They’re female, they’re Australian, and they’re the fresh faces on the Aussie book scene.
There’s something going on in the Australian publishing scene. Everyone’s talking about it, from readers to publishers, to the authors themselves.
The bestseller lists were once traditionally dominated by overseas fiction, much of it penned by high profile male authors. The review pages of the Australian newspapers, too, were once the domain of literary heavyweights—the majority of them, men.
But lately we’ve noticed a trend: An exciting phenomenon that we’re hoping is no passing fad. Women writers, many of them Australian and many of them debut authors, are soaring ahead with books sales.
Julie Winters, of Nielsen Book Australia believes the sales figures are reflecting this.
‘We’ve seen a new trend emerging in the Australian Fiction BookScan bestseller lists – Australian women are making their presence felt at the top of the charts.’
We’ve spoken to those in the know and the driving force behind this development appears to be a significant shift in how we find out about books and choose those we wish to read. Ten or twenty years ago we might have been persuaded to buy a book by reading about it in a newspaper.
Today, the review space is dominated by digital media, including recommendation communities (such as Goodreads and, of course, Better Reading), and by myriad bloggers via social media, as well as the online outlets of traditional news media.
Jane Palfreyman, publisher at Allen & Unwin, agrees that this is the key to the change:
‘Sites like Better Reading and all kinds of social media have made reading and talking about books a much more personal thing, and the result is that a lot more Australian writers are being recommended and read, especially Australian women writers.
‘Now we have passionate readers speaking directly to each other or connecting via book communities and telling people about their favourite books. The fact that these are increasingly Australian and written by women is no surprise to us, but how great that the whole world is now in on it!’
‘It’s such an exciting time in Australia for debut writers in women’s fiction,’ says Simon & Schuster’s Managing Editor, Roberta Ives. ‘Australian readers are absolutely loving these talented new voices.’
Harper Collins publisher Catherine Milne thinks we may be experiencing a ‘moment’ in time: ‘It feels like so many conversations are about inequality, gender politics, feminism and the #MeToo movement, it’s inevitable that this is reflected in what we’re reading.
‘Readers everywhere certainly seem to be seeking out and eagerly embracing stories of strong women, women with agency, women navigating dangerous worlds, women finding their own way.’
Rebecca Saunders, Head of Fiction at Hachette, notes a shift in reading tastes. ‘Now, rather than looking for the next big author of rural fiction, publishers are searching for page-turners in different areas of fiction that are unlike anything people have been reading in recent years.’
It’s interesting to see how the phenomenon can be seen across all genres. While women authors have long held their own in romance and historical fiction, debut authors are making their mark on the crime and thriller scene too, as evidenced by the explosive debuts in recent years of writers Jane Harper and Emma Viskic for The Dry and Resurrection Bay respectively. More recently, Irish writer Dervla McTiernan, a recent Australian immigrant, has wowed readers with her thrilling debut, The Ruin.
Other books from Aussie women about women are breaking through the barricades, including recent titles such as The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater, The Girl From Munich by Tania Blanchard and The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge from Kali Napier.
‘I think we understand and relate to these novels,’ observes Catherine Milne, ‘because they are all stories of real, messy, vulnerable women trying to navigate the difficult territory of their lives – and isn’t that all of us, really?’.