On Tuesday evening, a little bit of literary history was made. 28-year-old Eleanor Catton scooped the prestigious Booker Prize for her second novel The Luminaries.
The result was only a slight surprise. There was no Bring up the Bodies-esque front-runner. Jim Crace was the favourite with the bookies, but not a head and shoulders one. The Luminaries was always going to be a decent dark horse choice, and many had a feeling Catton would sneak in under the radar.
One common myth is that, once you’re a published author, you’re rich for life. That’s not true in most cases: for every JK Rowling there’s thousands of published authors you’ve never heard of. But winning the Booker does thrust an author in to the limelight, and one of the benefits of being thrust in to the limelight is that people are now rather interested in what you have to say.
In an interview with the Guardian, twelve hours after she won the Booker, Eleanor had something to say about how female writers are treated, and people will listen to her in a way they almost certainly wouldn’t have done had she not triumphed on Tuesday evening.
“I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she said. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are.”
Does she have a point? She goes on in the interview to also point out how her novel was scoffed at by men over the age of 45. The suggestion being that she was a young upstart who, at the age of 28, couldn’t possibly be taken seriously as a novelist capable of writing a book of outstanding literary merit, certainly not worthy of being shortlisted for a prize as important as the Booker.
It would seem that certain old habits of the literary establishment, with their prejudices, die hard. Whilst there are certainly successful female authors in the world, there is a general sense that perhaps they’re not getting the respect they deserve for it.
Whether you agree with this or not, this serves as a timely reminder that, as much progress has been made over the years, this issue will not disappear overnight. That it still is something that needs to be discussed speaks for itself: if male and female authors were truly equal, the gender of an author would not be considered at all.
So how do we change this state of affairs? Can we change this state of affairs? The answer, as it does with so many things, lies with you.