I don’t understand the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

There, I said it.

In fact, it’s not just the Women’s Prize for Fiction, but any prize that splits competitors by parameters and specifics that have no bearing on their ability to produce the adjudged work. What does gender have to do with a persons ability to write? And should men and women be judged differently? This is what the prize says…

The BAILEYS Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded for the best novel of the year written by a woman of any nationality in the English language. Established in 1996, the prize was set up to celebrate excellence, originality and accessibility in writing by women throughout the world.

In sport men are women are typically separated on the grounds of males (usually) having a physical advantage, but when you remove the physical, men and women are equal. So how can a women only award be nothing more than patronising?

It’s a book prize, right? We should be judging the books, not who produces them. The author, in the nicest possible way, is totally irrelevant. You pick what matches your mood and tastes. It doesn’t matter whether the author is male/female gay/straight black/white or Marvin the bloody martian – a good story is a good story regardless of who wrote it.

When you see someone on a train, engrossed in a book, chewing their fingers and anxiously turning pages – it’s not because of who the author is – it’s because they are caught up with characters, plot, storyline – the bit they bought they bought the book for in the first place. I’m reasonably sure they didn’t walk into a Waterstones and say ‘Y’know, what? I’ve not read any literary fiction by ginger people under 5’6″ recently…I’ll have one of those.’

Another problem with these awards is that whilst they’ll group people by their physical/geographical/sexual likeness, they’ll invariably be assessing a mixed bag of work. For example, let’s say I hold a left-handed prize of fiction and compare the entries – I’ll have thrillers, horrors, comedies, romance, sci-fi etc. How the hell do I compare that? It’s like comparing butter with a submarine. It’s nonsensical. What exactly has the award achieved?

Some might say I’ve missed the point. Prizes get media attention and bring new writing to the fore. They give a platform, or in some cases a springboard, to under-represented voices. Surely that’s ok?

It is and it isn’t.

We should shout about good books. We shouldn’t be looking to bring divisions into one of the few fields in which everyone is equal. I don’t want to know about left-footed dog-owning writers. I just want to know about good writers with good stories…and selling a person before the story is wrong. The book is the focus. The book is all.

However…I may be a minority in thinking like this. JK Rowling apparently chose to name herself ‘JK’ rather than ‘Joanne’ because of fears a female name would put off boys. If true, that is tragically tragically sad. I chose Dot Gumbi because I wanted something short and snappy, but I’ve had some say ‘Dot Gumbi? People might think you’re a woman writing comedy…it will put them off’


The thought never crossed my mind…because I don’t look at authors I look at a stories. And until everyone does the same, we’re going to keep bringing attention to the thing that matters least – who the author is.

However, if we must split the literary world in this foolish way, here’s ten prizes I would like to see set up.

1. The monobrowed prize for fiction

2. The left-handed prize for fiction

3. The ‘I didn’t go to Oxbridge’ prize for fiction

4. The ‘I did go to Oxbridge’ prize for fiction

4. The ‘formerly ginger but now bald’ prize for fiction

5. The ‘I live in a semi-detached house with a south-facing garden’ prize for fiction

6. The ‘People with a C in Home Economics’ prize for fiction

7. The ‘I passed my driving test first time’ prize for fiction

8. The ‘People who weigh more than 20stone’ prize for fiction

9. The ‘I’ve ridden on the front of Nemesis at Alton Towers’ prize for fiction

10. The ‘When playing monopoly I play as the old boot but I still lose’ prize for fiction.

See…it’s a nonsense.





  1. Please tell me that the left handed prize for fiction is a left handed screwdriver, I would definitely enter that.

  2. A lot of people on The Guardian website agree with you (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/04/eimear-mcbride-baileys-womens-prize-for-fiction) http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/36583209, http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/36595699 – encouraging segregation is ridiculous and we only set equality back if we allow it to continue. Equal rights and equal prizes for all!
    However, one person points out that, even in fiction, although the readers may not care if you are male or female, the people giving out the prizes probably do http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/36597851, in which case it makes sense to address the imbalance and let women writers get some of the glory they deserve. It’s a good point, but I feel the imbalance will never right itself as long as women separate themselves from men. If we acknowledge that the playing field ought to be an even one and stand up for ourselves when we’re wronged, we’re more likely to gain respect. Well done, Dot Gumbi, for calling the gender divide ‘silly’.

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