As a woman who also happens to be a writer, I’m aware of a lot of discussion that goes on around women in fiction and women who write fiction.
Despite the fact that females are the overwhelming consumers of fiction books (buying more than ⅔ of all fiction books sold), there’s still an “old boy’s club” attitude around much of fiction authorship. Women writers of equal merit have to fight twice as hard to have their books seen, promoted, reviewed, and awarded.
When people talk about a female writer, it’s often assumed they’re a romance writer, and even then – romance novels are derided as though they lack the literary merits of other, male-dominated genres.
And if you don’t happen to write romance? Writers who approach dark topics are often encouraged to adopt male pseudonyms, and it’s female writers more than males who are asked if they write their (smutty or murdery) stories from life experience. It’s as though it’s thought a woman lacks the ability to create worlds from her imagination.
And don’t even get me started on crap like the Sad Puppies.
Despite this ridiculous and pervasive bias, female writers continue to write and thrive. I want to continue to celebrate some of the awesome woman who have influenced me and chagned the way I thought about writing and reading and life.
In no particular order, here are some of my favourite female writers. I’ve probably missed some, but if I remember them, I’ll just do another list!
1. Margaret Atwood
Atwood is the queen of what’s commonly referred to a “magic realism”, books seeped in speculative tropes, but with a literary fiction bent. I first read The Handmaid’s Tale at high school (another class was studying it, and it sounded way more interesting than the book we were reding, so I read that instead), and was instantly hooked by the way she created a world that seemed so bleak and so utterly possible. I can’t wait to check out the new Hulu series when we eventually get it here in NZ.
2. VC Andrews
V.C. Andrews has been a bestselling phenomenon since the publication of her spellbinding classic Flowers in the Attic. Her books frequently deal with the subject of consensual incest, rags-to-riches, riches-to-rags, and other kinds of forbidden love. Sensual, creepy, and beautifully gothic, Andrews writes family sagas where tragedies and sins echo through generations. Despite the fact that she’s been dead since 1996, VC Andrews is still publishing books (using ghostwriters, obviously).
3. Shirley Jackson
Jackson is a new love of mine. I devoured We Have Always Lived in the Castle in a single sitting a couple of months ago, and ever since I’ve been working through her entire catalogue. She’s one of the most respected writers of all time, cited as an influence on Neil Gaimen, Stephen King, Joanne Harris, and many others. When her short story, “The Lottery” was released in the New Yorker in 1948, the paper was flooded with more responses and letters than they’d ever received before. Her work has these sinister, unsettling overtones that make you doubt the sanity of every character. You never feel the same when you finish one of her books as when you started.
4. Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella is one of the biggest authors of “chick-lit”, back when chick-lit was still a term publishing people used. The term is hokey but the books are anything but. Teaming with intelligence and hilarious, flawed, and wonderful characters, Kinsella’s books are probably some of the funniest I’ve ever read. EVER. They’re also brimming with wonderful English Englandisms. Hollywood made the first book in her Shopaholic series into a movie, but turned it all American and it was bad bad bad. These are perfect books for bus reading or holiday relaxing.
5. Anne Rice
How could I, a teenage goth growing up in the nineties, not worship Rice, whose books practically defined the modern vampire tale. Rice taught me about the richness of language, that worlds are built not out of sweeping descriptions of huge, impressive things, but of a million tiny, important details scattered throughout a narrative. I really want to re-read Rice’s books, but they’re currently not available in ebook format as far as I can see, and my paperback copies are buried in boxes still. Anne, if you’re reading this, GET YOUR BOOKS ON KINDLE.
6. Emma Bull
“Emma Bull is really good.” Neil Gaimen wrote that blurb on the cover of one of her books, and it’s totally true. Listen to Neil. If you haven’t read War for the Oaks, READ IT. OMG, seriously, just do it. This book was the first book I heard described as “urban fantasy” and it is the model by which I judge every book in the genre (and find most of them lacking). Emma’s rich language and exquisitely-broken main character will leave you addicted.
7. Doreen Tovey
Dorreen Tovey was the first “grown up” author I ever read, back when I was seven or eight, I think. My mum showed me her book, Cats in the Belfry in the library, and I fell in love with all the Siamese cats frolicking over the cover. After reading through her whole series, I spent the next six years begging my parents for a Siamese cat for every birthday and Christmas (And I got my Toby when I was 13, because they’re awesome parents). Tovey tells these hilarious true tales of her life in a tiny English village with her husband Charles, their crazy cats, all the wacky village characters, and their donkey Annabel. You will fall in love.
8. Liane Moriaty
Liane Moriaty is an Australian writer who creates what I would call, “Antipodean gothic.” Her stories feature these wonderful, sympathetic characters (mostly women) who you wish like hell were your close friends, who end up in the most impossibly awful situations. Each book features a deep, sordid mystery that tears these character’s lives apart, and you spend half your time hoping like hell it won’t turn out as bad as you know it will, and the rest of the time wondering how they’re going to put their lives back together. I binge-read all of her books on my South Island trip last year, and now I’m hanging on for the next one.
9. Kameron Hurley
I discovered Kameron through her book of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution. And then I joined her Patreon and started reading through her short fiction, and got hooked. Kameron is really, REALLY good. She calls her genre New Weird, which is basically what I’m beginning to realise is actually what I write (the Engine Ward series fits here perfectly). Her books are profoundly dark and disturbing and feature casts of characters, many of whom don’t fit established genre tropes. Lots of strong women, gender-fluidity, and SENTIENT TREES.
10. Olivia Cunning
Olivia writes sexy contemporary romances, including what’s probably my favourite romance series of all time – Sinners on Tour. These books follow the five members of a heavy metal band while they tour the country, break hearts, solve mysteries, and find true love. These books are super erotic, and the characters are so exquisitely drawn you kind of all in love with all of them. By the end of the series you just want to keep going on adventures with them forever.
There are so many other women writers I love – H Y Hanna, Darcy Coates, Mary Roach, Francesca Lia Block … the list could just go on forever. Who are your favourites?
When I’m not trying to read all the books in the universe and headbanging to Wagneresque death metal, I write dark urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels. My latest book, Writing the Wolf, second in the Wolves of Crookshollow series, is out now. Grab your copy from your favourite retailer, or join my mailing list to stay up-to-date with the series.