By Kate Horstead
Brixton Library was all a-buzz with the lively chatter of ladies last Wednesday night as five successful female authors read from their work at a Christmas ‘Girls’ night in’.
Funny, intelligent and charismatic all, the five writers read excerpts from a varied range of published novels, punctuated with anecdotes of the trials of their work, and followed up with a punchy Q&A session.
Enigmatic local crime writer, Helen Smith, was joined by the equally talented Scarlett Bailey, Alex Marwood, Kate Harrison and Rebecca Chance, and amid the laughter and the entertainment, serious issues were raised about the trials still faced by female writers. As a self-proclaimed ‘chick lit’ snob, I was forced to admit that much of the writing branded in this way is equally clever and engaging to many a literary masterpiece, and that dismissing it is damaging to a whole community of authors.
As we sipped our (free) wine we were absorbed into the insalubrious world of a Canary Wharf millionaire (by Rebecca), led to a beach full of dead teenaged souls (by Kate), given a glimpse of familiar London landmarks through the eyes of a Brixton-based detective (by Helen), chilled to the bone by the inner thoughts of a violent man (by Alex) and swept into a beautifully-described scenario involving a Turkey and a festive kitchen (by Scarlett). No small itinerary for one evening, and a true insight into the awesome breadth of so-called ‘women’s fiction’.
But the event was carried as much by the eclectic writing styles as by the writers’ personalities. We guffawed in tandem when Rebecca Chance related how she retorted to a typical sexist ‘writing as a woman’ question by asking a well-known French crime author what it is like to write crime fiction as a male writer, only to be slapped down with the insult ‘you are like a Spice Girl’. We clutched our sides as Alex Marwood dryly depicted her father. We clapped in genuine sisterly solidarity as Scarlett told us she’d won an award for romantic fiction.
We were rewarded for our gripped attention with book signings and cake crafted in the shape of books. The event gave us a delicious taster of the scope of our beloved libraries as community and cultural hubs, and I for one will be looking out for more of the same in the months, and hopefully years, to come.