Let’s be clear on one point straight away. It ain't gonna happen, not least because it would simply be illegal and discriminatory restraint of trade and as such banned by the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. She knows that as well as anyone else.
That doesn't mean that Shamzie’s argument – that it’s harder for women authors to break through than it is for men – isn't a perfectly legitimate gripe. Indeed, if she feels it’s true – and many women authors do feel it’s true – then that’s something that needs to be addressed.
Here at Comely Bank Publishing I'm pretty confident we are gender-blind; in truth if we get a good author, and a good novel, then it doesn't really matter whether the author is female, male, or from the planet Mars. We just want to get it out there somehow.
I’m not sure Shamsie’s not cherry-picking facts when she complains that female authors are less often put forward for prizes, and therefore less likely to win. Women win plenty of prizes, certainly in fiction, and then there are the women-only ones as well. It may be that perhaps the more established are overly male, but that’s definitely changing; women are certainly pulling their weight at the entry-level end of writing.
However I take Shamsie’s point on a couple of other issues. First of all, I accept that the protagonists in novels are more than likely to be male – even when women are doing the writing. Crime fiction has always attracted female writers from Agatha Christie onwards, but the detectives featured in the novels of Marjery Allingham, Ruth Rendell, Donna Leon, P. D. James and Christie herself have mostly been men – often troubled, vulnerable characters far removed from the action-men thrillers of a Michael Connelly or Lee Child.
Secondly, following on from that, it’s fair to say that many (not all) of the books written by women take a different approach to the situations in which their protagonists find themselves. Violence still seems to be something men write more freely about, and that might simply mirror society as a whole.
It makes sense that women might find it easier to write empathetically for female readers, likewise men for male readers. And before I get a range of complaints saying that I’m stereotyping, let me be clear that I’m not talking about all writers, or all readers: simply a tendency.
There are times when I’ve wished Comely Bank Publishing could submit a male author’s book for a prize, but I do feel that the book industry is looking for new female fiction authors to break down all the barriers at the moment. So I have a suggestion: in 2018, instead of Baileys sponsoring simply a women’s prize, why don’t they also sponsor a men’s literature prize simultaneously... and then have a final run-off between the winning male and female writers? Then involve the public a little, inviting them to read the books themselves and to post their own reviews for the judges to read.
Think of the benefits. Lots of new readers would engage – there would only be two books – and it would also encourage some basic writing skills amongst our supposedly illiterate population.
And there would be genuine excitement each year over which book, the man’s or the woman’s, was the better. Getting far more of the public involved in the book-prize circus would surely bring a little more fun and excitement into it all at the same time.
What’s not to like about that?