Where are the lesbian writers?


I read an article by Yassmin Abdel-Magied in which she walked out of Lionel Shriver’s speech at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. Shriver had suggested that we are all free to write about whatever we want to, whether we have experience of it or not. Abdel-Magied suggested that this view was ‘wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension,’ and raised the issue of marginalised writers who would be better placed to write these stories, but are often overlooked by publishers. We live in a society where equality is still a long way off for many groups, and in writing this is no different. Marginalised writers are unable to break through barriers in writing; their stories instead being told by privileged writers who do not face discrimination.

I have a novel rattling around in my head, growing and evolving on a daily basis. I have a plan to start the process of transferring it from my mind into something that others can read. The main character is a gay woman in her late twenties who is in a same sex marriage. I had not really taken much interest in the fact that I have created a character who is similar to me, as this seemed to be a natural way to start writing. I know about being a young(ish) gay woman, and therefore can write from the heart on this matter having ‘lived it’. Reading this article made me realise that I would find it more difficult to write the story of someone from a different background. I also realised that I might feel a bit saddened if a straight writer tackled portraying a same sex relationship. Perhaps my reasons are slightly selfish, but surely we have members of our own lesbian community who are perfectly able to draft a novel featuring a same sex couple? And why shouldn’t we portray this ourselves? Do we really need someone else to come in and do it for us? Of course I am not suggesting that there can only be a finite number of books with this subject, but it would be nice to think that the majority of them were written by lesbian women.

In addition, I do not feel that there are enough books with a lead lesbian character. I’ve struggled to think of books that feature a strong female same sex couple. Wouldn’t it be nice for young women growing up to recognise that there are strong lesbian women out there, and that they can be both successful and a lesbian? I went to the “Gay and Lesbian” section in our local Waterstones. It was a big disappointment. The Lesbian section was about 10 books long and mostly about lesbian sex, and one of the few books which wasn’t (and which I bought) turned out to actually be a love story between two men.

I am an avid reader, and it has become tiresome to never see myself represented within the pages of a novel. I have started wondering whether straight authors would even be interested in writing a story between two women, and how accurately they would capture the essence of a female same sex relationship.  Surely the writers who are best able to capture this are lesbian women themselves. There must be a huge number of lesbian women who could write a beautiful novel but for one reason or another have not been published. Are we part of the group of marginalised writers who do not get the same chances as other, more mainstream, writers? And if lesbian women are not finding success in getting a publishing deal, would we be grateful if our straight counterparts were offered a deal on a lesbian focused book, or annoyed that someone without personal experience has been offered something that seems unavailable to us? I know that I would love to read more novels written for and by lesbian women, and so I would probably feel a mixture of the two; glad that our relationships are being validated in literature, but sad that the novel had not been produced in our own community.

Hopefully in the future I will be one of the women writing these novels. If I can create a novel that is of interest to this group (and our gay and straight friends too), then I will feel that I have succeeded in adding to the limited market. I have a plan to write this novel over the autumn/winter, so watch this space!

Let me know of any books you have read that feature a same sex lesbian couple, I’d love to discover more reading material. Use the reply box below or tweet me @workinglife2016


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