Classy Books (The Social Class of Published Authors)

Open Pen Issue Five‘s David Gill takes a look at the class gap in book authors in this week’s article.

Feedback, discussion, as ever, encouraged and appreciated.

21 Days In February

by David Gill

The British writers below had adult fiction reviewed on the Guardian Books section1 (online) between the 1st and 21st of February 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 14.21.52 Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 14.22.16 Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 14.22.53

Of the authors above seven are middle class and three are from working class backgrounds2. This is not what we would expect from the general population, where 60% identify as working class3. I would speculate that it is due to publishers being comfortable publishing books from people like them. Or it may be a lack of working class aspiration in this sphere4.

This is just one data set, we would need more to explore the issue, and to establish whether there is an issue.

1 Feb 2014

AwayWithTheGreys got stuck in the mud at Ffos Las and didn’t place in the Welsh Champion Hurdle (14:05, heavy, two hurdles omitted). Ridden widest of the field I thought for a moment that the jockey (Donal Devereux) had seen something. Whatever he had seen it wasn’t how to win. Perhaps Donal had seen how to give the horse its best chance and it wasn’t up to it.

I don’t want to think how that applies to me.

I did a similar exercise in February 2011. The results are summarised below.

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8 February

Harry Topper – now that’s a proper horse. He just keeps on however deep the going. Horses supposedly more talented stop. Harry doesn’t stop, Harry wins. It’s good to make the right choices. But it is a race and the outcome could have been otherwise. That is if the game is not rigged. No-one wants to believe the game is rigged, at least no-one who enjoys putting a bet on the horses. It would spoil the fun5.

Whether anything meaningful can be extracted from the 2 tables of data above will only be addressed if we can see the pattern over a period of time (between 2 points in Euclidean space a straight line can always be drawn).

The lack of working class writers in February 2013 and February 2011 is striking. I am not arguing that there is some sort of evil cabal of agents and publishers – although it is fun to imagine – but rather a set of assumptions which means the lack of working-class writers can be explained in ways other than publishers’ and agents’ own prejudices: because of a working class lack of education, because of the working class lack of aspiration. It’s always something lacking in us, it is our fault.

15 February

Cloudy Too was a distant second to Captain Chris. But second paid out. When you place a bet you make a choice.

To hear some speak they would have it that writing is like this. If you don’t take the bet it will not pay out. We don’t get working class writers writing or submitting books. Also, there is the notion that the working class who move to the middle class are as deserving as those left behind are not. Built into this is the idea that the working class is something to be escaped from. If you have the brains or the luck you desert it. What is lost is the idea of the class advancing as a class. The only way to advance is to leave. Advancement is structured-in as an individual effort.

We come across this argument a lot: we are rich due to our efforts, they are poor due to their failings or their choices. They deserve to be poor. It is an odd mix of Calvinism and social Darwinism.

We have our first sets of data points. We need others. Until then, correlation is not causation, but it does bear investigation.



The graph shows the number of people living in households with different income levels grouped into £10 income bands. The height of the bars represents the number of people in each income band. Median income was £413. If we consider the mean income (see note below for terms) we can see the distribution is skewed with 65% of individuals having household income below the national mean, the mean household income being £517. The final bar shows that more than 1.4 million individuals out of a private household population of 60 million have household incomes above £1500 per week.

Figure 1. UK Income Distribution 2009 – 2010


Another measure that could be employed is modal income. This is around £15000 per annum, or around £289 per week.

Note on terms

Three common averages used are:

Median: the middle value, where (the number of occurrences + 1) / 2 gives the middle
Mean: sum of numbers / number of occurrences
Mode: is the number repeated more often than any other

When the mean, median and mode are equal, you will have a normal or bell shaped distribution. If you have data where the mean, median and mode are different, the scores are said to be skewed.

Using these terms we can say that the income distribution for Britain is skewed.

Results from British Social Attitudes survey from the National Centre for Social Research in 2007 reported 57% of people described themselves as working class, a result that the BBC reported as ‘staggering’ and illustrated with a picture of Vicky Pollard:

Vicky Pollard is portrayed by Matt Lucas, an old boy of Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School, current annual fee £14,103.

I’d lay money on the background of those compiling the BBC report. How would you make that book?


Doesn’t where you are from have something to do with where you are going? The chances of, for example, Mr Cameron, Eton and Oxford, ever ending up in a council flat were always vanishingly small. This seems to be an argument that ‘the poor choose to be poor because they lack aspiration’. It has the advantage of giving the well-off the notion that their being well-off is entirely their choice.

It is difficult to suggest that not everything we receive is deserved by reference to our own individual effort.

You are well-off through your own efforts. And Mr Cameron could have ended up in a council flat.


At least horse racing investigates these accusations.

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