Monday, 27 August 2012

When Genres Attack!: 50 Shades of Chic Lit

When Genres Attack!: 50 Shades of Chic Lit : Thursday 7pm September 13 

When Genres Attack is back and it's going to be a hot night at Shearer's. Anita Heiss, Lisa Heidke and Susan Johnson, three writers with over 25 books between them, will be talking about the books women write, the books women read and the C word - Chick Lit, Choc Lit and Chook Lit.

To get the conversation flowing for the event Lisa Heidke is guest blogging today. If you think MWF just stands for Melbourne Writers Festival, then read on.

Chick lit does not mean dumb lit.

If you believe the criticism, chick lit is light and unimportant, with storylines routinely revolving around shoes, shopping and champagne. In other words, all fluff.

But that’s too simplistic. In the main, these books have great emotional depth. They are about relationships, not just romantic relationships, but about women and how they relate to friends, parents, siblings, children...about the friendships, crises and circumstances that challenge us every day.

Perhaps chick lit is a lazy term used to lump everything written by and for women together but it seems a consistent genre novels like mine get placed in.

Generally, the themes of well-written chick lit or modern women’s fiction centre on issues real people face every day. For example, I primarily write about women in their thirties triumphing over adversity. My books deal with real life issues like infidelity, divorce, teenage sexuality, flagging careers and aging parents, honestly, but with humour, and there’s always a hopeful ending.

The ending won’t be perfect because real life never is, but it’s generally hopeful. I like to think that my characters have learned something along the way and are better placed to face the future.

Other Australian authors exploring these themes include Anita Heiss, whose novels, Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right, Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming have been called ‘Koori chick lit’ or as Anita’s friends say, ‘chock lit’.

Anita says, ‘I am strategically conscious of the audience I am writing for. I want to connect with Australian women readers of commercial fiction (which is what I prefer to call it), particularly those who have never engaged with Aboriginal women, arts, culture or society generally. I want them to connect through stories about relationships and the things we have in common as women, our shared human emotions of love, heartache, fear of rejection and so on. And I want to demonstrate the strength of women’s friendships across cultures.’

Authors like Anita, Susan Johnson, Dianne Blacklock, Liane Moriarty, Ilsa Evans and myself are covering similar territory according to our backgrounds and interests, albeit with our own particular brand or style. I write about themes that interest me and hope that my readers find them interesting too. If I choose wrongly, if a reader isn’t interested, or if my writing isn’t good enough, my sales will suffer. I totally accept that. But I don’t accept that women writers should constantly have to justify what they are writing about.

Because generally, we cop a beating from the critics. These novels, like novels written by men such as Nick Hornby and Nick Earls deal with similar issues...yet do we call their books lad lit or dick lit? Occasionally, I will if I’m trying to make a point, but generally, their books are just called fiction. Nick Earls gets a lot of print reviews, media coverage...mostly positive...would he get as much attention if his name was Nicola?

Maybe publishers don’t pigeonhole male writers because there’s perceived to be less of it written...or it’s classified as action or adventure ...or just fiction, but never men’s fiction and certainly not romance.
Maybe it’s all about marketing, but there doesn’t seem to be an existing stigma against a book written by a male about a guy trying to deal with a messy breakup, career struggles etc where there is one against a book written by a woman dealing with similar issues.

And I’m not sure why...

However, I believe women’s contemporary fiction and chick lit as a genre is constantly evolving. These books are now regularly dealing with meatier, weightier issues because as writers we like to push boundaries.  Also, readers are demanding more from these stories: more depth, more intrigue, and more humanity and writers are embracing and enjoying the challenge of dealing with compelling subjects within the confines of a good story, with realistic, likeable characters.

Trends will come and go. But regardless of the label  - chick lit, hen lit, chock lit, Koori lit, farm lit – women’s contemporary fiction or plain old fiction - people will always love a good story that addresses deep, universal themes – love, loss, family, and the meaning of life.

For me, writing chick lit is about keeping a balance between what I want to write, what readers want to read and what publishers believe will sell a novel. (Given the current popularity of rural romance and erotic fiction, I probably should be writing rural cliterature – it’s a thought!)

So, no. I don’t believe chick lit is an inferior form of fiction, nor is it dumb or unimportant. The majority of it is well-written, relevant and engaging, with storylines and characters that stay with me long after I have finished the last page.

When Genres Attack!: 50 Shades of Chic Lit : Thursday 7pm September 13 at Shearer's Bookshop, 99 Norton St, Leichhart

Tickets: $10 adults, $8 frequent shoppers. Bookings are essential for this event. Purchase your tickets in store, or by calling Shearer's on (02) 9572 7766.


  1. Well said, Lisa! I've just booked my place for the event - I'll finally get to meet you!

  2. Please come to Melbourne, we miss out on all these good events!