Edinburgh Women’s Fiction Festival

From left to right: Alison Belsham, Jane Anderson, Kristin Pedroja and Olivia Kekewich

Head to Edinburgh on Oct 6 and 7 for a brand new festival celebrating fiction written for, and by, women…

“Books are an escape, and women’s stories help us get inside the heads of the people we might have been,” says Olivia Kekewich, assistant manager and events coordinator for the Edinburgh Bookshop, and programme manager for Edinburgh Women’s Fiction Festival. “We get to visit places, experience situations, and meet people that might never happen in our real lives. If life is getting to be too much, diving into the life of a character can make everything better.”

The passion Kekewich clearly holds for women’s fiction is precisely why Edinburgh Women’s Fiction Festival was set up. In her job at the bookshop, she noticed that during the pandemic customers’ reading habits were shifting towards more uplifting, happier books than what they would normally read about or see reviews for. These tended to be books written by women, and the demand became such that she added a new section – Feel-Good/Romance – to the shop.

Edinburgh Women’s Fiction Festival celebrates writing for, by, and about women. It prides itself in being inclusive and welcoming everyone who finds joy in reading women’s stories, whether that’s commercial, romance, historical or literary fiction.

Sara-Jade Virtue

Sara-Jade Virtue, Brand Development Director, Fiction at Simon & Schuster UK, is appearing on the festival’s feel-good fiction panel and running an introduction to publishing workshop. She is an avid advocate for women’s fiction, and leads the #RespectRomFic movement launched by the Romantic Novelists’ Association in March 2022 that aims to shift some of the dismissive attitudes both readers and writers of Romance receive in the UK.

“Members of the #RespectRomFic movement have been talking about the lack of invitations all but the very biggest romance authors receive to traditional UK literary festivals, and the disproportionate amount of dedicated Crime Thriller book festivals that are run each year,” she says. “So, the launch of the #EdWomensFicFest is hugely exciting and fills a desperate need for writers and readers to come together and celebrate all that is wonderful about fiction written in the main by, for, and about women and the female experience.”

Also appearing are a host of inspiring and well-loved authors, such as Sara Sheridan, Karen Swan, Milly Johnson, Stacey Thomas, Lily Lindon and Jenny Colgan. Across the weekend, panels range from historical romance to witcherature and romcom fiction, opening the conversation about what women love to read and why.

Stacey Thomas

Stacey Thomas will be discussing her latest book, The Revels, with Anya Bergman on the witcherature panel. As a debut author, she describes being involved in the festival as a “pinch-me” moment. She points out that throughout history, women have had to fight to have their voices heard.

“They’ve had to fight against assumptions of how a woman should live her life. Even now we are still fighting,” she says. “Women’s fiction is important, as each story shows us that women don’t have to fit a certain mould. I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for the women’s fiction I read growing up that convinced me that our voices are necessary and needed.”

Author Milly Johnson

Author Milly Johnson

Milly Johnson

Some of the assumptions about what women like to read, and what they like to write, revolve around a certain degree of misogyny and snobbery. Milly Johnson, author of Together Again and The Happiest Ever After among a wealth of others, agrees that – despite what the industry will sometimes present – women do not write lesser books.

“Our books are every bit as intricate and deftly plotted as crime novels, every bit as crafted as literary novels. We should be standing shoulder to shoulder with books in other genres, not hanging behind.”

It’s incredibly important that stories written by women and about women are regarded on the same level as those written by men. It’s not just about having books that relate specifically to experiences unique to women, it’s also about finding relief from a reality that can often feel bleak.

“Women’s fiction has always been important,” says Sara-Jade. “But following the pandemic, lockdowns, the cost-of-living crisis, the political landscape, the war in Ukraine, and ongoing global warming fears, I think it’s the genuine escape these novels offer us, without leaving our own sofa, that’s proving more important than ever before.

Readers want to feel uplifted and whether it’s a romance, or a love between family, friends or community, women’s fiction is proving a salvation and a balm to the troubles around us.

Meet Your Favourite Authors

Something further the festival aims to encourage is for women to come together in their love for literature, meet their favourite authors and learn about new ones.

“The best way to champion women’s fiction is by opening the door to others,” says Stacey. “I wouldn’t be a published author if it wasn’t for Clare Mackintosh mentoring me and awarding me a scholarship to study at Curtis Brown Creative. Now that I’m published, I’ve been paying it forward by sharing my experiences with aspiring writers.”

Meeting like-minded people can have an important effect on both readers and writers of women’s literature. When a writer can put down what you’re feeling or experiencing, worried about or celebrating, the joy in being seen and understood is a universal one.

“My favourite thing about women’s fiction is how it is loved by our readers who write to tell us how our stories have affected their lives,” says Milly. “They have taken guidance from the strong women we write about, and our writing has inspired them to start businesses, leave dysfunctional relationships, find respite from troubles, make changes that give them a better quality of life. That’s pretty potent stuff.”

For more details

Edinburgh Women’s Fiction Festival, October 6-7 2023, edwomensficfest.co.uk.

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