Weldon unrepentant over imprudent past comments

The author speaks of product placement, 'role model' Katie Price and feminism. Melanie Newman reports

April 17, 2008

Fay Weldon, outspoken author and professor of creative writing at Brunel University, has few regrets despite admitting that not all her public comments have been well considered.

In a Parkinson-style public interview with Brunel's vice-chancellor Chris Jenks last week, she discussed her decision to accept payment for product placement in her 2003 novel The Bulgari Connection. "Had I thought about the consequences, I might not have done it," she said.

When The New York Times telephoned for a quote on the controversial Bulgari commission, she told them: "Let (my name) be mud. They never give me the Booker prize anyway."

She told Professor Jenks that when the call came, she had been cooking dinner, adding: "I'll say anything for a smart line."

When she said in The Times that Katie Price - glamour model Jordan - was a role model, she said she had done so without realising that Price "was doing this porn thing".

"She seemed like a nice person, with a great appetite for life," Professor Weldon explained. "She ate shepherd's pie and (drank) a glass of milk whereas most people would have eaten a lettuce leaf ... Good for her for making millions."

Asked about her advice, in the book What Makes Women Happy, that women should fake orgasms, Professor Weldon said: "Girls under 30 find the thought shocking. Women over 30, who get a bit tired, think it's only sensible" - a remark that prompted applause from the audience at Brunel's 2008 spring lecture.

Like many authors described as feminist, Professor Weldon said that she had not set out to write feminist books. "I wasn't politicised, I was just writing about women. There was a myth that women were nice attractive creatures and that men supported them - I never noticed that. I assumed women were human beings."

Now, she said, she is accused of "biologism". "I believe women's physiology does have something to do with their performance in the workplace. Twenty years ago you couldn't have said that as it would have been playing into the hands of the enemy."

To Professor Jenks's observation that women are still underrepresented in positions of power, Professor Weldon said that the assumption that women's goal was to earn as much as men should be challenged.

Women choose not to do the "hierarchical top dog thing", she suggested. "They want to go and lie on a beach sometimes. Women who do not have children get to higher-level jobs. Women who have children don't. The opportunities are there, but you have to sacrifice part of you to take them."

If Professor Weldon has upset feminists, she has also raised eyebrows among academics in English-literature departments by suggesting that aspiring authors should not study literature. She explained: "It sends you into a spiral of depression."

Professor Weldon said she never saw the point of the question: "What does the writer mean?" To her, the answer was always: "Whatever writers say they mean."


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