Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Saturday, 2 June 2007 15:42 UK

'What use are men?' asks Lessing

Doris Lessing
Men are a 'haphazard species' says Doris Lessing

Veteran author Doris Lessing asked her Hay festival audience what use they thought men were - in an ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek way.

Lessing's latest work The Cleft is a sci-fi fiction which imagines what happens to a mythical world of only women, when men are introduced.

In her eyes men had been introduced to "pep up" a slothful, lazy world of women," said the 87-year-old.

"This is what I think men were for. The Y chromosome.. to pep up everything".

She said men were a "haphazard species" who always have to be looked after and died "much too easy".

But she admitted she would not want to live in an all-female world.

The novelist and essayist, on the final weekend of the book town's 20th festival, spoke of how her latest work had attracted criticism because of its inclusion of the mutilation of baby boys.

But she said it contained much nastier scenes - including a gang rape of a girl who escaped from her all-female world.

We like to think we are motherly and kind and that we are not going to go to war, but it's not true, is it?
Doris Lessing

And she asked why that should be?

"Obviously because its a female's lot to be raped," she said, and then referred meaningfully to some of the current strife in Zimbabwe - she was brought up in Rhodesia.

"Believe me, if you're a woman wandering carelessly in Darfur... rape is the least of it."

But asked by a member of the audience if it was men who waged war, she replied: "I have not noticed that women, when they get to be prime ministers are particularly peaceful."

On the contrary she said some of the worst crimes had been committed by women.

She said: "We like to think we are motherly and kind and that we are not going to go to war, but it's not true, is it?"

'Something abrasive'

Lessing described how her latest writing had been partly "inspired" by her own experience of giving birth at 19 and the woman in the next bed, already a mother of two girls, harshly rejecting the son she had just had.

She said the woman's reaction to her new-born was "primitive " and "shocking" and added that often these supressed ideas resurfaced to colour her writing when "without you even knowing you're doing it".

Lessing lamented the lack of modern science fiction writing and spoke of her own love of writing for the sheer surprise of what happens next.

She said she was often surprised by criticical reaction to her writing - the early reviews to her 1962 masterpiece The Golden Notebook were "horrible", she said.

Lessing said "There's something abrasive in me because I have often made people very cross".

But she said as a writer it was important not to care what other people think and that the profession must honour that.

"We are free... here I can say what I think. We are lucky, privileged, so why not make use of it?"

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific