Where are all the female writers and directors?
"Women don't count," I was told firmly by a high-profile novelist recently. "Blimey, don't they?" I replied, genuinely taken aback.
"No, it's a very male thing," she said. "I stop writing when I've had enough, then I pour myself a drink. Why would I want to count how many words I have written?"
The insight into this particular writer's approach to her craft was being offered to me in response to a question I had posed based on the notion that John Updike wrote 3,000 words a day without fail.
I have no idea if it was true, but it was a good enough peg for me to ask the author for a daily word count.
I was puzzled by her response. How could anybody possibly sit down at a computer, spend the whole day bashing out words and then not want to count them up at the end?
It would be like being on a diet, abstaining with great discipline all week and then not wanting to step on the bathroom scales - it's a fundamental part of the process. Isn't it?
Apparently not for women. And the author in question should know, it was Kate Mosse, co-founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction.
To be fair, she was making a flippant remark not stating a fact on behalf of all female writers, but the broader point she was making, was that women think differently. This led a conversation onto female representation in the arts.
We played the Name Game: name five famous 20th Century American male artists. Easy: Warhol, Rothko, Pollock, Judd, Rauschenberg.
Now, in the same amount of time, name five famous 20th Century American female artists. Still easy? How about naming five famous male playwrights from the year 1500 to 1999?
Now name five famous female playwrights - that's anywhere in the world over 500 years; or five female composers, photographers, graphic designers or film directors.
We failed. And that's why she set up the Orange Prize for Fiction. She said it was initially in response to the Booker Prize shortlist of 1991 that didn't include any women.
This struck her and some colleagues as odd, seeing as there was plenty of quality fiction being written by women. A meeting was called in a North London flat that was attended by many of publishing's big hitters (men and women).
The group concluded that the written male voice was considered to be inclusive and neutral, while the female writer's voice was considered to be female.
What shocked the group most though, was the fact that there was no public comment made regarding the 1991 all-male shortlist. Would there, they wondered, have been no comment if the shortlist were all-female?
Five years later, in 1996, the Orange Prize for Fiction was launched, as a women-only competition. The founders figured that this was the only way to provide a platform on which a serious discussion about contemporary literature written by women could be had.
Making it a women-only prize removed the writer's gender as a consideration when judging a book for its literary merits.
Now in its 15th year, the Orange Prize is well established and has played a part in the Booker Prize's growing recognition of female writers. In the early 1990s, 11% of the Booker shortlist was female; now it is 38%.
Kate Mosse and others have helped shift perceptions about women's contribution to contemporary fiction. But what about elsewhere in the arts?
There are no female directors in the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival. There has only been one female winner of the Turner Prize in the past decade.
And not only are most of the UK's arts institutions currently run by men, most of them have never been run by a woman.
The arts are exciting and important because the document, challenge and shape society. So what does the current lack of recognition of female creativity say about us all in 2010?