CONVENTIONAL wisdom says that men don't read books by women. Now, it's a fact that conventional wisdom is wrong about almost everything. Conventional wisdom is a bloke droning on in a pub, giving you lists of facts when you'd rather have, you know, a conversation. Conventional wisdom will also tell you that men don't talk about emotions or feelings which is certainly not true of the men I know. Though we like to do it with a pool cue in our hands. Or some darts. In other words we like to MULTI-TASK as we do it.
So I don't know if men are reluctant to read books by women or not. I think a lot of men are reluctant to read full stop. But I do know that I, personally, honestly don't think about the sex of the author when I pick up a book. I've just checked and the last five books I've read are all by women... Anyway, in honour of the not-the-orange prize, the new WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR LITERATURE, I thought I'd do some interviews with great contemporary women novelists - or novelists who happen to be women...
And first up is JESS RICHARDS. Jess was on the Costa Shortlist for First Novel and her book is an unsettling fairy tale about healing and loss that challenges the reader through having two unreliable narrators who also bend language in inventive ways. It's an intricate and eerie book. Daring too. A book that pushes at boundaries and is, genuinely, a book that has extended the idea of what is possible in modern fiction. But don't think it's not an accessible read, because it is. Every line is imbued with the very essence of story-telling...
Can I have your autobiography in EXACTLY 50 words (not 51, not 49)?
Jess Richards was born in Wales (1972), and grew up too fast in Scotland watching the ferry boats going to Northern Ireland. She left home at 17 and after getting an education, moved to Brighton aged 23 where she has grown up a bit slower, and has lived ever since.
Why should people read Snake Ropes?
Because curiosity is a wonderful thing. It kills cats, apparently. And yet they take the risk so it must be worth it. There are already many amazing books in the world. If people weren't curious, no new writers would ever have their novels published. My novels aren't based on what or who I know. They're from an overly vivid imagination, and from a childhood spent inhabiting fairytales, which is where my own curiosity comes from.
What is your most pressing concern right this minute?
That I've just lied to someone so I can keep writing today, instead of going out to meet them. I'm wondering if lies are always wrong... if lies are more wrong when they're spoken aloud, or if texted lies don't count. I'm also wondering what would have happened if I'd just told the truth.
How is being a woman who writes different from being a man who writes?
I'm aware from recent tweets, eavesdropping on conversations, and asking questions, that not many men seem to read women's writing. That said, quite a few men who have read my 'very female' book, Snake Ropes, have really enjoyed it, and taken the time to tell me so. Which makes me think that more men should read women's writing in general. Often if I tell a stranger I'm a writer, one, if not the first thing they ask is: 'do you have any children?' I'm not sure if male writers get these kinds of question, or in truth, what this question really has to do with writing.
Who - in life or writing - do you most admire?
I admire pirates for their boldness and fashion-sense, spiders for the engineering within their webs, anyone who has survived a personal tragedy and stayed alive, and in particular, people who find their own dream and follow it relentlessly. Which includes many writers (who aren't necessarily pirates or spiders but are often survivors).
Why do we need a Women's Prize for Literature?
Why wouldn't we? Women's voices still aren't heard as much or as loudly as men's and there is still inequality in many cultures, including the UK. There's a real tendency to think that with political correctness and an awareness of diversity, we can disregard any kind of difference within our society. But disregarding anything means we don't listen to it. I'm more interested in people's personal stories and genuine experiences. Equality is an ideal, based on how we think we should behave towards one another, but ideals never exist in reality. That said, I'd be interested to see a men's prize for literature as well. And also a transsexual prize for literature. The great thing about prizes is that they make people aware of writers they'd not necessarily have heard of, or wouldn't usually read. Men read more male writers, perhaps women read more female writers, I would like to read more transsexual writers. Either way, a prize to draw attention to good books is never a bad thing, surely.
Would you eat a mucky fat sandwich?
No, never. That's foul.
What is the next book about?
My second book is about to be published - by Sceptre, on April the 25th, 2013. It's called Cooking with Bones and is an adult fairytale. It's about two sisters, Maya and Amber, who leave an oppressive futuristic city. Maya is a formwanderer, which means that people see what they want, when they look at her. They arrive in a deserted cottage where a recipe book and list of instructions await them. Kip is the only child in the nearby village who goes to and from the cottage, collecting the honey cakes Amber bakes, and bringing ingredients to them. Staying hidden, Amber feels she has finally found the home and life she wants. Maya has no identity she can cling to. When a brutal act of violence is committed in the kitchen of their cottage, they have more than themselves to hide.
If you could be anywhere right now, it would be....?
Up a mountain with a panoramic view, nowhere to shelter, and a storm coming in.
Tell me something I don't know...
In a diagram of a flame, the main part of the flame is called the 'luminous zone'. Oh, and crows have cleverer eyes than humans, because they can see an additional primary colour that we can't.
Snake Ropes and Cooking With Bones are published by Sceptre and available in all the usual places. You know what to do.