A guest post by Bennett Arron
I’ve recently returned from sell-out shows at the Edinburgh festival. I’m very pleased about this, not only because the shows were well received, but also because people appreciated the subject matter. The show was called Bennett Arron Has Had Enough and in it I spoke about the things which have recently annoyed me. These included: the oxymoron of customer services, being arrested and, most importantly, having my novel turned down because I am a man.
My novel is a romantic comedy. Before it was sent to publishers I asked some well-known friends of mine if they would read it and give me their thoughts. Ricky Gervais, whom by his own admission never reads novels, said it it was ‘funny from beginning to end’. David Baddiel said: ‘A very funny insight into life’ . Jimmy Carr said: ‘It’s the perfect romantic comedy, I loved it.’
The editors to whom it was sent were also very complimentary. I shan’t name the them or the publishing houses, but here are some of the responses….
‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It’s a very accomplished piece of fiction and I found it genuinely funny.’
‘…compelling characters….the writing is engaging and the story well crafted.”
‘Very well-observed….very funny.’
So, you might be wondering where you can purchase this book. Well, you can’t. You see, no one will publish it because I am a man.
Here are some of the reasons from the editors:
‘Men writing about romance and relationships doesn’t appeal to the reading public.’
‘Women readers feel that women writers cover this area far more convincingly.’
Is that true? Can such a statement be made? It reminds me of a comment made on a chat show recently where one of the female presenters actually said the words: ‘All men generalise about women and stereotype them’ without any sense of irony.
So this is what I’m up against. If this situation were reversed, if a woman writer were told that no one would buy a particular genre unless it were written by a man there would be cries of sexism and inequality. However it appears that it’s completely acceptable for me to be told this. I don’t know how Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby managed to overcome this prejudice, but I now admire them even more. I also admire their publishers for taking what apparently constitutes a huge risk.
It has of course been suggested that I use a female pseudonym to sell the book, or have a sex change - but I’m not going through that again! My problem is, by using a pseudonym I feel I would be would be conceding to the discrimination. I’ve been asked what’s more important, having my book published or making a point? Well, however much I’d like to see my book published - after all who wants to have two years’ work wasted - I would feel a fraud, on many levels, by changing my name.
Perhaps, and I’m going out on a limb here, attitudes should be changed as opposed to my name. Female friends of mine have read the book and passed it on to their friends, all of whom have loved it.
Some publishers have also suggested, that I write a female protagonist instead of a male one. Why? I have had more 30 sitcom scripts produced on television. The majority of these, ironically, had female leads. I have been given work because I apparently write the female voice very well. However, now that I have decided to write my first novel from a male perspective, I am being penalised.
Well, I’m sorry, but I’d prefer not to use a pseudonym. I’ve already used a false identity once (I was the person who stole the ID of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and was subsequently arrested) so I won’t be doing it again. If this means you will never have the opportunity to read my novel then there’s nothing I can do. Don’t blame me, blame ‘acceptable’ discrimination. In the meantime I suppose I’ll have to work on a new novel about war, or crime, or cars, as apparently these are the only subjects on which men are able to write.
Bennett Arron will be performing his show It Wasn’t Me, It Was Bennett Arron at the Radlett Centre on 3 November.