This month’s Tasting Table explores Women’s Fiction and I am delighted to be talking to three of Australia’s most loved authors of this genre – Rachael Johns, Lisa Ireland, and Sally Hepworth. Remember to enjoy their samples above their bios at the end of the blog.
This is really a genre of its own, rather than the other wonderful romance sub-genres we’re exploring, but at times, the lines between romance and women’s fiction might seem blurry. This month’s Tasting Table is of personal interest as I’ve struggled to categorise my own books. Yes, they have the happy ever expected in romance, but also the strong growth arc and emotional journey of the female protagonists as featured in women’s fiction.
What better way to understand the similarities and differences than by chatting to authors who live and breathe women’s fiction? Join me in welcoming Rachael, Lisa, and Sally to The Tasting Table.
How do you define Women’s Fiction and how does it differ from Romance?
RACHAEL: Women’s Fiction is such a broad term/genre and includes everything from family sagas to books known as ‘chick-lit’ (a term we love to hate). Books with romantic elements are also often marketed as women’s fiction, however I believe there is a core difference between women’s fiction and straight romance. Both genres are primarily about relationships to me – but romance books focus on the relationship of lovers, whereas women’s fiction focuses on relationships between families, friends, work colleagues etc and the core story is not a journey to find romantic love. Women’s fiction novels also do not have to have a happy ever after, whereas romance novels do. To me both genres tap into the hopes, fears and dreams of women living and dealing with modern life.
LISA: This a complex question that I could discuss all day! Put simply, women’s fiction focuses on a woman’s emotional journey and at its heart is about a woman’s relationship with herself. One huge difference between romance and WF is that there is no requirement in WF for a “Happily Ever After” ending.
SALLY: Good question! Also a big question and a question I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer as I have never written romance. That said, I’d hazard a guess that the difference is to do with the fact that while women’s fiction can contain romance it is not the driving force of the novel. Women’s fiction tends to be about a woman’s relationship with herself as she struggles through something.
Tell us about the specific challenges you encounter when writing Women’s Fiction?
RACHAEL: The biggest challenge for me is writing multiple female pov characters. Having to a) give them all distinguishing features that make them different from each other and b) make sure each has their own character arc but that it is tied together with the stories of the other characters and the overall story arc.
LISA: I’m not sure that there are specific challenges, really. Craft wise the challenges are the same: creating a fresh, engaging story with relatable characters. I face the same personal hurdles writing WF as I did when I was writing romance – procrastination, self-doubt, not enough coffee! I guess the biggest difference in my WF is the number of POV characters. I had four in The Shape of Us and there are four in my current WIP. It can be challenging creating unique voices when you have multiple POV characters of the same gender.
SALLY: I imagine the challenges are similar no matter what the genre—creating compelling characters and interesting plotlines. For me, the greatest challenge is coming up with a satisfying, yet nuanced ending. And slogging through round after round of edits, of course!
How popular is Women’s Fiction in Australia and internationally? Is the genre growing?
RACHAEL: Contemporary women’s fiction has always been popular – I’d say Pride and Prejudice is more a WF than a romance – but I’ve seen more Australian publishers embracing the genre in the last few years. We probably have Liane Moriarty to thank for that and I think Aussie-set WF is growing as a genre but still a hard sell overseas.
LISA: I think women’s fiction is definitely popular and it is a growing market, however it is extremely competitive, which is something for writers to consider. Readers of women’s fiction tend to be less voracious than romance readers, so they don’t consume as many books. This means it can be hard for new WF authors to break into the market.
SALLY: Honestly I have no idea. As it is the genre I write in, I’m hoping it is going well! And considering Liane Moriarty is one of the top selling authors in the world right now, I’d say women’s fiction is alive and well. Certainly women are 80% of the reading market, it would make sense that this genre would do well.
Which other Women’s Fiction authors or books – past or present – do you love reading and would recommend to writers interested in this genre?
RACHAEL: Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary got me reading again after a long drought in high school, so that’s my #1. But I also love reading Marian Keyes, Lisa Jewell, Dorothy Koomson, Liane Moriarty, Diane Chamberlain and Jojo Moyes to name a few!
LISA: Jennifer Weiner’s early novels inspired my love of WF. I adore Jojo Moyes and Liane Moriarty. Kylie Ladd is one of my favourite Australian authors. Not all of her books fit neatly into the WF genre, but I think her book, Mothers and Daughters is a good example of the genre. It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway!) that I’m a huge fan of Rachael’s and Sally’s work too.
SALLY: Ooh, there are so many. But you can’t go wrong with Lisa Ireland, Rachael Johns, Liane Moriarty, Vanessa Carnevale, Kellie Rimmer or Sunni Overend.
What advice can you offer to authors wishing to write Women’s Fiction?
RACHAEL: Read lots in the genre, but don’t compare yourself to anyone else or try to BE anyone who is already published. Find your own voice and write about stuff you love.
LISA: Read widely within the genre and write the book of your heart. The WF market is difficult to crack, so you need to be passionate about your story.
SALLY: Read widely in the genre. Get to know what you enjoy when reading and try to incorporate that into your writing.
What inspires you to write Women’s Fiction?
RACHAEL: I’m very nosy and curious about how people tick and so I like deep-diving into the lives of my characters – it’s stories about groups of people like we see in WF that have always been my favourite.
LISA: Women’s fiction is what I love to read, so I’m naturally drawn to stories that fit within the genre. I’m interested in relationships and, while I love writing romance, WF gives me the scope to explore relationships that don’t fit within the parameters of that genre.
SALLY: I always try to write the kind of book I’d like to read, and as my favourite novels are women’s fiction—that’s what I write. Also, as a woman I feel naturally interested in the topics that are covered in women’s fiction—health, motherhood, soul-searching, relationships. After all, what else is there in life?
Rachael Johns is an English teacher by trade, a mum 24/7, a chronic arachnophobic and a writer the rest of the time. She rarely sleeps and never irons. A lover of romance and women’s fiction, Rachael loves nothing more than sitting in bed with her laptop and electric blanket and imagining her own stories.
In 2016 The Patterson Girls was named General Fiction Book of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards. Rachael has finaled in a number of other of competitions, including the Australian Romance Readers Awards. Jilted won Favourite Australian Contemporary Romance for 2012, The Patterson Girls won the same award for 2015 and she was voted in #13 in Booktopia’s Favourite Australian Author poll in 2018.
Rachael lives in the Perth hills with her hyperactive husband, three mostly gorgeous heroes-in-training, a ginger cat, a cantankerous bird and a very badly behaved dog.
Lisa Ireland is an Australian bestselling author, who lives on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula with her husband and three (big) boys. She loves eating but not cooking, is an Olympic class procrastinator and (most importantly) minion to a rather large dog.
Lisa’s fifth novel, The Art of Friendship, will be published by Pan Macmillan in May 2018.
Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016), The Mother’s Promise (2017), and The Family Next Door (Feb 2018). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.
Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.
Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.
Phillipa Nefri Clark
Phillipa grew up along lonely Australian beaches with wild seas and misty cliffs. From a young age she wrote stories and dreamed of being a writer.
These days she spends half her week running part of the family business and the other writing. Currently she is working on the third in her River’s End series.
Living in regional Australia on a small acreage close to a mountain range, Phillipa’s great loves – apart from writing – are her family of two young adult sons and husband, their Labrador, music, fine wine, and friends.