Where are all the women?

Do you need a Y chromosome to be taken seriously as a crime writer” So asks Natasha Cooper in the Times last Friday (11 July)as she prepares for this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, where she is chair of the panel of shortlisted authors for the Crime Novel of the Year award. She goes on to write: “The shortlisted authors are terrific, several of them are friends of mine, and they all deserve their places on the list. But why is Stef Penney the only woman? Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The problem is not confined to any one shortlist. When this newspaper published The 50 Greatest Crime Writers in April, only 13 were women.” I’m glad to see that Natasha makes the exact point that occurred to me when I saw the winner. Yes it was a woman (Patricia Highsmith), but she was pictured naked to the waist. Natasha makes some excellent points in her article, and speculates about why this imbalance has come about.
The issue of woman writers is familiar to readers of this blog, as we had a debate on this very topic in response to a top ten list of great crime-fiction writers that featured no women. We came up with a list of ten favourite women writers, but many more than that were suggested, and are listed in that post. In defence of Theakston’s Old Peculier, I would say that there were more women on the long list, and the short list was created from readers’ votes on that long list. (I voted for a book by a woman that did not make it to the short list.) The recently announced 2008 Dagger awards featured two women winners out of a possible six categories: the Duncan Lawrie Dagger went to Frances Fyfield for Blood From Stone, and the International Duncan Lawrie Dagger to Dominique Manotti for Lorraine Connection, (translated from the French by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz). Two out of four of the “highly commendeds” were women. By the way, you can see who I and other Euro Crime reviewers and fans nominated for our shortlists for the International Dagger here.

Well, it is something to ponder on as I go to Harrogate.