September 2011


Polly Courtney is the author of six novels, including It’s A Man’s World, The Fame Factor and Golden Handcuffs. She also works as a business consultant, and plays soccer and the violin in a string quartet. She created a stir this month when she announced she wouldn’t be using her publisher again because she didn’t agree with the way they marketed her books.

Return to interview list

  1. 1. So what exactly happened at the launch of your latest novel It’s A Man’s World?

    I made a speech, in which I referenced the recent news that a major UK retailer had dropped the Women’s Fiction label from its shelves after customers had complained that the books looked ‘condescending, pink and girly’. (The word ‘condescending’ went on to be mis-quoted as something I had said myself.) I held up my novel and let people draw their own conclusions about what I thought of the design. Most of the guests knew about the tussles I have had with my publisher over the last three years. Those who didn’t, well … I think they understood what I was getting at when I said ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. I went on to explain that I would be putting the learnings of the last three years to good effect, and publishing independently from the next book onwards.

  2. 2. How would you like to see It’s A Man’s World marketed? What sort of cover did you envisage?

    I would have liked to call the book Harmless Banter. Two-word titles are well-suited to the style of my writing. On the imagery front, I have been disappointed with the way my publisher has jumped on a different bandwagon for every title, with no continuity. I would like to see bold, block-colour imagery that is consistently branded – not a cliched, ‘me too’ design that has been cloned from a movie poster (Morning Glory).

  3. 3. Working at a lads’ mag, all-girl rock bands … why don’t you think your stories fit the chick lit label?

    My books are certainly light reads. They’re written to entertain, but each one of them centres around a serious social or personal issue, such as sexual inequality, racism or celebrity obsession. It’s not so much the label I object to; more the way they are packaged.

  4. 4. Who is the “right” audience for your novels?

    The right audience is an audience that will enjoy my novels. I worry when I read reviews that say “this wasn’t what I’d expected” and “this is more hard-hitting than I’d have liked”. I feel as though the covers have tricked the wrong people into buying the book – and quite possibly put off the set of people who would have enjoyed the read.

  5. 5. Can you see how your media comments have been construed as being anti-chick lit?

    Retrospectively, yes. It’s always hard when bringing something into the public domain, as the issues are always deeper than what you can say in a 100-word answer or a two-minute television interview. Coupled with that, the media will often sensationalise a story to stir up opinion. That said, I’m not sorry to have kick-started the debate because I feel that the issue of mis-selling is one that has been bubbling under the surface for a while now – and, judging by the emails I have received, one that affects many writers and readers in recent years.

  6. 6. Chick lit fans can be very protective of the genre. Were you expecting a backlash?

    No! When I made my speech at the book launch, I didn’t use the words ‘chick lit’. I don’t actually know where the idea came from that I don’t like the genre. I like it. I really do – and I certainly don’t think that my writing is in any way superior to that of other writers. I simply advocate books that ‘do what they say on the tin’.

  7. 7. In hindsight, is there anything you'd do differently?

    That’s a hard one. If I hadn’t made a noise at my book launch then it’s doubtful we’d even be having this debate – so despite the negativity towards me as an author, I’m glad that I did what I did. It’s a debate that needs to be aired. In hindsight, I’m not sure there’s anything else I could have done differently, as much of the backlash related to comments in the media and blogosphere that were beyond my control.

  8. 8. Is it important for women’s fiction to push a feminist message? And what does feminism mean to you in 2011?

    Definitely. Men and women have an equal place in society, and frankly there are far too many examples of this not being the case: in the workplace, in government and in homes. Until we have equality, we still have a battle to fight – and if books are a way of bringing the issues to light, then I’ll do my best to write them.

  9. 9. Is there now more pressure on you for your next release?

    I feel more excited than pressured. It’s very liberating to regain control over what I write, what it gets called, what it looks like and how it gets sold. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

  10. 10. Have you got a next book in the pipeline? If so, can you tell us about it?

    I know what it’s going to be about but the storyline hasn’t yet been mapped out. I can tell you that it’s loosely based on a real-life situation and it centres around the theme of gender, but that’s all I’m saying for now…

  11. 11. What are the benefits of self-publishing over using a traditional publishing company?

    The key benefit is control over the subject, packaging and marketing. When publishing traditionally, there are so many different departments and people involved, all with slightly different visions for the product, it’s like a game of Chinese whispers and often the end result is something that nobody is quite happy with – least of all the author. When you’re self-publishing, you can coordinate the entire process, from writing to editing to marketing and design, right through to where and how the books are sold.

  12. 12. What advice would you give an author about to sign on the dotted line with a publishing company?

    Think about what you really want for your books. Do you have an audience in mind? If so, check that the publisher has the same audience in mind and a good plan for how to reach them. Look at the other novels the publisher has released and try to find out what they have in mind for yours. If I had my time again, I would have asked the publisher what they envisioned for my books, right at the start. It may seem arrogant for a small-time novelist to ask this of a big publishing house, but if your ambitions are different then it’s better to find this out before you sign on the line than a hundred thousand words later.

  13. 13. How did you first get into writing novels? Is it something you can see doing for the foreseeable future?

    I love writing. However, I discovered my passion for it in an unusual way. Having studied sciences and engineering, I went into the city to work as an investment banker straight from university. It was here that I felt my first urge to write – to expose the experiences I had had in the Square Mile for the benefit of other potential young bankers. Once I started writing, I knew I had found my career. It took a while, though, to adjust from the world of equations to the world of words!

  14. 14. Your debut Golden Handcuffs was partly about your career as an investment banker. Is there a future novel in you about an author fighting with her publisher?

    I already wrote it – and had it published by HarperCollins. The Fame Factor was a thinly veiled autobiography of my experiences of the publishing industry – set in the parallel world of the music industry. My favourite part of the process was when my editor told me: ‘You must have done a lot of research for this; I had no idea young artists were treated so badly!’.

  15. 15. What inspired you to write The Day I Died?

    The backdrop for The Day I Died is a home for disadvantaged and vulnerable young people and the story revolves around the protagonist’s relationship with a particular group of teenagers. As with many of my books, this is loosely based on some real-life examples and I have the St Christopher’s charity to thank for providing such inspiring stories and contacts.

  16. 16. Which authors do you admire and why?

    For pleasure, I like to read light, amusing novels. Nick Hornby, John Niven and Ben Elton are up there on the list and I love the way Marian Keyes weaves brilliant stories around serious issues. Oddly, I grew up on thrillers and crime novels, so I’m a great admirer of P.D. James. I hope I can be like her in 60 years’ time, still writing, at nearly 90!

  17. 17. Describe yourself in five words.

    Energetic, persistent, rebellious, cynical, mis-quoted.

Back to top