Gangin on a Bear Hunt

photoI was on the annual, last-minute hunt for Christmas presents today. After a brief foray into Cass Art (where I mainly sat down and drew a couple of Christmas cards, see below), I headed over to Waterstone’s Argyle Street, site of some of the best launch parties for Glasgow writers.

The shop didn’t disappoint in its present possibilities, and in the good humour of its staff and patience of its customers in the face of the queues. (There was a teenage boy who declared his interest in conceptual art to his pals while examining a book of photos who also pleased me.)

But what charmed me most was a middle-aged couple I passed on the stairs; them on the way down, me on the way up. At the turn of the steps was a display of Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going on a Bear Huntfirst published in 1989 and a perennial favourite of children and their parents ever since.

The women stopped, and read out the title in recognition, her attention perhaps attracted by the large toy bear next to it. Then, with a delighted intake of breath, she read the title of the book next to it, emphasising the second word for her companion. ‘We’re Gangin on a Bear Hunt‘.

We’re Gangin on a Bear Hunt is translated into Scots for the first time this year by Susan Rennie, and is published by the wonderful Floris Books (this year’s Saltire Society Publisher of the Year, which I had the privilege to be on the judging panel for).

photo-2The woman’s delight on the stair as she saw the book, shows why it’s such a good idea to translate classics, as well as originating texts in Scotland’s diverse languages. (I had to continue shopping, but I hope she bought a copy to revist the story with its Scots twist…)

Oh, and here’s a perky robin and tree from my drawings… Sláinte and Merry Christmas to you all!

 

Judging Women

TSaltireBookshe writer Nicola Griffith has recently published the results of quantifying the success – or largely otherwise – of books by women and books about women in a number of major literary awards.

Predictably, this makes for depressing reading. Books by women are less likely to win than those by men, and books about women (whether by women or men) are also less likely recipients of awards than books about men. From such statistics it would seem that we do not value female writers as much as male, and female protagonists (or topics, whatever that might mean – commentary hovers around the ‘domestic’) as much as male.

This is an all-too familiar account, which the introduction of the Orange (now Baileys) Women’s Prize for Fiction in 1996 sought to overcome, after a year in which no women were shortlisted at all for the Booker. Twenty years on, and we don’t seem to have moved that far forwards.

In my book Marketing Literature: The Making of Contemporary Writing in Britain, I wrote a set of case studies of bestselling, more or less literary novels. One of the books (or, in this example, series of books), was Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. The final novel, The Ghost Road, won the Booker in 1995. My analysis ran along the following lines: that Barker came to prominence – in both critical and commercial terms – after moving from the feminist press Virago to be published by Viking/Penguin. She had also switched her subject matter from ‘”gritty feminist sagas”‘ set in the north of England to a focus on the first world war, with a cast of predominantly male characters. This shift occasioned some interesting comment, including one from a (female) Booker judge of that year. The judge stated that she would never have guessed that Barker’s book was written by a woman. Her reasoning was based on stylistic grounds, rather than its subject matter (which, as it happened, had questions of gender and sexuality at its heart).

The publication of Griffiths’ data presents an opportunity for me to reflect on my own practice, as a scholar who studies literary prizes, a literary prize judge, and a feminist. (I’m also currently writing a children’s book in which the female protagonist spends most of the plot dressed up as a boy, but that’s a different story…)

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