit 'by numbers' just doesn't do it for me. For example I really enjoyed Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes - it was funny and bubbly like a chick lit novel but it also gave me a completely different perspective on addiction. I think all writing should aim to shed new light on a situation or issue, regardless of how 'mundane' it might be.

(In other words, writers should try to take risks and not stick to the rules of their genre by the book - but that's easier said than done!)

Cathy said...

Rachel's Holiday has been recommended by a lot of people as superior chick lit. I haven't read it yet, but I have got it in my 'to be read ' pile!

I agree with you about the 'chick lit by numbers'. I suspect that all the copy-cat novels churned out rapidly to satisfy publisher's demands have devalued it as a genre. There are some good books there, it's just difficult to identify which ones they are. I loved Bridget Jones and Melissa Bank's two books, for example.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful feeling being able to finally do some proper work! I am thoroughly looking forward to that!

Crystal xx

Cathy said...

Unfortunately it was bookkeeping work rather than the writing I would like to have been doing, Crystal!


Lane Mathias said...

Couldn't agree more Cathy. I've always had a problem with the term 'Chick lit' (also when it's said aloud it just sounds very rude or is that just my filthy mind?)
So many are packaged like a nine year old's 'Princess Diary' book that I've always given them a wide berth - unless they've been especially recommended.
Trouble is I can't think of an alternative label. What's wrong with the all encompassing 'Contemporary Women's Fiction?'
Not too keen on 'heart lit.
Never come across Dorothy K. Will check her out.
I'll shut up now.

Cathy said...

Hmm, yes I think it is just your filthy mind, Lane. I hadn't even thought of that...!!