On May 8th, Half the World’s Caroline Bowler, together with judge and renowned international author, Margie Orford, were featured on BBC Radio 4 in an interview with Mariella Frostrup.
You can listen to the interview starting 12:35 here.
Transcript edited for brevity.
Mariella: Why do you feel we need this prize?
Caroline: One of the reasons why Half the World Holdings decided to instigate this award is because they are an investment platform that actively seeks out women-focused companies. Research from Nicola Griffith points out that in the last 15 years the majority of literary competition prizes tended to go to pieces of work that did not have a woman at the heart of the story. The aim of the award is to redress that balance, have authors look upon their female characters in a different way, and put them back into the heart of their writing.
Mariella: Question to both of you, Margie firstly with you, as a writer, why do you think this is happening with literary prizes? Is it a mere coincidence, it it that men don’t like reading about women and vice versa? Can that be true in this day and age?
Margie: Certainly I think it is. I have in my series a female lead, and what was interesting to me when I first started out, was where to find characters who were female pioneers, not just female writers, but characters who were absolutely at the center of their own story and agency. Part of the thing about literary tradition is a male character with a female muse, and so it’s countering that and putting a female character at the center of things. It’s a failure of imagination not to be able to write female characters, but as a writer who has written female characters it’s not an easy thing to do, it’s challenging because writing men is so easy, they just do stuff, you just flip a page because they’ve got thousands of years before them. The interesting most complex character have got to be women.
Mariella: Do you think that’s the case Caroline, that men perhaps are easier to write because they “do stuff”.
Caroline: I wouldn’t like to take away from Margie’s experience, but for me as an enthusiastic reader all my life, the characters that have stuck with me and with whom I’ve identified were female. When I looked at my own bookshelf, the number of female characters that have traveled with me across the world are part of who I am – and the Award recognizes that; how you bring these characters with you throughout your life and throughout your adventures, they are so influential.
Mariella: Margie, so awarding a work that puts a woman or women front and center, and beyond that do you have a sense of what you’re looking for, what areas of women’s lives, you want to explore, you want to see explored?
Margie: I’m very interested in how women work, literally how they work in the world. What is fascinating to me are representations, and these are quite rare, of how women engage morally, philosophically, economically with the world, and maintain the complexity of thought and feeling, desire and sexuality. Much literature has been split into internal feeling of the body or the external – the most obvious examples are those wonderful TV series that show us women like Helen Mirren and all her wonderful characters who only work, and it’s as if they’ve cut off something.
Mariella: So you either have to be one or the other?
Margie: Yes. What’s interesting to me about this award is that women do so much of the world’s work, but earn so little of the world’s money. As a judge, what I’m looking for is agency, and an astonishing example of female agency is Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, for example. We have a woman who was a slave and we see her working in the world, and the internal thinking is so crucial to who she is and her identity. So it doesn’t need to be a sort of Cosmo girl getting a job, but how women negotiate often very dangerous limits when they have to.
Listen to the entire program here starting from 12:35.