Horror starts to look good on the surface, with a few 50/50 splits, but only twice as it had more women than men (over 13 years – there’s been No Award in four years), while six times men have dominated (including one 100% male list).
I guess what I’m saying is that over the adult novel categories, the numbers average out relatively balanced, but on closer inspection, this is down to a really strong showing in the Fantasy Novel area. Which is, in Australia during that period of time, probably unsurprising, though unlikely mirrored elsewhere in the world. As an avid reader of fantasy (and someone who is always pleased to see women writers bucking trends), this is a GOOD THING, but it’s not the whole story in speculative fiction across Australia.
Looking a little further, the winners of each category is also interesting to consider (mostly looking at 16 years now, as this year’s awards have not yet been announced). Three times in 16 years women have won the SF Novel category (and one of those was a book co-authored with a man) – including co-authors, that’s three out of 17 winners (17.64% women). Fantasy Novel is a bit odd, but basically out of 20 winners (including ties and co-authored, and including this year’s result because it can only BE a woman, with a clean sweep shortlist), six have been men (70% women). Horror is very unusual indeed, because even though women have less than 41% of the shortlists, the actual winners are 8-6 in favour of women (including ties / co-authors), in a total of 14 winners. This is something that has been somewhat reflected in other local awards, and in the recognition internationally of some of our best women Horror writers, which is worthy of interest when one considers how traditionally male-heavy the Horror field is, in Australia and overseas. Clearly Aussie women are both really good at writing, and superb at creeping people out…
What does this mean? Well, all figures can be interpreted to suit different agendas I guess, but to me, this looks very positive for woman writers in Australian spec fic, and particularly by comparison to the rest of the world. Women here are doing excellent work in fields that overseas are traditionally dominated by men, and while SF shows a significantly different pattern, this genre is seeing a surge in female authored works in recent years, which is hopefully started to redress the balance.
I wonder too if some of the blurring of genre boundaries will add to an increase of what is considered SF, as is perhaps reflected in this year’s shortlist featuring a number of dystopian novels – SF doesn’t have to be about far flung futures or robots and spaceships, but these are frequently fingered as features of the field. There is still somewhat of a dearth of solid SF being published in Australia (there were 33 novels entered in SF Novel, compared to 64 in Fantasy Novel), by men or women, but this year’s Aurealis Awards saw a strong improvement in this area, which hopefully will continue in the future.
With only 12 entries in the Horror Novel section, this too is a genre on the backburner – perhaps the proliferation of dark fantasy on shelves and screens, and the dominance of urban fantasy / paranormal romance (ie: vampires and werewolves, for the most part, which were once the province of scares rather than sex), has diluted the market for strong horror, but as with anything in publishing, swings and roundabouts occur. I have no doubt that at some point Horror will start to forge forward once more, as publishers and audiences seek the next big thing. Hopefully it won’t be at the expense of Fantasy and SF but if it is, as long as there are great women writers in the fray, I won’t complain.
* please note that I’m not a statistician – I did the math as best I could, with some help from my spreadsheet! All figures were taken from files housed at the Aurealis Awards website. Any miscounts are my own, as are my interpretations. I’m interested to hear what others think though!