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contributors around the world to document their own negative encounters, Laura penned her first book Everyday Sexism in 2014. Together with her fellow judges, human rights activist and director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman, columnist Grace Dent and novelist Helen Dunmore, the panel have had their work cut out to narrow down such a broad cannon to a shortlist of just six titles: Outline by Rachel Cusk, The Bees by Laline Paull, A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie, How to be Both by Ali Smith, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler and Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. The prize has been running for almost 20 years; is it still difficult for female authors to gain recognition for their work, I ask? “You only have to look at the statistics,” Laura says soberly. “The annual VIDA count reveals that women are still enormously under-represented among both the reviewers and authors of reviewed books in many of the major literary publications.” The situation is improving, but progress is painstakingly slow and it doesn’t help that female writers in her view have to battle stigma and sexism too. “You often hear people say that they don’t particularly ‘like’ books by female authors, when it would sound ridiculous to say the same of male writers,” Laura asserts. “A man can write a domestic drama and have it hailed as a literary masterpiece, when women writing on very similar themes are often consigned to the label of ‘chick-lit’.” Perhaps the question of why is a harder one. Laura points to out-dated stereotypes as being a possible root of the problem. “It is evidence of how far we have yet to go that so many female authors, like JK Rowling for example, still consider using a pen name that doesn’t reveal their gender,” she says.

“Society is slow to catch up to women’s achievements and ingrained assumptions about what women can and can’t write ‘well’ about die hard”. Laura’s bookshelves are filled with paperbacks by Malorie Blackman, Jane Austen, Nora Ephron and Rosemary Sutcliff, and she talks with enthusiasm about one of her earliest memories of standing at her teacher’s desk aged six or seven and reading aloud from Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome and pretending to understand what the long words meant. Peter Duck paved the way to Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series, which she devoured in her teens. The set of books first introduced her to powerful ideas about prejudice and social justice, something which she harnesses in Everyday Sexism, a culmination of women’s untold stories. “I think what drove me to write was a strong sense that there was a gulf between the widespread societal belief that we have achieved equality and the reality of women’s lived experiences of prejudice, discrimination and sexual violence. I desperately wanted to bridge that gap.” With a second book due to be published by Simon & Schuster next spring (“a sort of survival guide for teenage girls”), Laura is looking forward to tackling her ‘to read’ pile, which was usurped by the Bailey’s list for several months. She plans to unwind this summer with Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls. But before that there’s the small matter of the final judging meeting to deal with, as the panel has yet to decide on a winner. “It’s going to be very difficult indeed,” she concedes with a smile, “every one of the shortlisted books is near-impossible to put down.” n

“So many female authors, like JK Rowling, still consider using a pen name that doesn’t reveal their gender”

The winner will be revealed on 3 June womensprizeforfiction.co.uk

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Profile for Runwild Media Group

Vantage Magazine June 2015  

Welcome to the June edition of The Vantage magazine, celebrating the dynamism of the area and bringing you the latest features, articles and...

Vantage Magazine June 2015  

Welcome to the June edition of The Vantage magazine, celebrating the dynamism of the area and bringing you the latest features, articles and...

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