AK: There are some fantastic female writers of the Offbeat Generation, Emily McPhillips, Sally Cook… Do you feel female writers are overlooked in the underground writing scene or on an equal footing with the lads?
JA: Sally Cook and Emily McPhillips and Sara Crowley and Emma Lannie are doing sparkling, vivid, original work and although they are hardly overlooked, I do think there should be more of a fuss made over them. I can’t speak for them, but I wonder if this lack of online attention is about gender, or if it’s about our unwillingness to get into that kind of ’scene’, a scene that is very incestuous and doesn’t quite represent what we do.
The definition of ‘offbeat’ is becoming narrower and I wonder if as readers and writers we are growing up and if it might be time for something else now. I don’t know what that something else is going to be, but I think the women we’ve mentioned are among the writers who are going to be doing it.
Now obviously I am enormously chuffed that she has said such kind things about my writing, but also I am fascinated by her response in general. I wonder what you think? Is there a boys club? I have been musing about this since I first read the interview, a week ago I think. The problem is that the whole world I live in is a bit of a boys club. When younger I thought all was equal and would remain so. I am entirely comfortable calling myself a feminist, despite the negative connotations some people add to that label. I have always had many male friends, they would not feel that I am inferior, or I that they are superior. The world that surrounds me though, that is different in many ways. It can be subtle, it can be blazingly obvious, but especially since becoming a mother it has been ever more clear to me.
Last Saturday I went for a drink after work with a female friend. We sat in a pub in Brighton, and at a nearby table three men yelled and swore and pushed and rowed with each other. A couple of tables away three men I work with were sitting drinking beers. Their presence comforted me, I wasn’t worried by the rowdy guys, if they had bothered me I knew my work mates would have helped me. I was with neither group of men, but still, them being there meant something to me, one a threat, one a protection. I left earlyish as I don’t like to brave a late train back from Brighton, so at nine thirty I got on a train. Two drunk guys sat in front of me, one wanted to be sick and I was concerned he was going to puke on me. Across from them sat a muttering older guy. A young bloke got on and stood despite there being plenty of available seats, and he stared at me, making me feel nervous. There was no direct threat, but I felt uneasy all the way to my station. When I got off the train I went to the cab office. Five guys sat inside the small cabin and made jokes about who the lucky one to take me home would be. I smiled, uncomfortably. The man whose car I got in started revving his engine and told me he was going to give me a smooth, fast ride. He then started ranting about the police and told me how his friend had punched one. I got home and felt utter relief at closing the door.
Sometimes when I go for drinks with male friends I become suddenly aware that I am the audience, they like me when I appreciate how clever they are, how funny. Sometimes I am “one of the lads”, and that is meant as a compliment. I don’t want to be one of the lads though, I want to be me, I want to be one of the humans. It’s not all men, it’s not all the time, but it is what surrounds.
What this has to do with writing is debatable, but I think that online can be a bit like being in the pub, sometimes women are included and at other times shown off to, flirted with, sometimes women are protected, and sometimes, sadly, bullied. Women only things like The Orange Prize and Mslexia magazine are derided, the assumption being that females need a separate competition or whatever because they are not good enough to compete with men. Many women agree with that too. I have no conclusion, this is more a wondering, meandering thought that could change at any moment! I’d love to hear yours.