Having long lost touch with everyone with whom I went to school, I think I've known Zoe Fairbairns longer than anyone who is not a blood relative. I came across her as an author in 1971 when I was working in a library, one of my jobs being to daily tidy the "f"s. I have to say that she was not the most popular author in Hawick Public Library so I dusted down her early novels quite a lot. She had been taken up by a major publisher as a teenage prodigy, which can happen. She returned to fiction later, as a grown up. By then I'd got to know her, by chance, as a student activist and subsequently as editor of CND's then journal, Sanity. Zoe became a very successful novelist, her usp being an ability to write traditional novels, family sagas, airport novels and the like but with a strong feminist slant. Novels like Stand We at Last were hugely popular. Benefits was an exception, being a feminist dystopian novel set in the dying days of the twentieth century. The country was in chaos and the government had nothing better to do than attack welfare benefits for women. And women fought back using unorthodox means.
Benefits was a real feminist classic and did well for Virago in 1979. It was reprinted in a Five Leaves edition in 1998 and again did well for a few years. A spin off from the book was the alternative Xmas card giving a quote from the book - "The birth of a man who thinks he's God isn't such a rare event". Printed with text only, elegantly on card, it sold - what? - 30,000 copies over a few years for Mushroom Bookshop in Nottingham, with royalties going to the Women's Research and Resource Centre. Five Leaves later published Zoe's collection of short stories, How Do You Pronounce Nulliparous?
Now, yet again, the country is in a mess and welfare benefits are under attack. This is the right time to publish a new edition, with a new introduction by Zoe, giving the book a modern context. The print book is still available, but the ebook edition includes the new intro - and it is out now at £2.99. Available here: