Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Chick Lit Challenge

Chick lit seems to get a lot of coverage in the news, most of it negative. Many people claim that critics are biased against popular women's genres, and that chick lit is the victim of deeply ingrained sexism. The whole debate was reignited recently when author Polly Courtney dropped her publisher HarperCollins because she thought her books were being misrepresented by the "chick lit" covers. The publisher refused to compromise so she walked out the door.

In Courtney's words:

"My writing has been shoehorned into a place that's not right for it," she said this morning. "It is commercial fiction, it is not literary, but the real issue I have is that it has been completely defined as women's fiction … Yes it is page turning, no it's not War and Peace. But it shouldn't be portrayed as chick lit."

As someone who used to rail against "chick lit' and who even had an article published on the subject in a previous incarnation  ( ), I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of writing what could be defined as chick lit. Strangely enough I find that my opinions have not really changed.

For me the chick lit bible is still Bridget Jones' Diary, and so much that has come since is just a weak imitation. While these books were light and fluffy, they were also genuinely hilarious and I've yet to find anything that even comes close to matching the humor. I don't think there's anything wrong with books that focus on things that women enjoy like gossip, shopping, romance and sex, but I really wish they could be more original and delve a little deeper. After a while they really start to blend into one and why do so many heroines have to be obsessed with shoes?

Polly Courtney also said:

"I'm not averse to the term chick lit, but I don't think that's what my book is. The implication with chick lit is that it's about a girl wanting to meet the man of her dreams. [My books] are about social issues – this time about a woman in a lads' mag environment and the impact of media on society, and feminism."

I have to disagree with her on this point. I think it's possible to write books that appeal to the women who love chick lit, but which also explore more serious issues and have more substance to them. This is what I'm attempting to do with my novellas which tap into issues like online psychic addictions and racism, in a light-hearted, chick-lity way. Unlike Polly Courtney I have no problem with chick lit style covers these days, I just think it's high time chick lit lifted its game and earned some respect from the literary establishment. Maybe then authors like Courtney would not balk at being associated with it.

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