On page and pitch

<p>Ah, spring. Yellow daffodils, pink cherry blossom, purple crocuses and orange. A time to look forward. In literary terms, it&rsquo;s a time when authors, agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians and readers look forward to two of the UK&rsquo;s most significant awards&mdash;the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.</p>
<p>The Orange Prize celebrates outstanding fiction by women from all over the world&mdash;Turkey to Australia, Iran to the UK. The column inches devoted to the 20 novels on the longlist have been extensive.</p>
<p>But among the serious and thoughtful celebration of writers, there&rsquo;s the same old drizzle of complaint about the eligibility criteria. Despite the fact that Orange has promoted the work of hundreds of women writers to millions of male and female readers, in the words of the song, it was &ldquo;yesterday once more&rdquo;: 1996, not 2008.</p>
<p>Antique quotations and worn opinions were dusted off and recycled, as if 13 years of working with librarians and teachers, booksellers and authors, publishers and agents to promote reading and writers had never happened.</p>
<p>Spring is the time for book tours and I was in Greece, so had the chance to witness on the day of the announcement how the Orange Prize is viewed beyond these traditional shores. It was both fabulous and a little dispiriting. In Athens, the predominantly Greek audience at the British Council event had been online to see the longlist. There was a genuine passion for discussion about the novels, the writers, the ideas. There were also eyebrows raised at why journalists would &ldquo;waste&rdquo; time, as one man in the audience put it, challenging the principles of the prize so many years after the event, rather than focusing on the books themselves.</p>
<p>All prizes have eligibility criteria: nationality, or ethnic origin, or language, or country of residence, or subject matter, or religion. For those who see the world in negative terms, prizes celebrate the achievements of one group at the expense of another.</p>
<p>But for those who have a half-full view, celebrating achievement is a good thing. Since 1996, Orange has done just that&mdash;celebrated international women&rsquo;s achievements for the benefit of male and female readers everywhere.</p>
<p>This is what matters&mdash;reading, and promoting writing. In much the same way, every single weekend millions of men and women (myself included) celebrate men&rsquo;s achievements&mdash;except on the pitch not the page.</p>
<p>And quite right too. It&rsquo;s not unfair. It&rsquo;s just football.</p>