So it’s as I have suspected and ardently highlighted these past ten years – female characters in some novels are not feminist-friendly. Fairly unsurprisingly, lots of women are tired of reading about dieting, shopping, romance and other subjects that do not apply to their own lives. Far from requiring a patronising dose of escapism thrust upon them, lots of women do not wish to make a substantial effort to suspend their belief and enter a nonsense world of cosseted, middle-class, silver-spoon giggling.
A Guardian newspaper article has declared the Bridget Jones character un-feminist and the chick-lit genre ‘tired’. The author of this piece has called for a post recession ‘Bridget Jones with a backbone’.
I have to admit that when I read the first Bridget Jones novel I loved it, mainly because I (at the time) identified with her binge drinking of a weekend and falling out a taxi with a bottle of Absolute vodka in her hand. A little middle-class for me, Bridget had no children and was accommodated by her comfortably-off parents, but even so I liked the idea. So much, in fact, that I decided to have a crack at writing chick-lit myself.
I had already written a full novel and a dissertation, so I knew I had the endurance. I knew the genre, being and avid reader of Fielding and Keyes, I knew the task before me was to create a woman who enjoyed her life, unhindered by real life problems (and if there were any debt or anxiety or depression or hormones or strife it would be temporary and managed by her much more sensible boyfriend).
The problem was that I just couldn’t do it. A I began to write, the jovial attitude of my MC became overshadowed by real-life. The protagonist, a nasty piece of work called Sean, didn’t sweep her off her feet or save her, he oppressed her with his own issues and loaded her already over-burdened life with his pain.
Sounds dark, doesn’t it? Dark, complex, intricate and emotional are all words that have been used to describe my writing. The MC’s are strong women who use their instinct and resolve to find solutions to their problems. One MC ‘invents’ another person to help her because she is so alone. Another cannot face reality when her relationship ends and stalks her ex-partner.
All my MC’s are Bridget Jones with a backbone. Bridget Jones with a baby. Bridget Jones working in the sex industry. Bridget Jones with a touch of fear. Bridget Jones bereaved. Bridget Jones with everyday emotions. Bridget Jones with a feminist edge, doing something about stuff.
In the spirit of supply and demand, listening to beta readers, press articles, writing groups and authors who are feeling instinctively that the tide is turning away from candy-floss chick-lit, women’s fiction is in dire need of something we can get out teeth into. Something that is about love but more complicated. More real. Something that resonates with women’s lives. Less escapism and more empathy.
I’ve recently submitted my latest novel, Life Immaterial, to several carefully selected agents. I hope that they have read the article in the Guardian about good old Bridget and considered the possibility that a more unsympathetic and less stereotypical MC is what is, as we struggle through a second year of financial downturn, women today need to hold their hand, walk beside them and lie reassuringly alongside on their bedside table whispering, ‘I understand’.