Wrapped Up In Books #14: diversity in publishing, Helen Lederer’s Comedy Women In Print and zines

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Wrapped Up In Books – Cath Holland’s Getintothis Book Column

From women in print to the latest in zine culture, GetintothisCath Holland with her latest book column. 

Diversity is a buzzword which brings with it lots of frantic nodding about how yes, we all need to encourage that, ‘whatever the hell it means’.

Or there are mutterings around how about giving the opportunity to the best person for the job, whether black, white, purple with yellow dots.

The problem with the latter is, get to the doctor if you’ve turned multi-colour, and secondly without incorporating diversity into what is given exposure or opportunity, the best person for the job is typically white, a biological male and more often than not, of the chattering classes.

So come on folks let’s rock, and throw this thing open.

In this month’s Wrapped Up In Books, Helen Lederer founder of Comedy Women In Print talks to me about the uneven playing field for women in publishing.

There’s also news about a literary agent offering opportunities for those under-represented in the industry, plus World Book Night which aims to get lapsed or non readers to enjoy the pleasures of books.

COMEDY WOMEN IN PRINT 2020

Helen Lederer’s career as comedian, actor and writer has seen her remain a household name for thirty plus years.

Last year the star of Absolutely Fabulous and French and Saunders added another string to her considerable bow by launching Comedy Women in Print (CWIP) a new annual prize highlighting not only established funny female authors in UK and Ireland, but importantly new unpublished talent.

With cash prizes, a publishing deal and more up for grabs along with an annual Lifetime Achievement award – won in 2019 by Jilly CooperCWIP made a massive splash in its first year.

But it was only when she met up with Kirsty Eyre winner of the 2019 unpublished prize at the offices of publisher Harper Collins, and staff came to discuss Eyre’s book cover it dawned on her what the prize could achieve in real practical terms.

‘And (Kirsty) is the first to say this but without CWIP – no disrespect to anyone’s talent – but I know it has created career paths for women and opportunities for witty women to work in the industry that was the whole point,’ says Helen.

Helen acknowledges rhe fatigue related to campaigns for women’s equality, with women’s only prizes and awards come the inevitable, weary complaints.

‘I know it’s not fashionable to bang on about lack of equality and how women aren’t treated the same as men. I understand that can be tiresome on the ear but on the other hand it’s still true in so many ways.’

Year two of the Prize throws up challenges because the project is no longer new. The novelty is no longer there but the need for it remains. Helen recalls emerging at a time when only a limited of funny women were permitted a voice, too many seen as replicating.

‘My thing is, men don’t have to go through any of those hoops there can be as many good, bad and indifferent male funny writers but with women there just aren’t that opportunity.’

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So, the Prize expands in 2020 into the field of graphic novels. The idea came from attending the Political Cartoon Awards a few years ago and hearing ‘noise’ about female cartoonists not getting air space.

Humourous graphic novels is a mouthful she jokes, but ‘for the integrity of CWIP it has got to be where it is most needed. We have to go there first because that’s not been done.’

‘We’d have got more business if you like if we’d gone to biographies or short films…. something for the future.’

‘There’s a need to shine a light on…women witty fiction writers. They’re not being published and why is that? And why are they not winning prizes? Why is there no visibility and then everybody said it was a good idea. In fact the only person who said it was a bad idea was a literary agent, she said I don’t think you can have a prize because here’s aren’t enough funny fiction female books out there and I thought, “that’s why we’re doing the prize”.’

Your point’s been proved.

‘Exactly, exactly. I’ve noticed the PG Wodehouse prize last year had 3 or 4 women finalists for the first time and I know we have changed the literary canvas.’

And yet, the myth still persist that women can’t be funny. Or if they are, it has to be linked to a personal experience somehow. Because we can’t possibly made shit up, can we?

There has to be an emotional connection, especially around sex.

‘A variation of that is that women can only be funny if they couch it in a romantic setting,’ she says, proudly citing that recipients of the first prize set the action on a a dairy farm, another had secret agents in their book.

‘Humour is so diverse it doesn’t have to be couched on first person narration or tragedy to have impact. It’s creating a level playing field.’

‘Your point about why women aren’t funny that will always be there. Why is the earth round, humour is the last bastion of really how to understand the process. Who’s to say what is funny?  Whether it’s a man or a woman I think recognition is quite fleeting and varies from person to person.

For me, humour is where you recognize something there is a dfference in perhaps how women deliver content. Traditionally we’re more anecdotal, neighbours in a community, making sure people are getting on. Women have become more audacious, confident, assertive (but) people are alarmed by original women because they don’t know what to do with them.’

Involved in the Prize are the aforementioned Harper Fiction who offer a book deal as part of the Unpublished strand, the University of Hertfordshire offer a place on a MA, and Helen is especially pleased author Marian Keyes is a champion of the entire project.

Marian coming on board was a ‘game changer’, she says.

The author of This Charming Man, The Break and the Walsh family novels which cleverly combine humour with gritty experiences around mental health, domestic violence, alcoholism, and abortion wrote an article about the lack of women nominated for the PG Wodehouse Prize, including Keyes herself.

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‘I knew she’d be a kindred spirit and she’d want to support this and my God has she supported it. I don’t know what I’d have done without her. ‘

‘There’s so much scope for CWIP. We need to keep that integrity that standard but I wanted to create a club I suppose where people were nice. Having been excluded from so many groups the last 30 years of my career, where people weren’t nice I’m making sure that everything is nice.’

Helen laughs.

‘Only nice people need apply.’

Applications for the Comedy Women In Print prize close on 2 March 2020. More info here.

Zine reading: Daryl Gussin and Donna Ramone – Razorcake magazine

Lovelocks Coffee Shop, Liverpool. 25 January, 2-6pm.

Daryl Gussin and Donna Ramone are both part of the team at Razorcake, a non-profit punk rock mag based in Los Angeles, but covering DIY music and culture across the world.

They come to Liverpool for a unique event for fans of punk rock, zine culture and beyond, a collaboration between Hyper Enough (DIY punk promoters) and Liverpool Comics Youth.

This event is free entry and all ages – so it’s the perfect event for everyone to attend – although donations are encouraged for anyone who can afford them.

DHA OPEN DAY FOR UNDER-REPRESENTED WRITERS

Last year, literary agency David Higham Associates began running a competition for un-agented fiction writers.

The aim is to encourage diversity within the publishing industry.  Ten writers from under represented backgrounds are picked to attend an open day event at the agency’s offices in London.

Your truly was fortunate to be a winner of the competition over the last quarter, and the comp is running again over the next few weeks for writers of adult fiction so you could be a winner too.

This time the event is going on the road and held in Newcastle, in June.

 

Writers from the north are especially encouraged to apply. It is free to enter and travel expenses are paid so please don’t be put off if you are on a budget.

Further information can be found on the website, and my own personal experience of this makes me implore you to FOR GOD’S SAKE APPLY IF YOU FIT THE CRITERIA.

You have nothing whatsoever to lose and everything to win.

Closing date is 24 February.

APPLICATIONS FOR WORLD BOOK NIGHT ARE OPEN

The annual UK wide World Book Night takes place in April, and you can apply to be a book giver, distributing books to lapsed readers, or those who don’t regularly read.

The annual event boasts a strong reading list this year including fiction and non-fiction, from classics such as Elizabeth Gaskell‘s North and South or Douglas AdamsHitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy to Peter Crouch‘s How To Be Footballer and Jane Corry‘s The Dead Ex.

Applications close on 21 January, more information here

LIVERPOOL’S YEAR OF READING.

 On Tuesday, 21 January, organisations and schools from across the city will be gathering at Liverpool Central Library to officially launch a 12-month celebration that’s set to get everyone enjoying the magic of reading.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has designated 2020 to be the year of #LiverpoolReads in a bid to improve literacy across the city.

And everyone will be encouraged to get involved. Whether it’s parents reading to the youngest children to get them excited about stories, or grown-ups who may not have picked up a book since they left school there will be something for everyone throughout the year.

The launch will kickstart #LiverpoolReads and it will be a celebration of the work of organisations and schools in Liverpool which are already inspiring people to spend some quality time with the written word.

Follow the hashtag #LiverpoolReads or go to the website here

ORENDA BOOKS CRIME ROADSHOW

Indie publisher Orenda Books‘ annual roadshow takes to the er, road in February bringing with it a gang of authors and visiting towns and cities up and down the UK.

The authors discuss their novels, their writing heroes, what makes them write, the crime-fiction genre and lots more.

Dates:

24 Feb Glasgow
25 Feb Stockton On Tees
26 Feb Linghams Booksellers, Heswall
27 Feb Nottingham
28 Feb Penarth Wales

 

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