Why women’s fiction deserves a better press
All women writers face an uphill struggle but commercial fiction writers have a mountain to climb
Ann O’Loughlin: my novels have tackled the forced illegal adoption of Irish children to the US, the incarceration of women in Irish asylums and those left behind after murder suicide
My name is Ann O’Loughlin and I write novels.
This is where you ask politely what sort of books I pen and I explain commercial fiction, in a genre publishers like to call women’s fiction.
If you are a woman, you will rattle off the names of your favourite female authors and there is no doubt the big names such as Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes will be top of that list.
If you are male, you may take a step back, make a comment about books for the girls or mention chick lit and pink covers.
All women writers face an uphill struggle to have their work recognised in the same way as their male counterparts, but for those of us writing bestselling commercial fiction, there is a mountain to trudge up every time.
So what exactly is women’s fiction?
Many loosely call it fiction written by women and for women. It is a very broad genre, but essentially these works all involve a story with a relationship at its heart. These books are for the most part, but not exclusively, written by female authors.
The relationships at the core of the novel can be of the sweeping family type or the romantic and because of that, women’s fiction can be regarded by some as not serious enough to be of interest to men.
To think so is a great injustice. Women’s fiction is about much more.
Yes, it is a genre that follows women on their life path, it brings us stories of real women leading ordinary lives, but coping with the extraordinary. It also brings us stories of women living extraordinary lives and also having to deal with the ordinary everyday slings and arrows.
Women’s fiction embraces themes that revolve around the home, family, and community and it asks that characters overcome staggering real-life challenges such as grief, separation, cancer, job loss and betrayal.
These are the stories real women sit around and talk about.The women in women’s fiction these days are not just role models, they are human. And neither are the readers of women’s fiction just looking for a happy ending, but one that is realistic and life-affirming.
Women’s lives matter and stories about women should matter too.
Serious issues are contained within the book covers of women’s fiction.
In the past, my novels have tackled issues such as the forced illegal adoption of Irish children to the US, the incarceration of women in Irish asylums in the past and those left behind after murder suicide.
At the heart of my latest novel, My Mother’s Daughter is a story about two children swopped at birth and the struggle of their mothers to come to terms with this, all these years later. It asks the question: what would you do if the baby you had created, the child you had named and raised was not yours at all, but an imposter who had hung his or her hat on the hook and climbed in to your heart. Where would your loyalty lie, to the child who had your family name or the child who was robbed of it?
It was exactly this dilemma that intrigued me and a case in France was the inspiration behind the novel and set me off on this quest to answer, whether nurture or nature prevails. This is the story of two women, their daughters, their families and their lives and how they overcome the terrible wrong inflicted on them in the past.
Now as My Mother’s Daughter launches in to the world, I am proud it will take its place on the book shelves alongside the greats of women’s fiction.
Women’s fiction has an important place in the book world, isn’t it about time, it got the recognition it deserves?
My books have been translated in to ten languages and are also available in the US and Australia, but one of my proudest moments was when a woman from Down Under made contact to tell me how life had beaten her down and she had given up reading, until a friend told her she had to read an O’Loughlin novel.
“Thanks to your book, The Ballroom Café , which a friend insisted I read, I have rediscovered the joy of reading. Please keep writing.”
That is the reason any writer continues to write and it is also the reason why all books are important and have earned their place on the shelf.
Call my books whatever you like, give them any old label, but as long as people , men and women want to read my novels, I will continue to write them.
My name is Ann O’Loughlin and I am proud to write women’s fiction.
Ann O’Loughlin’s fourth novel My Mother’s Daughter is published this month by Orion and will be launched at Dubray Books, Grafton Street on January 17th