Before you read this post, take a look at these statistics from women's writing magazine Mslexia:
authors of books published 1991 65% 36%
authors of books reviewed 1991 73% 24%
authors of reviews autumn 1991 77% 23%
authors of books reviewed autumn 1998 68% 32%
authors of reviews autumn 1998 73% 27%
PRIZES % AWARDED TO MEN WOMEN
Nobel Prize for literature (1902-1997) 96% 4%
UK FICTION PRIZES
Booker Prize short-list (1969-1995) 65% 35%
Booker Prize winners (1969-1998) 69% 31%
Betty Trask Award for romantic fiction winners (1984-1995) 62% 38%
Whitbread novel winners (1971-97) 67% 33%
UK POETRY PRIZES
TS Eliot Poetry Prize winners (1993-8) 100% 0%
Forward Poetry Prize winners (1992-8) 92% 8%
Whitbread poetry winners (1971-97) 90% 10%
Scary stuff, no? Other evidence in the article linked to above suggests women's work is likely to be underrated simply because it is written by a woman - in a study in which pieces of writing were given to readers to rate, identical pieces of writing were consistently rated higher if they had a male name attached to them.
But children's fiction is different. Isn't it? There certainly seem to be a lot more women floating around children's fiction - I don't have precise figures, but a glance at any children's writer's forum, conference, or organisation shows an overwhelming female predomince. Look at publisher's catalogues and you'll see the same phenomenon. "Oh yes," someone at my publisher (Scholastic) said when I asked about this. "Most of our authors are women, definitely."
Fantastic. (Though rather sad for all the male authors and readers). Or is it? "Of course," my source continued, "All our highest selling authors are male. Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Terry Deary ..."
A look at children's prizes shows a similar female focus. The Branford Boase has been won by 70% women and 30% men and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize by 59% women and 41% men. Only the Carnegie Medal - considered by some to be the Children's Booker - strikes a discordant note, with 53% of medals awarded to women - still a majority, but a much smaller majority than the number of women writing for young people would suggest. Also the Children's Laureateship, which to date has been held by four men and two women, although the sample size is much too small to draw any conclusions from this.
I don't want this blog post to imply that I'm against men writing for children. I'm not. I think children need as wide a range of writing as possible, something that can only be provided if the are given writing by as wide a range of authors as possible; male, female, white, black, Asian, British, European, American, poets, scriptwriters, comedians, tragedians, whatever. I think male writers for young people should be encouraged. Nor do have a problem with any of the men chosen as Laureates or awarded Carnegie Medals. I think children's fiction is in a much better state than adult fiction, and has a lot to be proud of.
I just think it interesting that in an industry so dominated by women, with so many successful women writers, male writers are still disproportionately recognised at the highest levels.