Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and studied visual communication and African and Asian Modern History before moving to Paris.
She worked in an embassy in pre-war Mogadishu and later lived in Accra, Ghana, where she co-managed a bar and art gallery. She moved to Italy ten years ago, where her jobs have included translating welding manuals and modelling shoes.
Catherine is the author of the erotic comedy The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy (Indigo Dreams Publishing) and wrote the children’s book Nii Kwei’s Day (Frances Lincoln Publishing).
Pelt and Other Stories was a semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize and was long listed for The Frank O'Connor Prize.
Pelt and Other Stories by Catherine McNamara, her debut collection, is a very powerful, thoroughly captivating collection of stories most of which center on the post colonial world of central coastal West Africa. The subtlies and levels of irony in these stories show a very great insight into how cross cultural encounters impact all parties. The people in the stories range from European hotel owners in Ghana, famous art photographers, mistresses of Europeans, drivers, and village people. The stories are mostly but not all set in West Africa. One is set in the very worldly city of Sydney, some in Italy. . The stories are miniature marvels in showing us the manifestation of orientalizing of the African not just by Europeans and Americans but by returned citizens. The stories show us how hard it is to return home unchanged. These stories are not about ignorant hateful prejudice. McNamara is too knowing and intelligent for that. They are about the very great difficulties of escaping from our deep conditioning, our unseen frames of reference. The stories are also fun to read. Lots of interesting things happen, there is some sex, women eyeballing each other, and a strong sense of humor.
I am very happy and honored that Catherine McNamara has agreed to do a Q and A Session on The Reading Life.
A. Can you tell us a bit about your writing routine. Do you typically set aside a certain period to write, always write in same place, do you listen to music while you write, do you need solitude to write?
I have to drive a child to the bus stop at 6.30am so on a good day I’m at the computer at 7am. If I’m writing a new story I’ll work solid until 2pm when he comes home. I work at my desk in my office downstairs, with occasionally breaks for coffee or a moment in the garden. I can’t listen to music, though sometimes I’ll hop up and play the piano. The house is empty then so very quiet. In the afternoon I revise my new text and maybe blog or do correspondence.
B. If you could give your eighteen-year-old self one suggestion, what would it be?
Do it all again but work harder.
C. " in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights. Classic criticism has never paid any attention to the reader; for it, the writer is the only person in literature. We are now beginning to let ourselves be fooled no longer by the arrogant anti-phrastical recriminations of good society in favour of the very thing it sets aside, ignores, smothers, or destroys; we know that to give writing its future, it is necessary to overthrow the myth: the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author."
What is your reaction to these very famous lines from "The Death of the Author" by Roland Barthes?
Very thought-provoking words – even after all these decades! I agree that the presence or handiwork of the author should not be felt so in a sense this does signify a death or annihilation. Though I do think that when one writes, the first adjudicator is always the author, and he or she must find belief and conviction to address to task at hand. This is an intimate and finite process, at the end of which the product or work must be surrendered to the reader and this validity must be transferred.
D. UNCHARTED LIVES is a fascinating study by gay psychotherapist Stanley Siegel and straight Newsday columnist Ed Lowe Jr. The text is a mass analysis of how gay men develop through the eight male life passages from 'pre-emergence' to 'mentoring'’. The book is the result of numerous interviews and research. This data is balanced with Siegel's own dramatic mid-life coming-out story.
When asked why such a seemingly disproportionate number of creative men are gay this was Siegel's response-
"I think that because gay men live in a society that is hostile to them, because they are oppressed, have few role models, and in most cases have no legal rights or institutions that support and honour us we became extraordinarily inventive in the ways we live our lives. The process of become gay, of accepting one's sexuality, is a process of living an extremely original life. The apparatus of a creative life begins early, when we feel we are different in some way but have no language to explain the difference. Young gay boys feel that almost always and consequently they often isolate themselves or are isolated by the outside world. Isolation presents a creative world. Sometimes in fantasy we deal with separation by becoming highly productive - drawing, writing, creating. Usually this stays with the person the rest of their life and is only enhanced by the challenges they meet later on."
My question is do you think he is onto something? Is the creativity of Gay men derivative from growing up without role models, from having to create a sense of self?
I don’t think there is any lack of role models for contemporary Western gay men because so many barriers and prejudices have been knocked down, although they still exist – and harshly so – in many countries of the world. I’ve always been drawn to gay male writers because so many, having lived through these changing times, explore concepts of isolation and alienation with great power and sensitivity, rendering the experience valid for all readers. Somehow, though I’m not gay, I identified with Patrick White’s view of Australian colonial society (Voss) and that of the 1960s Sydney (The Vivisector) as a younger reader. I’m also constantly drawn to Edmund White’s work, possibly because of his fearless examination of sexuality, context and creativity.
E. "It is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art" - from "Against Interpetation" by Susan Sontag
As a writer, how do you feel when people interpret your work, attribute meaning to it?, see things in it you never thought about?
Who is your ideal reader?
Great quote. Once I’m through with the work for me it’s out there on its own, so I’m no longer attached to it in the same way. It’s been odd occasionally to have readers find themes that I hadn’t even thought about, it can be disturbing to have your content re-interpreted!
My ideal reader is someone who is curious, who reads because they are passionate about words, about history, about stories.
F. It seems more and more writers have MAs in creative writing, some PhDs. Education is a great thing but is there a negative side to this, will it produce in few years a literary culture where lacking this degree will make it hard to get published? Is it homogenising writing styles? Will the day of the amateur writer who comes from nowhere and changes everything be over because of this? Does it give you pause to know the University of Iowa M A in writing scholarships for students from outside the USA, were for years funded by the C. I. A?
I’ve read some criticism concerning of the homogenisation of writing styles resulting from too many MAs in creative writing, but it did sound slightly bitter. I think each to his own. Academic study definitely provides structure and literary background, contacts and more tangible goals. And a stimulating environment for talent to thrive. I don’t think it is suited to everyone however, as often the writerly soul is in essence isolated and contro-corrente. And yet it is very hard to wing it. It is hard to have work read, it’s hard to completely deviate from market forces and trends (n.b. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing). It might also take years to refine technical bad habits that might have been ironed out through mentorship or study. However I still – call me old-fashioned – believe that originality and talent will be recognised and published, but almost all cases I do think that everybody’s battle will be uphill.
g. Where can we find you online?
http://peltandotherstories.blogspot.com – reflections about writing, short story writing, issues; with news about my short story collection ‘Pelt and Other Stories’, published last year
http://thedivorcedladyscompaniontoitaly.blogspot.com – reflections about living in Italy, with references to my first novel, the erotic comedy ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’
I. What are some of your nonliterary interests?
I am Australian and quite sporty – I enjoy swimming, free-heel skiing. I also play classical piano and do a lot of gardening in the summertime. I hope to be organising writers’ retreats in the near future at my home in Italy.
J. Please tell us something about your recent publications and/or works in progress.
I am currently finishing a second short story collection set in Europe, Australia and Ghana, dealing with love and its fallout. One of the stories ‘The Sneeze’ won 1st prize in the Global Short Story Competition and another ‘Magaly Park’ was a shortlisted finalist and has won a Ruby Award and will be published in Labello Press’ Gem Street Anthology in July. Another story ‘Enfolded’ won a merit scholarship for the Summer Literary Seminar in Kenya in December which I may attend.
1. How and when did you begin to write?
I began to write as a teenager when I was very swept up by nearly everything that I read. I published my first short stories in Australian Short Stories in the 80s and my story ‘Elton John’s Mother’ was included in their anthology ‘Fabulous at Fifty’. When I moved to Europe I started publishing in British literary magazines, however when I went to live in Africa I went back to work and produced children!
2. How impacted is your creativity by the cycles of the seasons?
I live in northern Italy and my area is very foggy in winter. For me, this is great for writing. I almost look forward to winter because I know it will be a productive period. Summer is tougher because of school holidays and the heat.
3. Who are some of your favourite contemporary short story writers, poets or novelists? What classic writers do you find yourself drawn to reread. If a neophyte writer in your primary focus were to ask you who to read, what might you suggest?
Recently, I’ve enjoyed reading the stories of Nam Le, Cate Kennedy, James Salter, Sarah Hall, Jon McGregor, Adam Marek, Rowena MacDonald, Vanessa Gebbie, Paul McVeigh (I listened to that one), A.L. Kennedy, Alison Lock, Rachel Fenton, Junot Diaz, Justin Torres, Kevin Barry.. gosh there are so many!
The classical writers I am drawn to reread include Joseph Conrad (my favourite), Patrick White, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, John Donne, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marguerite Yourcenar (another favourite), Marguerite Duras.
4. Frank O'Connor in The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story said short stories seem to be about marginalized people, the lonely, those with little voice in society. Do you think he is on to something illuminating about the format? Why is there so much loneliness in the short story?
Great question and I think I have to read this text! I have often asked myself this with regard to my own work. Are my characterised too marginalised? Am I giving the obvious person a voice? And yet so many of my characters are apart, or are exploring their lives from the hinterlands of society. I think the form does suit such solitary, searching exploration, given its intensity and the desire to reveal or highlight a distinct passage in the life of those whose story it tells.
5. I sometimes wonder why such a disproportionate amount of the regarded as great literature of the world is written in the colder temperate zones rather than in the tropics. How big a factor do you think the Irish Weather is in shaping the literary output of its writers.? I cannot imagine The Brothers Karamazov being written on tropical island, for example.
I also prefer cold weather for writing and once read that Einstein said that the human brain functions best at 15 degrees (my office is less than that in winter!). However I don’t think that is a fair comment. I agree, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ written in Bali doesn’t feel right, but there are many writers in tropical and sub-tropical climates who have produced major works. Patrick White’s Voss, The Vivisector; Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap; Ngugi wa Thion’go’s The Devil on the Cross; Ken Saro-wiwa’s brilliant Sozaboy, the works of Chinua Achebe, Ama Ato Aidoo, Nuriddin Farah, Naguib Mahfouz. There is a different temperament, but no less valid with regard to the human condition.
6. Many cultures are permeated with references to seemingly supernatural creatures, some kind some malevolent. Do you feel any sense of these entities in the world you look out on in your daily life or in your writings? Do you sense a continuity between the natural and supernatural worlds. Is a belief in the supernatural just escapism and wishful thinking? Is the believe in occult systems the refuge of the powerless?
I don’t really have an answer to this with regard to my writing, but when I lived in Ghana I felt that the force of juju was constant and deeply embedded in local culture. There was definitely a continuity between natural and supernatural worlds and sometimes these forces were called upon in an opportunistic way. I used one experience in my story ‘Infection’ which appeared in Wasafiri Review and is in Pelt – a girl dying from AIDS is supposed to have been cursed by evil juju rather than through sexual transmission. These forces have a frightening hold over people – not escapism but rather a part of the fabric of local life.
7. These are loaded question coming from me, but with the decline of print reviews, are book blogs becoming more important? Professional critics have denigrated book bloggers as reviewers without credentials, book bloggers have replied professional reviewers just don't like bloggers doing for free what they ask money for doing? Reviewers do it for money, bloggers for love. What is your reaction to this? Do you join book tours or send bulk mailings out asking for reviews?
Certainly it is impossible to have a small press book reviewed in a national newspaper so I am grateful to the book bloggers who have taken the time to review my books (including yourself Mel!). I’ve also heard professional reviewers rubbish said reviews, and have read a range of both brilliant or badly-written blog reviews of books. It’s a bit of a lottery out there but publicity is paramount.
I organised my own blog tours and some appearances when my books came out. This is very time-consuming but can be very rewarding. Friends who work with big publishers have all spoken of great disappointment in their publicity departments so I think it may be more beneficial to knuckle down and tinker away yourself. It’s possible to make a lot of noise in the blogosphere and hook up with many other authors in the same boat. I have found a wonderful amount of generosity and goodwill out there.
8. When you write, do you picture and audience or do you just write?
I confess I just write. Once I have a story in my head I just want to get to the bottom of it. I feel that if am excited and transported, then hopefully that will transfer. I am constantly asking myself however: Does anybody care about reading this? Is there any point in writing this? I won’t go ahead with a story unless it really really convinces me it should be written. On top of that my belief will probably fall through the bottom of the bag afterwards.
9. Assuming this applies to you, how do you get past creative "dry spells", periods when you have a hard time coming up with ideas or when things seem futile?
Ahh! When things seem futile! When I find myself drowning in either of these states I’ll drive off to the mountains and go hiking or skiing. I’ll also swim every day, jog myself senseless, and clean the house top to bottom. Keep busy. Also drink good wine and go out with people who don’t have creative hang-ups!
10. If someone says to you, "I prefer to live life, not just read about it" what is your reaction inside? (Besides cringing!)
That’s fine, but often what goes into the writing has involved quite a lot of living beforehand. Otherwise where do stories come from?
11. What are the last three novels you read? Last three movies? Do you have any favourite TV shows? Are there literary works you find reverberate in your mind in happy or in dark times?
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard, The Emperor by Ricard Kapuchinski, The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy
I don’t go to the cinema because everything is dubbed into Italian and it drives me nuts. I saw Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke on TV the other night. I don’t have any favourite TV shows!
In dark times I’ll go darker by reading T.S. Eliot. When I’m feeling lighter I’ll read John Donne. Pablo Neruda. Verlaine. I love poetry.
12. William Butler Yeats said in "The Literary Movement"-- "“The popular poetry of England celebrates her victories, but the popular poetry of Ireland remembers only defeats and defeated persons.” I see a similarity of this to the heroes of the Philippines. American heroes were all victors, they won wars and achieved independence. The national heroes of the Philippines were almost all ultimately failures, most executed by Spanish or American Rulers.. How has the fact Yeats is alluding too, assuming you agree, shaped Irish literature? In America it seems somehow the best short stories writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers, all writers admired by Irish authors, had their sensibilites shaped by the defeat of the south in the American Civil War. Feel free to apply this to your heritage.
I would agree that there is a strong tradition of supporting the underdog – the loser – in many Australian literary works. The short stories of Henry Lawson and Barbara Baynton were all hard luck stories that break your heart. Perhaps we have an element of Irish defeatism, mixed with the shame of having decimated the original people of our continent. Heroes are not really celebrated in Australian literature, I don’t think – but I’ve been away for a long time.
13. If you could live anywhere in the past for six months, or forever, and be rich and safe, where would you pick and why?
Paris, any époque, except for the time of the Comune. I used to live there years ago, fell in love with it. It just won’t leave me. I could also drift to Corsica or hideaway in the Dolomites.
14. Amazon - as a reader I like it a lot- but is it a monster slowly taking down small publishers and independent book stores, controlling what books succeed? Is it bad for authors?
I also use Amazon to order English books and I do like to receive old library hardbacks and give them a second life. That’s one positive thing, no? But as an author it doesn’t help me at all. My publisher advised me to urge readers to buy directly from the publishing house rather than Amazon – otherwise I get zilch! – but it feels too pushy to tell readers where to buy your book.
15. Are you open to email, Facebook or Twitter, contact with your readers or do you fear stalkers or don't want to be bothered?
I’ll reply to polite emails and have met up with quite a few writers/bloggers who follow my blogs – mainly in Venice where people seem to pass by. It’s been great. I’ve only had a cruel message once, but then I wrote a blog post about trolls without revealing the person’s name (he belongs to a big FB group I am a part of) and that seemed to do the trick. Then I badmouthed him privately to everyone I could think of. Time-consuming and I wouldn’t bother again. I’m on Twitter (@catinitaly) but don’t have the time for it.
16. A while ago I read and posted on a long biography of Hart Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many known of his life style as one of the first Gay poets living out a life of rough trade and wealthy older benefactors-he lived a very chaotic life and died young from suicide by jumping off a cruise ship. His father invented Life Saver Candy and wanted Hart to go in the Candy business with him-so if Hart had done this and died at 75 rich living in Ohio fat, bald and married would he still be even much thought about let alone read? One of the most referenced poets by Irish writers last year was Arthur Rimbaud who likewise had a short and chaotic life. Does a poet need or naturally tend to a chaotic life? Why so much seeming admiration for writers like Jack Kerouac and others who died way to young from alcohol abuse? If Ezra Pound had not gone mad, would he still be a role model for the contemporary poet? (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.). Some of this may just be a story about a poet with a stable marriage, a job and no substance issues may seem dull compared to wilder lives.
I think it’s each to his own again. Your comment makes me think of a poem Grace Paley wrote towards the end of her rich writing life about her old husband fixing the garden tap and it was really about their decades of life together. It was beautiful, suffused with love and steadiness. But then I think of James Baldwin’s characters in Giovanni’s Room – their hard and aching lives – and I find this is relevant and beautiful too. Certainly there is a bright burning flare before some creative people end their short lives (Keats, Dylan, Rimbaud), but there are as many writers with long learning curves and messages that are just as resonant.
17. Is a certain amount of suffering good for a writer?
Well, I don’t give a damn about writing if I am gloriously happy! Too much like hard work. But then when I am tortured and sad I know I can harness that energy and make something out of it. Yes, I know I need to suffer a little, and have done.
18. Have you attended creative writing workshops and if you have share your experiences a bit please.
No, I haven’t attended any workshops. I work in silence and alone and I think I would be daunted if I had to show my work. Though I love working with a good editor!
19. Make up a question and answer it please.
Cat, if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I would be a back-up singer with big hair in a soul group.
20. Not long ago I was sent several very hostile messages from Irish writers demanding to know why I had posted on the works of other writers and not them. Some suggested I had been influenced by some sort of shadowy group to ignore their work. I was informed there is a small elite group who decides who gets reviewed, published or receives grants and it was also suggested they had sent me negative feedback on writers I should ignore. What is mentally behind this? Is there anything like a Literary Mafia within your area?
Well, living in Italy I know there is the mafia in every corner of society! But I work mostly in the UK and am not present there enough to sense these things. I’ve heard that those who are reviewed are usually friends or offspring of friends but I also think this is bad eggs talking. Better to just find another avenue and get on with it.
21. One of the characters in Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, set in Mexico city and centring on poets, says that the main reason poets, nearly all male in Bolano's book, read at work shops is to meet the way disproportional number of women who come to them in search of a tortured soul to nourish. Is there truth in this? Why are attendees preponderantly female, or is that not true? Male writers, have you ever used the "troubled artist who feels too much" routine on women? Ladies, does this persona have an appeal to you?
Having lived with a creative soul for five years I realise that these people (I include myself) often bleed you dry and your own work vanishes to dust. But hey, it’s useful story fodder for afterwards.
22. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non literary work experience please. Tell us something about your educational background
I’ve worked as an embassy secretary, a shoe model; I’ve co-run a bar and art gallery, even a small advertising agency; I’ve translated welding manuals and hiking signs for a WWI eco-museum in northern Italy. I studied graphic design in art college, and then history and French at university.
23. Who are three dead or living writers you would like to do a q and a session with?
T. Coraghesson Boyle
24. Quick Pick Questions
A. tablets or laptops or smart phones? All. I am hooked.
B. E readers or traditional books? Books
C. American Fast Food- love it, hate it, or once and a while? I’d rather starve.
D. Cats or dogs? Both!
E. best city to inspire a writer- Paris, London, Dublin, or? Paris. Or Ouagadougou. Or Addis Abeba.
F. Walt Whitman or Willam Butler Yeats? Yeats
G. Roberto Bolano or Gabriel Cruz Marquez ? Marquez
K. Winter or Summer? Day or Night? I thrive on all of these.
I. Would you rather witness opening night for Waiting for Godot, King Lear, Playboy of the Western World or Ubo Roi? King Lear
25. How important is it to you to have readers? Does it matter?
Yes, it does matter now. Maybe in the past I know I needed to improve and mature. But now that I have published I’d like the books to be read a little. I don’t expect them to be bestsellers I think we all need a tiny bit of affirmation.
26. From Paris Review Interview with Alberto Moravio in which he was asked to talk about the state of the Italian novel-
"That’s a pretty large question, isn’t it? But I’ll try to answer. I think one could say that Italy has had the novel, way back. When the bourgeois was really bourgeois, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, narrative was fully developed (remember that all that painting was narrative too) but since the Counter-Reformation, Italian society doesn’t like to look at itself in a mirror. The main bulk of narrative literature is, after all, criticism in one form or another. In Italy when they say something is beautiful that’s the last word: Italians prefer beauty to truth. The art of the novel, too, is connected with the growth and development of the European bourgeoisie. Italy hasn’t yet achieved a modern bourgeoisie. Italy is really a very old country; in some ways it looks new because it’s so old. Culturally, now, it follows the rest of Europe: does what the others do, but later. Another thing—in our literary history, there are great writers—titans—but no middle-sized ones. Petrarch wrote in the fourteenth century, then for four centuries everybody imitated him. Boccaccio completely exhausted the possibilities of the Italian short story in the fourteenth century. Our golden centuries were then, our literary language existed then, had crystallized. England and France had their golden centuries much later. Take, for example, Dante. Dante wrote a pure Italian, is still perfectly understandable. But his contemporary Chaucer wrote in a developing tongue: today he must be practically translated for the modern reader. That’s why most modern Italian writers are not very Italian, and must look abroad for their masters: because their tradition is so far back there, is really medieval. In the last ten years, they’ve looked to America for their masters."
My question is designed to draw responses - it seems literary cultures are strongly impacted by continuity. The literary culture of American seems to have much more shallow roots, to assume a less cultured audience. Contrasting Indian literature, which has older roots than any other culture, it seems to really begin about 1920. The continuity of Indian literature was destroyed by the British rule and writers at first had to use English formats. So what is a very old culture, has a shallowly rooted literary tradition less than 100 years old. Something similar happened in Ireland which has a new literary culture on top of cut off old roots? Question is just react to this, is it nuts or onto something about the differences in literary culture.
I think Moravia’s statement is favoloso! Absolutely brilliant. (Especially as I’ve just seen Bertolucci’s 1970 film of his novel Il Conformista) And it is so true. Boccaccio is still delightful to read today. All Italian children study Dante and I think it still resounds in contemporary culture, in a way that Chaucer does not. In this country there is a strong sense of continuity, made possible by the peninsula’s isolated linguistic development.
27. How important is social media in the development of the career of writers? Do you have your own web page and if so why? Do you think it is good business savvy to post free samples of your work online? Can you estimate how many hours a week you are online?
I still don’t have my own web page and it’s on the cards. I’ve enjoyed building up a blog following and learning how to present myself to a reading public. I think it’s part of the job these days. I don’t do social media every day – I can’t! – but if I do a session it will be an hour or so. I’d rather be writing or escaping the screen.
30. Reading Paul's response to one of my questions, I thought of a new question I wanted to ask. I know this is kind of a rambling question, it is designed to draw a similar styled response.
Readers do read within a tradition, seeing works as part of a great conversation, part of a hopefully ever deeper culture, writers see themselves as starting from ground zero, without a conscious relation to a tradition. Also readers or especially reviewers, I am not a reviewer- I just post stuff- put a limit on a writer’s work when they talk about it or find meaning in it, thus breaking the writer’s sense of pure creation. A writer might well truthfully say, "I just write", but you cannot really just read.
Is there a built-in divide between writers and readers? Is this is what the resistance to interpretation is at least in part about?
I think that writers do work within a tradition – even when this is not conscious. It’s almost impossible to step outside of our framework. I don’t think that any creation is ‘pure’, and all ideas have been expressed before, many times over. What can be original and exciting is a cross-pollination of ideas and even art forms – when the unexpected occurs.
There is a divide between writers and readers, but I wouldn’t call it built-in or even rigorous. I think the meaning of the work should toll in a similar way for both. The act of writing is an act of clarification and delivery, so in some way this divide is bridged when the reader absorbs the writer’s message and is perhaps changed or enlightened – as perhaps the writer was while creating the work.
I not sure I would call the ‘resistance to interpretation’ a part of this perceived ‘divide’. It could simply be a writer’s way of shielding him or herself from criticism. Or perhaps he or she has not completely stepped back from the work.
32. Is the notion that someone is a writer of "Women's" literature just one step above calling their work chic lit? Statistics show that women read much more fiction then men, why is this so? Is it patronizing to refer to a work as a great work of literature by a woman, a gay, a person of colour as no one ever seems to say War and Peace is a great white men's work?
I think ‘chick lit’ is a purely commercial title within the romance category and I don’t have a problem with that. But I am less happy with the ‘women’s literature’ category designating a broad range of books by and supposedly for women. Yes, it can be patronising. For where are the ‘men’s literature’ books on the shelves? I am also stymied when I see books coded by gender or race – this really makes me squirm. I’d be happier seeing books classified as literary fiction or commercial fiction, a definition I have used for my own work.
33. If you found out that a favourite writer of yours was grossly bigoted would you lose interest in them?
I would find it hard not to be affected by this and would probably reverse my opinion!
I offer my great thanks to Catherine for providing us with such interesting and well considered responses. I hope to read much more of her work.