Chicklit is not dumblit

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Gloucester Writers Festival with Lisa Walker discussing the topic, Chicklit does not mean dumblit. This is the gist of what I said…I think…

So what is chicklit?

If you believe the criticism, chicklit is light and unimportant, stories about shoes, shopping, champagne and sex. In other words, all fluff.

Clearly, that’s not true. In the main, these books have great emotional depth. They are about relationships, not just romantic relationships, but about women and how they relate to friends, parents, siblings, children…about the relationships, crises and circumstances that challenge us every day.

Perhaps chicklit is a lazy term used to lump everything written by and for women together. For me personally, I write about themes that interest me and hope that my readers find them interesting too.

Generally, the themes of well-written chicklit or modern women’s fiction, revolve around issues real people face every day. For example, I primarily write about women in their 30’s triumphing over adversity. My books deal with real life issues like infidelity, divorce, teenage sexuality, flagging careers and aging parents honestly, but with humour and there’s always a hopeful ending…the ending won’t be perfect because real life never is, but it’s generally hopeful.

I like to think that my characters have learned something along the way and are better placed to face the future.

Other Australian authors exploring these themes include Dianne Blacklock, Liane Moriarty, Anita Heiss, and of course Lisa Walker. We may be covering similar ground albeit with our own particular brand or style.

However, we seem to cop a beating from the critics. These novels, like novels written by men such as Nick Hornby and Nick Earls deal with similar issues…yet do we call their books ladlit or dicklit? Occasionally, I will if I’m trying to make a point, but generally, their books are just called fiction. Nick Earls gets a lot of print reviews, media coverage…mostly positive…would he get as much attention if his name was Nicola?

Maybe publishers don’t pigeonhole male writers because there’s perceived to be less of it written…or it’s classified as action or adventure …or just fiction, but never men’s fiction or romance.

Maybe it’s all about marketing, but there doesn’t seem to be an existing stigma against a book written by a male about a guy trying to deal with a messy breakup, career struggles etc where there is one against a book written by a woman dealing with similar issues.

And I’m not sure why…

How is chicklit evolving?

I believe women’s fiction and chicklit as a genre is constantly evolving. These books are now regularly dealing with meatier, weightier issues because as writers we like to push boundaries.  For example in Claudia’s Big Break, there’s a lesbian theme but my publisher was quick to play it down…I could keep the story line re two women falling in love, however, they were only allowed a couple of kisses. Perhaps the publisher believed my audience wouldn’t take to lesbian love scenes…

In my latest book, Stella Makes Good, the central plot revolves around the repercussions of a girls night out when they stumble upon a sex party and discover one of their best friend’s husband there.

However the back cover blurb for that book makes no mention of the sex party for fear of turning readers off…But as the entire narrative springs from what happens there, it is somewhat odd! The girls hit the sex party on page 16 so readers are going to find out pretty quickly.

However, I do believe that readers are demanding more from these stories: more depth, more intrigue, and more humanity. Writers are embracing and enjoying the challenge of dealing with challenging subjects within the confines of a good story, with realistic, likeable characters.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen the emergence of ‘Romantic Suspense’ headed up by authors such as Bronwyn Parry and Helene young.

We’ve also seen an explosion in a new genre: Rural- lit, farm –lit or chook-lit. These are predominantly stories about women in the outback and on farms, triumphing over adversity…Rachel Treasure, Fleur McDonald, Fiona Palmer, Nicole Alexander, Karly Lane and the list goes on…these books are selling incredibly well not just in Australia but in countries like Germany.

Where to from here?

Trends will come and go. But regardless of the label  – chicklit, henlit, farm lit – women’s contemporary fiction or plain old fiction – people will always love a good story that addresses deep, universal themes – love, loss, family, and the meaning of life. For me, writing chicklit is about keeping a balance between what I want to write, what readers want to read and what publishers believe will sell a novel.

I don’t think I’ll run out of tales because everywhere you turn, conversations are taking place. Inside every cafe and pub, bus or train, in the school yard and in the papers, relationships are falling apart, hearts are being broken while new romances are just beginning…and there’s an opportunity for a story…just waiting to be explored, written and read, especially if you’re good at eavesdropping.

I hope that when people read my books they can relate to at least a couple of the characters and that the experience brightens their afternoon.  That’s the best I can hope for!

So, no. I don’t believe chicklit is an inferior form of fiction, nor is it dumb or unimportant. The majority of it is well-written, relevant and engaging, with storylines and characters that stay with me long after I have finished the last page.

12 thoughts on “Chicklit is not dumblit

    • And I definitely should have mentioned Ali Ahearn and Ros Baxter’s new book…Sister Pact! Another fantastic chicklit …sisterlit… read!

  1. First of all, I laughed out loud at the “dicklit” metaphor – gold!

    Secondly, I have to say I am thrilled to have read this. I always wondered why I had to be embarrassed about enjoying books deemed (disparagingly) as chick lit, when they were some of the best reads around. So from now on it will be know as “modern women’s fiction” in my world and I will no longer feel the need to hide my enjoyment of losing myself in these tales. As you say, they all explore universal themes of importance and are just as credible as any other published piece around!

    • Hi Donna,
      Thanks for your comments…and yes, why is it that we are embarrassed about reading books we enjoy. It seems women writers are always having to defend the books they write. Reading should be a pleasure and and chicklit can challenge and make us think…and make us laugh, too.

  2. Great post Lisa. I love me a good dose of chick lit and I might have to start getting my share of dicklit now!!!! Seriously, I’m glad you wrote this because it is what I’ve thought all along. Annie xx

    • Thanks Annie! At the end of the day, it’s all fiction…there’s room enough on the shelves for all of us and chicklit can be as enlightening, if not more, than some ‘serious’ literature floating around.

  3. I love a good ‘chick-lit’ book. I work in a library and when my members ask me what I like, I show them all my favourites. A number have tried them and told me how much they enjoyed them and are reading more – particularly the great Australian writers out there.

    I have just finished Stella Makes Good and loved it!

    • Hi Kerry,
      Thanks so much for your comments. I am particularly chuffed that you liked Stella Makes Good. Thank you!

  4. Hear, hear to all of the above! I was talking to readers in my local library on the weekend and I sent them all off to look up the Australian Women Writers Challenge so they could discover more women’s fiction by Aussie women.

    The librarians also took note although they all remarked on the growing number of books on the shelves by Australian women. With the huge media focus on Rural Lit (love the cliterature tag!) maybe we’re turning a corner?

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