Victoria Brookman is an accomplished activist, researcher, and author. For a number of years, Victoria worked as a political staffer and was a candidate for the seat of Bradfield in the 2007 Federal Election. This month, her new book “Burnt Out” was released!
In this incredible story, Calida Lyons hits rock bottom and is forced to shelter with neighbours while a fire incinerates everything she owns. Devastated and emotional in front of news cameras, Cali delivers a blistering, unfiltered rebuke to the nation’s rich to do something. Her rant goes viral, and she quickly becomes the latest celebrity face of the climate movement. But things aren’t always as they seem.
Exclusively for QBD Books, Victoria talks about the importance of political women’s fiction:
Nothing hits quite like political women’s fiction right now. Women’s fiction is already the most widely read genre in the Anglosphere, and while some misogynistic gatekeepers in the cultural establishment continue to write our work off as ‘less’ than men’s, today’s women’s fiction authors are engaging with some hard-hitting issues in their bestselling novels, and we are all reaping the benefits.
Never preachy, political women’s fiction is the kind of book that dives a little deeper, talking not only about a life, or relationships, or human drama, but about how these elements connect to the world at large. These books can exist across genres, but what ties them together is that they always, to some degree, feature an engagement with subtle political analysis, whether social, economic, environmental or a combination.
Protest is nothing new, and neither is politically grounded fiction, but political women’s fiction provides an essential counterpoint to the less nuanced dialogues that we find in the online world of tweets, clickbait headlines and polarising ‘hot takes’. Women’s fiction offers compelling and accessible stories in the novel-length format, which, when combined with a political analysis, can give the reader a chance to engage with a sustained exploration of the issues that surround us, while simultaneously entertaining and engaging the reader. Here, human drama and relationships meets political reality; the personal is political.
Recent Australian political women’s fiction reads that spring to my mind include Sally Hepworth’s The Younger Wife (which deals with gaslighting, coercive control, domestic abuse, the importance of female solidarity), Rose Hartley’s Maggie’s Going Nowhere (robodebt, charity, homelessness), Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss (mental healthcare failures, discriminatory attitudes towards women’s mental health), Kate Mildenhall’s The Mother Fault (climate change, creeping authoritarianism via ‘convenient’ technology, corporate criminality), Tori Haschka’s Grace Under Pressure (gendered division of child-rearing and the mental load), and the work of Australia’s queen of historical romance Mary-Anne O’Connor, such as Sisters of Freedom and Dressed by Iris (which engage with class politics, poverty and wealth inequality).
The funny thing is, listing the political elements in these books in this way risks tarring them as dry or hard to read, which none of them are. This is precisely the beauty of books like this: their political elements slip seamlessly into what are already engaging and entertaining page-turners.
That was something I found when I was writing my novel Burnt Out at the start of 2020. We’d just been through the Black Summer, and the political context – bushfires, climate inaction, the rage of ordinary people about politicians – was a natural part of the tale. To not include it would have been an omission; I would have been telling half a story. Included, they helped my heroine take flight.
As a reader, I’m often so wrapped up in these well-crafted books that the political elements take me by pleasant surprise. But they always greet me as a friend. As we continue to wade through this Age of Crises, democracy demands a more politically engaged and informed citizenry. Writing that is more deeply felt, and more widely read, and told from the perspective of those with less power and influence, is just what we need.