Thursday 5 June 2014

The Dreaded Chic-Lit Label

I guess I'm going to have to get used to being called a chic lit author. It's a shame because if you say it quickly it sounds like shit-lit.

If you're a woman and there's comedy or romance in your books, and no one gets murdered, then you'll probably be labelled a chic lit writer. 'Even if you write about serious themes,' Rosie Fiore said, at the Finchley Literary Festival last weekend. Fiore has rules to avoid the chic lit stereotypes. She'll put her main characters in credible and difficult situations, she won't give them insecurities about her body 'because women get enough of that in the media' and a man won't be the solution to all her problems, she'll need to overcome them herself. But Fiore will still be called a chit lit author because her books are commercial, and she's a woman.

Lucy-Anne Holmes wrote an interesting article in the Guardian, Chic Lit: Hate the Term. Love the Genre. She suggested that chic lit should move with the times. 'What would embracing this new wave of feminism look like in fiction?'  she muses, and suggests 'we should lose the cupcakes covers.'

Only last week someone asked me, 'what do you write?'

Well, I write lots of different things. In my short stories I've written about political protests, loneliness, madness and murder. But I knew she was talking about my novels.

'Woman's commercial fiction,' I said.

'Oh...' she said, 'you mean chic lit.'

She sounded so condescending I felt an urge to justify myself. I wanted to tell her that I didn't write about shopping, or diets, or endless lunch breaks where the main character manages to get her hair cut, buy shoes and get back to work on time. Because that's the stereotype, that's what I think of when I hear the term chic lit. 

Rosie Fiore, Finchley Literary Festival
'I know a lot of chic lit authors,' Fiore said, at the festival. 'They are strong, independent and feminists.'  I glanced around the room, hoping someone else might join me in a standing ovation. It was what I needed to hear.

The chic lit term can sound so demeaning and yet there are plenty of excellent books in this genre written by talented authors who have stories worth telling. I'm certainly going to strive to be one of them.

My job is to write the best books I can whatever the label I'm given. Yes, there'll be romance in them and comedy, and it's unlikely anyone will be murdered, but I hope people don't overlook them because of the chic lit tag. 


Lindsay said...

It was very refreshing to hear Rosie Fiore's comments - I agree whole-heartedly. I read (and write) chick-lit but most of the chick-lit I read is the sort that Rosie writes - modern women getting on with their lives, juggling work, families and friends. The sort I write is not about women who want a man to be the everything in their lives - it's about older women who are independent but want a bit of romance to enhance their lives. The only murder that's likely to crop up would be of an annoying ex! Chick-li or menopause-lit - it can portray very positive women.

Julie said...

So true, the genre heading is really sexist, and there is no male equivalent. We aren't calling everything Nick Hornby writes 'Dude Lit', and it speaks to the sexism in the industry that everyone sort of went along with the mincing, head-patting term of chick-lit, which demeans so many great books.

Anonymous said...

Until I came to Britain in 2000 'genre' was not in my vocabulary. For I'd read great books written by great women and men alike and what mattered to me was the plot and the ending.

To be honest I don't like categorisation except when I have to enquire whether it is an object or a person.

I always look forward to reading 'chic-lit' novels because they make me feel grateful being a woman. Yes, I cried, yes, I laughed and yes, I reflect. Also, it's a great reminder that I'm not just a mother and somebody's wife.

Emily Benet said...

@Lindsay wasn't she great! I've heard a tiny bit of your book and can't wait till it gets published, but preferably not under the tag 'manopause-lit'! Don't tell the marketing people in case they jump at it! X

@JulieCrawford Thanks for reading Julie. There is such a term as LadLit though but it hasn't really stuck, which I guess proves you're right!

@christiefan I feel like we've become bogged down with 'genre' lately! I'm sure there was a time when we didn't obsess about it and books were either bad, average, good or brilliant! I think it must all relate to the publicity and marketing they need to do now. Everyone needs have their brand! Anyway, as long as I enjoy writing it and people enjoy reading it I'll be happy. Thanks for commenting!

F. D. Lee said...

I wish I had caught the talk, it's sounds amazing. I've had a few people suggest I might be chick lit and I have to say I've found it quite an uncomfortable fit. I actually enjoy the genre but it's not my book; though I guess female centric fantasy is a harder sell. I suspect that in general genre titles like 'lad lit' haven't caught on because the assumption is that by default all genres are open to men, whereas genres for women, children and so on have to be marked out as being in some way other from the mainstream. The general default in most industries is male, I suspect.

Andi said...

Absolutely loved Rosie's talk and I was there wanting a standing ovation right with you. I spend a lot of time second guessing whether what my character's do allows them to be independent. Yes, there's a love story, and that involves vulnerability, but the chick lit I read is funny, sassy and feminist. We need more of it to be proud of!

Keri said...

Hear hear, Emily. You're a writer. Full stop!