I confess to having a soft spot for Fay Wedon, 87, in part because sometimes she’s searingly honest in her books, occasionally upsetting feminists, which can only be a good thing, obviously. On the first page of What Makes Women Happy (2006) we find this:
The brutal answer to what makes women happy is, “Nothing, not for more than ten minutes at a time.”
I was interested to read a review of Weldon’s latest book Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook for the Rejected Writer in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
Fay Weldon is well placed to compose a handbook for the “rejected writer”. With 34 novels to her name, as well as plays and television dramas (including the pilot of Upstairs, Downstairs), she has clearly “learnt how to have nothing turned down”.
In Why Will No-One Publish My Novel?, she offers tips and emotional support for the would-be novelist, imagining that he or she is in low spirits after a sixth rejection. Usefully, a sizeable chunk is given over to diagnosis: Weldon offers nine possible reasons why the novel in question isn’t setting the publishing industry alight. These range from the consoling (the subject matter is too radical for namby-pamby agents) to the more brutally realistic: the novel has “nothing to say”.
Some of her advice is useful. Novels are unwieldy and her suggestion that writers boil theirs down to a single “Cosmic Statement” could prove clarifying. For writers in search of a subject, she suggests using press cuttings, like Flaubert, or Latin tags. Elizabeth I’s motto, video et taceo (I see and keep silent), could engender a CIA thriller called The Witness. Other advice is less valuable, such as the suggestion that aspiring authors “look up structure/novel-writing on Google”. Weldon’s warnings that women characters today can no longer be “passive” is so obvious as to be condescending.
Perhaps most pertinent are her observations about today’s books business, which is dictated, she complains, by “vile commercialism”. Editorial judgments are often trumped by decisions made in the marketing department; a pretty young author might outsell an older one with more wisdom to impart. Publishers’ offices do not smell of mahogany and printing ink, and those pulling the strings are as flawed as the writers they are rejecting — in their droves.
The reviewer was Leaf Arbuthnot (image below). She’s a staff feature writer and editor at the Sunday Times and critic for the Times Literary Supplement. Her debut novel is expected in 2020.
A sentence from her review was outrageous, in my view:
Weldon’s warnings that women characters today can no longer be “passive” is so obvious as to be condescending.
It’s shocking that Fay Weldon (at 87) would make such a ridiculous statement, and even more shocking that a young women condescendingly accuses her of being condescending. So fiction must no longer include “passive” women characters? What a condescending attack on reality that is. Let’s not forget the mantra:
Women are strong!
Women are amazing!!
Let’s repeat those lies endlessly, so people believe them to be true!!!
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