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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Publishers fight for more 'male lit'
Just William
Just William was always getting into scrapes
Two men are fighting back against the "chick lit" phenomenon by setting up a publishing company exclusively for men's and boys' books.

David Elliot and Brad Thompson want to attack the "namby-pamby, touchy-feely" style of authors like Tony Parsons.

The pair told the Daily Telegraph there should be more buccaneering tales that teach boys about chivalry and stoicism.

Spitfire Books' first release will be Barry Norman's laddish 30-year-old novel Have a Nice Day.

The company, which will publish boys' books under the title Young Spitfire, is fighting the corner for men, believing female authors such as Zadie Smith and Helen Fielding receive too much attention.

Biggles is a classic boys' adventure book
"Because of feminism and political correctness, what young men read now is crap these days, with books by people like Tony Parsons," said Mr Elliot in the Telegraph.

"It's all this new dad stuff, all namby pamby touchy-feely. Where are all the great buccaneering, derring-do, true-life adventures and cowboy stories? Our criteria is that we want bloody good reads."

Spitfire wants a return to adventure stories where men are men and debauchery is welcomed along with smoking and drinking.

Female characters look like they will be given short shrift in Spitfire stories, as Mr Elliot believes JK Rowling was wrong to have made Harry Potter's friend Hermione his equal.

"It is typical of modern children's books in which there is a boy and a girl and the girl is as good as the boy," he said.

"Just William is a much better read for boys. Violet Elizabeth Bott was a whingeing, snivelling sneak who was always frightened. That is how I would like the girls to be."

Tony Parsons
Tony Parsons wrote the bestseller Man and Boy
The publishers say the influence of female-orientated books has edged out writers such as JB Priestley.

Mr Elliot said Spitfire will provide an alternative to the publisher Virago, founded 30 years ago to promote women's fiction.

"They had their day," he said.

"Now it's time for us to have ours to redress the balance because men are not getting a fair crack of the whip."

Are there really not enough novels around for men and boys? Please see a selection of your comments below.

By their comments, it seems Elliot and Thompson are more interested in bashing women than in creating interesting, adventure-filled fiction. It's a pity they can't think to do the latter without the former - and as much a pity that they think any book with a strong female character, or by a woman author is rubbish. They've obviously missed out on the fact that it's not sex that makes good fiction, and I suspect their imprint will reflect that - and that their readership will, also.
Neal, US

So the premise is that only men can write cracking good adventure yarns? Someone better tell CJ Cherryh and Andre Norton and Leigh Brackett and Patricia Cornwall and Dana Stabenow and Zilpha Snyder and Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Olivia Coolidge and Rosemary Sutcliff and Mary Renault. I think (happily) that they missed that memo.

I don't care who writes a good story, so long as it's a good story. And male writers have been preferentially published for several thousand years - and still are, in many areas such as the contemporary thrillers these gents are so enamoured of. We need MORE women writing adventure, not less.

These gentlemen aren't serious, are they? As an American, I've been assured that my culture is the only one in the world populated by intelligence-deficient brutes, but now I see that the British have simply been good at hiding theirs until now.
Evan, USA

Kudos to the gentlemen. There've been limited studies done indicating that roughly two-thirds of North American school libraries have not a single book in stacks of interest to boys. Imagine what that says about the curriculumn.
David Moynihan, USA

Blah, blah, blah. Oh, girls are talking over! Cry, cry, cry. I guess your books weren't so good at teaching stoicism, but better at laying the seeds for baby boomer whining in all its varied, but invariably pathetic, forms. Don't like today's books? As a kid, I remember reading such current authors as James Fennimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson. Have the big, tough feminists hidden those books? No sale.
Dan Pepper, USA

Oh, dear - pull the other one, lads. Incredible that anyone's taking lines like "that's how I'd like girls to be" seriously - this is obviously parody, calculated to excite publicity. And look how it worked. Still, anyone who considers calling Zadie Smith "chick lit" (she's Dickens, reincarnated) might have a straight enough face to pull off the testosterone-for-ink style they're advocating.

Should be a hit -- H.L. Mencken said "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people" and maybe we can just delete the adjective. But win or lose, boys, not to worry - publishing's still run almost entirely by and for men.
S. Ramsey, USA

If there is a market for these books, the would-be publishers are bang on target: it must be male readers of the Daily Telegraph and their offspring. I wonder, do the little fellows so in need of a dose of antiquated maleness sport lemon cashmere jumpers to match those worn by their chivalrous and stoical dads? If Spitfire gets them queueing up around the block at Waterstones like JK Rowling does, we will find out.
Jane Alexander, review ed., Pulp Net, UK (London)

The problem here is that a book written by a woman or with a female leading character is considered a "book for women". The same happens with most cultures. If it is created by a woman, it must be aimed at women and therefore is not as relevant. We live in a society that makes men the human beings by default, and anything that a woman dares to do is considered just the exception.
Eugenia Andino, Spain

"Violet Elizabeth Bott was a whingeing, snivelling sneak who was always frightened. That is how I would like the girls to be." I thought this company was about "good reads", not "misogynist power fantasies". Are Messrs. Elliot and Thompson so intimidated by non-fictional women that they have to read about "whingeing, snivelling sneaks" to maintain a sense of manhood?
Matt Weber, USA

As an aspiring author I welcome Elliott and Thompson's initiative. I am currently working on a "rattling good yarn" set in Italy of the 14th cent. A tale of English knights and mercenaries fighting for the right in the wars between the City States.
Frank Payton, England

Unfortunately today there is far too much female influence in all areas. As a male baby boomer I find the average 30something male, today, is a pathetic, simpering, weaseling specimen, that from my experience, most women of all age groups despise. So called "political correctness" is destroying good, exciting masculine literature, so good luck to Spitfire Books.
Andrew, USA

The problem with gung-ho heroes these days is that we British are much more cynical. The Americans can write books about all-American heroes and be taken seriously - we always have to pick holes in our heroes. I'd love a modern kind of Biggles story, but it'd have to be very well written to keep up the suspension of disbelief.
Edward Green, UK

Have they not encountered Mike Ripley, Eoin Colfer James Ellroy, John Baker...? Surely the most important thing publishers should concern themselves with is outstanding storytelling. Girls, boys, it doesn't matter.
Ruthie, UK

Debauchery is fine, smoking is fine, drinking is fine? In my official capacity, I truly hope these books bomb as much as they sound like they deserve to. I loved Just William, but they had a childlike innocence - that seems to have been forgotten. These people are worse than those they criticise.
Greg, UK

Yes, lets have more charming tales of young mischievous lads having fun. But let us never revert to stereotyping girls again, a balance is required. Why is so much attention paid to female literature, because it was needed, to balance chauvinism in books.
Sarah Woolley, UK

Fantastic news! A nice big poke in the eye for purveyors of the current crop of 'girl power' rubbish!
Russ, Wales

In my opinion - and don't push away my comment just because I'm still just a teenager - I think it's about time that a man/boy publisher came in. If you ask me, Spitfire's creation is the most simple yet creative idea in a long time. I want to become a writer and I do a lot of it all of the time for fun but things like too much emotion and depressive boo-hoo love stories is killing the industry.
Chris Wilson, New Waltham, England

Huzzah for the writer chappies, more daring doo from the chaps in the spitfires, "Johnny reb at 3 o'clock ginger, look out".
Mr Benn, UK

Good on 'em. As a commuter who likes to while away the daily drudge to and from work with a good page turner, I find it increasingly difficult to find a best seller not about relationships, the life story of some z-list celeb, the latest fad diet, or other such dreary topics.

But please, provide more up to date themes than cowboys and buccaneers. We want bloke books for the 21st Century, not the 1940's.

I thought reading and academic stuff would be too "namby-pamby" for Parsons.
Katrina Hansen, Norway

A desperate last ditch gamble by dinosaur fantasists. The world they seek is fading, if they need to sit in the dark dreaming of Biggles and manly male superiority, they also need HG Wells' Time Machine to transport them back to a time when being a man meant being too weak to recognise and honour the equality of women.
Kat, UK

Anything by Chuck Palahnuik. Fight Club alone redresses the balance massively I think. Also, what is left if a book is not funny, thrilling or based in a science fiction or fantasy world, you're getting down to a very small volume of material which includes all the namby-pambyness these guys are trying to avoid.
James, UK

I've read quite a few novels where men get to be extremely debauched, smoke and drink to excess and have lots of adventures where girls are given very short shrift. Of course, their focus is gay men in the urban jungle so maybe it's not quite what Spitfire want...
David, UK

I challenge you to find a boy equivalent of Hermione, ie someone who is good at studies not games. All the children fiction I have read has boy heroes as good at things other than academic subjects (eg William, Jennings, Harry Potter etc) while there is a wide range of "academic is cool" fiction for girls. When schools are failing our boys it is sad that fiction is too.
John, UK

The lack of books aimed at boys is simply the result of market forces. Because parents have an increased tendency to talk to baby girls, they pick up linguistic skills earlier on and are consequently much more likely to read. More female readers means more feminist books being written to supply the demand.
Graeme Phillips, Germany, normally UK

I think this is great and don't know why anyone hadn't thought of it earlier. I hope it succeeds - most (thirtysomething) blokes I know haven't read a single book since school. It would be nice to see books aimed at men that aren't either (a) humorous; (b) thrillers; (c) fantasy/sci-fi or (d) about the underworld/drug culture - because it my experience that's about all they'll read (if they do at all). Let's see something different.
Holly, UK

I look forward to seeing Spitfire Books crash and burn. Elliot and Thompson are the literary equivalent of The Darkness: sounding ironic without meaning to and ending up all the more pitiable because apparently this really is the best they can do. To quote "namby-pamby" Oscar Wilde: books are either well-written or badly written, that is all. What matters in creative writing is not what is said but the way it is said.

Men are not getting a fair crack of the whip? Well, to quote Martin Amis (a man who really knows how to write) in his new novel: that seems like a mild reparation for five million years in power.
Alan Simpson, Belfast, NI

Since as a nation we are all now required to believe in the new religion of diversity in all things I would hope that this new venture will receive the same level of support and applause as other ventures which increase the diversity of literature available to us all.
Matt Davis, UK

"Our criteria is that we want bloody good reads." It's a pity that a literate use of English is not amongst his criteria ! We do not need this bigoted propaganda for anyone, let alone children.
John Cunliffe, UK

Nothing puts me off a book more than it being classed as 'women's' and I don't like this pinko-lefty-touchy-feely drivel that's around now. I have written my own stories for my child about pirates with plenty of fighting, mountaineering, monsters and adventure. We don't need to resort to gender stereotypes just to get back exciting stories. Just give us some ACTION!
J. Pennington, England

Will women be able to buy the sacred Spitfire texts or will they carry a no-girls-allowed sticker (like Yorkie bars)? I'm rather fond of Biggles and William myself.
Alice Dryden, England

The really sad thing is that this initiative seems to think masculinity is all about drunkenness, sex and smoking. Young men can today get all the machismo they need in the cinema or in comics, which in fact they do. Young men read as much as women, they just read different things.

Women and men respond differently to different media. Written fiction speaks more clearly to women while visual media speaks more clearly to men. It's not that men and women like different things it is just they like to see experience them in a different way. A man will buy a top shelf magazine and a woman will read a piece of slash fiction, both are equally sexual but presented in different ways for different audiences.

The woman on a train will most likely be reading Harry Potter while the man will be reading a biography of Sterling Moss. However, the Lord of the Rings is a great example of where male and female tastes can meet and overlap. Who can deny these books are the epitome of what boys own adventure stories should be, but as a commuter I see as many women reading them on the tube as men.
Andrew, England

While I agree that not enough literature is aimed at men, as opposed to that specifically aimed at women, but it's not as if everything out there is boring namby pamby rubbish. It's just a case of scratching below the surface to find the interesting stuff - in these days of laziness and apathy towards everything it would seem that people just can't be bothered to experiment with new things. And to be quite honest I can think of a lot better things to read about than war, violence and death - there's too much of that in the news already!

Jim, Wales, UK

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