Keyes criticises 'sexist' Wodehouse Prize

Keyes criticises 'sexist' Wodehouse Prize

Bestselling author Marian Keyes has reportedly accused the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize of sexism after failing to make the shortlist.

The Irish writer revealed she has a “grudge” about the comic fiction award, for which there have only been three female winners in the past 18 years, according to the Telegraph.

The prize was cancelled this year for the first time after organisers said none of the entries made them laugh out loud.

However, it had been reported that Keyes’ publisher, Michael Joseph, did not submit her most recent novel, The Break, for consideration. When The Bookseller contacted the Penguin Random House imprint to clarify, Keyes' publisher said she believed that the novel had been submitted for the prize.

Keyes was speaking at the Hay Festival in a discussion recorded for the BBC's “Talking Books” programme. The festival director, Peter Florence, is one of the prize judges and said Keyes' novels had not been submitted for the past two years.

Keyes, who has sold 6.5 million copies for £40.7m through Nielsen BookScan since records began, told the panel: "The one thing I have a grudge about is the Wodehouse Prize for comic writing.

"I have never been shortlisted. Say what you like about me, my books are funny, they are comic. What else do I have to do to qualify?"

Asked why most of the prize's winners have been men, Keyes replied: "Because they're men. Because male voices are automatically given extra weight. I mean, anything that's ever been said or done by a woman just matters less.

"There is both cause and effect there. Power and money are lovely, and those who have it want to hold onto it. One way of keeping those who don't have it from having it is to mock them and mock the things they love. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

"Things that women love are just automatically dismissed as frivolous nonsense. Football could be considered as frivolous nonsense but it's treated as hard news in the newspapers.

"So I think by giving the men the prizes, it just reinforces that the men are more important."

She described the situation as a “sexist imbalance".

Louise Moore, m.d. of Michael Joseph and Keyes' publisher, questioned whether the submission process was "robut" given the company believed it had entered The Break.

She told The Bookseller:  “As publishers, it is our responsibility to ensure that our author’s books are submitted for prizes.  Marian Keyes did not have a new novel in 2017 and we can confirm therefore that she was not entered for the Wodehouse Prize that year.

"We believe we did enter The Break for the Prize this year and we are devastated to hear the books have not been received. However, whether or not the submission process is robust, Marian raises a really important point. There are many brilliant women writing humorous books and it would be wonderful if more were recognised for their genius.”

Keyes supported this by tweeting to her 163,00 followers that "my book The Break *was* submitted".

"No idea why Wodehouse prize is saying that it wasn't," she said.

However a spokesperson for the prize refuted this. They said: "We've checked the submission list, and unfortunately we did not receive The Break from Michael Joseph for the 2018 prize.

"We’re confident our submission process is robust. We contact publishers to announce that submissions are open and follow up with reminders ahead of the deadline."

Florence, meanwhile, said that the judges "do not play the representation game" and the funniest book wins regardless of the author's gender.

He and his fellow judges announced last month that although there had been many “amusing and well-written books among the 62 submissions”, none fulfilled the criteria of making all the panelists laugh out loud.

The prize is traditionally presented to the winner at the Hay Festival and includes a case of Bollinger Special Cuvée, a jeroboam of Bollinger, a complete set of the Everyman Wodehouse books collection as well as a rare breed pig named after the winning novel.

The female authors to have won include Helen Fielding for Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries (Vintage), Hannah Rothschild for The Improbability of Love (Bloomsbury) and Marina Lewycka for A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Penguin).

The prize organisers and Michael Joseph have both been contacted by The Bookseller.