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  • Mandy Whyman

Under-represented - or something...


The world barely had time to absorb Ms Markle's picture book writing experiment before (tarrra!) the artist formally known as Prince Harry announced his memoir. (Or series of memoirs. I remain a little uncertain as to the plan). Harry is reportedly working with renowned ghost writer J.R. Moehringer, the man responsible for writing Andre Agassi's life story. I'm sure that it will be a very interesting tale. But the same question that bothers me about Ms Markle's work, bothers me now too. Prince (or former prince) he may be, with the relentlessly repeated distinction of having a famous mother. This clearly makes him bankable (to the tune of a £20 million advance, I hear), but once again writers who have something genuine to say, in lives that have been lived amongst the ordinary, once again, these writers have no voice (or money) in the face of celebrity. It makes writing all about commercialism. And I know that that's the way the world works, but it seems to me to devalue all the work that writers do - the blood, sweat and tears, the crafting and recrafting, the reaching deep inside themselves. Chances are, of course, that it is just the sheer extraordinary amount of advance that has curled my toes....

And I must hastened to add that, despite being significantly older than dear Prince Harry, having lived in four different countries on three continents, I have no intention of writing my memoirs any time soon. (although, if you feel inclined to read about some of my adventures in Mozambique, I wrote an on-off blog while there, which can be accessed here: The Reluctant Expat (mozericay.blogspot.com )

On another note, I recently read an interesting article in The Bookseller about the Women's Prize for Fiction which is open to women aged 35 and under. In an open letter, Joanne Walsh of the @noentry_arts Twitter feed, has advocated that the age limit be dropped because older women are just as deserving of the chance to have their writing recognised. You can read the full article here : Women's Prize urged to abandon age criteria for under-35 writers scheme | The Bookseller

The article raised an interesting question about under-representation. My 12 year old daughter, currently undertaking a `Media and Society' course, recently relayed some quite shocking statistics to me about representation (under-representation?) in picture books which overwhelmingly feature stories about white males. I'm not sure if this is the same across the world. In my original home country of South Africa, I would hope that this isn't the case at all, But I digress. The point is that competitions aimed at the under-represented group that is women, should realise that the most under-represented of this under-represented group are women over 50. Those who have become invisible to our youth -obsessed society and increasingly invisible to writing opportunities.

Or maybe none of it should be about under-represented anything. Maybe the commercial viability of being the right shade or age or orientation should mean nothing in the world of writing. Maybe it should be about the story, the crafting. Maybe publishing should be concerned with the art of writing.

And I believe wishful thinkers are the most under-represented group of all.....

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