In the Media, June 2016, Part One

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

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It’s impossible to begin with anything other than the Stanford rape case. The victim’s court statement was published on Buzzfeed and went viral. The piece, along with responses from Brock Turner’s father and friends, including a female friend who defended him, have prompted some impassioned and powerful pieces: Louise O’Neill wrote, ‘20 minutes is an awfully long time when you’re the one being raped‘ in the Irish Examiner; Estelle B. Freedman, ‘When Feminists Take On Judges Over Rape‘ in The New York Times; Sarah Lunnie, ‘Maybe the word “rapist” is a problem: The utility of nouns and verbs, or accepting who we are and what we do‘ on Salon; Adrienne LaFrance, ‘What Happens When People Stop Talking About the Stanford Rape Case?‘ on The Atlantic; Kim Saumell, ‘I was never raped but…‘ on Medium; Rebecca Makkai, ‘The Power and Limitations of Victim-Impact Statements‘ in The New Yorker; Roe McDermott, ‘He Said Nothing‘ on The Coven; Glosswitch, ‘Does the outrage over the Stanford rape case do anything to help victims?‘ in the New Statesman

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The other big news this fortnight was Lisa McInerney’s debut novel, The Glorious Heresies, taking The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2016. Justine Jordan wrote, ‘Sweary Lady’s riot of invention is a well-deserved winner of the Baileys prize‘ in The Guardian. While McInerney wrote about her working day for The Guardian and shared a secret in ‘Bad Behaviourism‘ on Scottish Book Trust

There’s a new series on Literary Hub about women writers in translation. Written by a group of translators, each fortnight they’re looking at a country and the women writers from there yet to be translated into English. So far they’ve covered Germany, China and Italy. I’ve added it to the regulars at the bottom of the page.

And finally, the excellent Jendella Benson has a new column on Media Diversified. This week’s is ‘How to Raise a Champion‘ and I’ve also added her to the list of regulars at the bottom of the page.

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The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

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Personal essays/memoir:

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Feminism:

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Society and Politics:

Dan Phillips

Film, Television, Music, Art, Fashion and Sport:

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The interviews/profiles:

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The regular columnists:

Book Lists for All Humans #3

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Today’s list comes in reaction to this list on Publishers Weekly: The 10 Funniest Books, only two of which are written but women and none by writers of colour. Note to us all: only  white men are funny.

Or not. I’m struggling a little with this one as funny isn’t my go-to so please add your suggestions, especially books by women of colour from beyond the UK and USA.

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth
friends, booze, debauchery

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day – Pearl Cleage
HIV, religion, love

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe
nannying, working class nanny meets the literati

Is Everyone Hanging Out with Me? – Mindy Kaling
memoir

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans
war, evacuees, survival

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo
homosexuality, London, family, Caribbean

The Table of Less Valued Knights – Marie Phillips
quests, feminism, sexuality

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu – Yi Shun Lai
dating, mothers, following your dreams

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler
memoir, feminism

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik
hijabs, dating, writing

Links are to my reviews

In the Media: October 2015, Part Two

In the media is a fortnightly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous fortnight and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

Photograph by Nadya Lev

This fortnight has been dominated by trans issues and feminism. This is largely due (in the UK at least) to the no-platforming of Germaine Greer due to her unpalatable comments about trans women. Sarah Seltzer looks at ‘The Disturbing Trend of Second-Wave Feminist Transphobia‘ on Flavorwire. This coincided with YA author, James Dawson, coming out as a transgender woman in this great piece by Patrick Strudwick on Buzzfeed. I look forward to featuring James and his books on the blog under his yet to be revealed new name and pronoun. Elsewhere, Francesca Mari writes, ‘They Found Love, Then They Found Gender‘ on Matter, Corinne Manning writes about ‘In Defence of the New Censorship‘, discussing the use of singular they on Literary Hub while Laurie Penny explores, ‘How To Be A Genderqueer Feminist‘ on Buzzfeed.

Photograph by Chad Batka

The woman with the most publicity this fortnight is Carrie Brownstein. She’s interviewed in Rolling Stone, Slate, Noisey, The New York Times and The Guardian.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music, Art and Fashion:

The interviews:

The regular columnists:

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize Winners

Yesterday evening was the prize ceremony for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. The event took place in the Jerwood Space in South London and I was lucky enough to be there.

Photograph by Nina Pottell

Photograph by Nina Pottell

The longlist of fifteen titles was whittled down to eight winners, all of whom were presented with a beautiful hand-bound edition of their book and a cheque for £5000. The prize is unique in that it awards the best British fiction from across the country and has eight winners who equally share the prize money. It was clear from the speeches of the winners, particularly Carys Davies, Grace McCleen and Bethan Roberts how much this means to writers in a time when grants have been cut and more books than ever are being published. It’s also fantastic to see a number of independent publishers being recognised and to have a winners list where three quarters of the recipients are women. (Now for more writers of colour to be recognised, although I understand there’s an issue here in terms of the number of books submitted by writers of colour.)

Photography by Rachael Beale

Photography by Rachael Beale

The winning books are:

A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)

Mobile Library by David Whitehouse (Picador, Pan Macmillan)

Mother Island by Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House)

Significance by Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)

The Incarnations by Susan Barker (Doubleday, Transworld)

The Offering by Grace McCleen (Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton)

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies (Salt)

The three I’ve read are all great (click the link to read my reviews) – Animals and The Incarnations both made my best of the year list last year. I’m really looking forward to exploring the rest of the list.

Photograph by Nina Pottell

Photograph by Nina Pottell

It’s also Fiction Uncovered’s fifth birthday and to celebrate they had an art installation cake. Yes, that’s really a cake! Isn’t it amazing? It tasted delicious too.

There’s also more celebrations to come. Jerwood Fiction Uncovered FM will return to the airwaves on Sunday 21 June. The annual radio station dedicated to discussing great British fiction will be on Resonance FM at 104.4fm and via www.resonancefm.com. Guests will also include the winning authors, the 2015 judging panel and other British fiction writers including Catherine Hall, Nikesh Shukla, Matt Thorne, Alex Wheatle, broadcaster Nikki Bedi and Danuta Kean. AND ME! Yes, really. I’m on a panel hosted by Nikki Bedi with Danuta Kean and Nikesh Shukla discussing diversity in the publishing industry following the pieces I wrote for the Fiction Uncovered blog in May. Jerwood Fiction Uncovered FM is on air 12-5pm, presented by Matt Thorne and Simon Savidge. The panel I’m involved in takes place from 13.40 to 14.10. Tune in!

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Longlist

I’ve loved the Fiction Uncovered prize since discovering it three years ago. It awards eight writers who haven’t garnered the recognition they deserve and the choices are always wonderful. This year, for the first time, a longlist has been announced and it looks amazing. There are fifteen books, eleven of which – ELEVEN – are by women writers. I’m impressed. I’ve only read four of them but they’re all fantastic; if you click on the titles you can read my reviews. I’m going to endeavour to read the rest now. The shortlist is announced on the 18th June.

A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)

Beastings – Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose Books)

Dear Thief – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House)

Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador, Pan Macmillan)

Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus, Penguin Random House)

Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)

The Four Marys – Jean Rafferty (Saraband)

The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Doubleday, Transworld)

The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre, Hodder & Stougton)

The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)

The Spice Box Letters – Eve Makis (Sandstone Press)

The Stray American – Wendy Brandmark (Holland Park Press)

The Way Out – Vicki Jarrett (Freight Books)

Wittgenstein Jr – Lars Iyer (Melville House UK)

This diverse group of books has been chosen by the judges as they display the flair, range and literary rigour abounding in British writing today and should, the judges believe, be widely read. In a nation reeling from the most divisive general election for many years, this is a group of books that can unify readers in the power of a good story.

Announcing the longlist, chair of judges India Knight said:

“It is absolutely thrilling to have found such brilliant books, across such a wide variety of genres, and from authors that live and write all over the country. These are fantastic writers who deserve to be household names.”

On the decision to release the longlist for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize for the first time this year, prize Founder and Director Sophie Rochester said:

“With writers from Swansea, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bath, Brighton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, and publishers from Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk, this year’s longlist presents an exciting snapshot of contemporary British fiction writing and publishing.”

Joining India Knight on the judging panel this year are Matt Bates (WH Smith Travel), Cathy Galvin (Word Factory/Newsweek) and Simon Savidge (Savidge Reads).

My Bailey's Prize Wishlist 2015

You know that spring is almost here when the Bailey’s Prize for Women gets underway. Next Tuesday (10th March) the longlist of 20 novels (if it remains the same as recent years) will be announced. Eligible novels have to be written in English and published by a UK adult imprint between the 1st of April 2014 and the 31st of March 2015. Translations are not eligible.

Here’s what I’d like to see on the list. If you click on the cover, it’ll take you to my review, unless the book is yet to be published, in which case the review will be posted on the week of publication.

As ever, I’ll be shadowing the whole process. Check back on Friday for more details on this.

(Published 26th March)

(Published 26th March)

(Published 5th March)

And three I haven’t read yet but are strong possibilities:

In the Media: 15th February 2015

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

This week it’s been almost impossible to escape Fifty Shades of Grey and the commentary surrounding it. Girl on the Net wrote ‘Is 50 Shades of Grey abuse?‘ on her blog; Leslie Bennets wrote, ‘Sex, Lies and Fifty Shades‘ for EW; Janice Turner wrote ‘At last, a man who knows what women want‘ in The Times, while Eva Wiseman went with ‘Why Fifty Shades finds itself in a world of pain‘ in The Observer.

And the pieces about and around the ‘new’ Harper Lee novel keep coming; The Guardian reported ‘Harper Lee ‘hurt and humiliated’ by Mockingbird sequel controversy‘; Salon reported on ‘Harper Lee and America’s silent abuse epidemic‘; Sadie Stein wrote, ‘Hot Stove‘ in The Paris Review; The New Yorker went with ‘Harper Lee and the Benefit of the Doubt‘; McSweeney’s ran ‘Harper Lee’s Letters to Her Editor After the Publication of To Kill a Mockingbird‘; The Los Angeles Times asked ‘Is Harper Lee’s new book headed for Hollywood?‘; while the Huffington Post asked ‘What Did Atticus Finch Think of the Civil Rights Movement?

There’s also been a focus on women’s deaths with the launch of The Femicide Census. Karen Ingala Smith wrote, ‘Femicide is a leading a cause of premature death for women – why aren’t we doing more?‘ and Sarah Ditum, ‘Why we need a Femicide Census‘ both in the New Statesman, while Parker Marie Malloy wrote ‘Trans Women of Color Deserve to Be Mourned as Much as Leelah Alcorn‘ on Slate.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

My favourite pieces this week:

Books of the Year 2014 (Part 2)

As promised yesterday when I posted my Books of the Year (Part One) – those published pre-2014, here’s part two with those published this year.

There are two things I dislike about doing this sort of post; the first is I’m very aware of the books that people I trust rate highly and I haven’t got to yet – Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation; Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows; Ali Smith’s How to be both, and Suri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World are all high on my TBR. And then there are the books I really enjoyed but didn’t quite make the cut because I want to highlight those books that didn’t garner as much attention as I think they should have. Honourable mentions therefore to The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton; The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh; The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey by Rachel Joyce, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Here they are then, the books published this year that entertained me the most, made me laugh (to the point of tears sometimes), cry, gasp and look on in wonder and admiration at the writer’s skill. The books I want to thrust into your hands and say ‘Read this!’. (Click on the titles for the original reviews.)

 

House of Ashes – Monique Roffey

A coup d’état on a island that might be Trinidad and Tobago. A bookish man named Ashes who gets caught up in the idea of revolution; a teenager called Breeze who thinks it will lead to a better life for him, and Aspasia Garland, Minster for the Environment and a hostage. A powerful book about power, poverty and leadership. My book of the year.

 

 

The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

An unnamed prisoner on death row; an attorney investigating whether a prisoner can be saved on appeal; the fallen priest; the prison warden; a guard; a white haired boy. Abuse, control, freedom. Who’s good and who’s bad. Breathtaking prose. I have no idea why this book isn’t being raved about everywhere.

 

 

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

A book that is being raved about everywhere and deservedly so. Macdonald’s memoir of training a goshawk, Mabel, following her father’s sudden death, using her own experience to reflect upon that of T. H. White. Beautiful prose and an absorbing story.

 

The Incarnations – Susan Barker

Someone’s leaving letters in Wang Jun’s taxi. Letters that say they’re from a soulmate he’s had for over a thousand years, a soulmate who will take us on a journey through China’s history and lead Wang Jun to question his family and his friendship. A bizarre omission from the Booker Prize list, I have high hopes of this being on the Bailey’s Prize list.

 

 

In Search of Solace – Emily Mackie

Interesting voice, interesting structure, interesting themes, heartbreaking story. How Jacob Little goes in search of Solace (a woman he lived with and loved at university but he’s also searching for inner peace). It’s clever and thoughtful but also a good story. Longlisted for The Green Carnation Prize but I’ve seen very little about it elsewhere, another one I’m hoping to see on the Bailey’s Prize list.

 

 

Academy Street – Mary Costello

The story of Tess, from being a young girl in a big house in Ireland when her mother dies, through the rest of her life in New York as a nurse. A small life, quietly told in beautiful, considered prose. Heartbreaking.

 

 

 

 

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth

Laura and Tyler are best friends, flatmates and drinking buddies, but Laura’s getting married to Jim who’s just gone teetotal and Tyler’s not happy about the changes afoot. There’s always time for one last bender though, isn’t there? Absolutely hilarious but with many thought-provoking moments about what it’s like to be a woman in your late 20’s/early 30s railing against society’s expectations.

 

 

Thirst – Kerry Hudson

An unlikely love story between Dave, a Bond Street shop security guard and Alena, a Siberian woman, trafficked to the UK and caught stealing shoes. Dave and Alena’s stories are heartbreaking enough but their attempts to forge a relationship through the walls they’ve built up and the cultural differences has moments I found completely devastating.

 

 

After Me Comes the Flood – Sarah Perry

John Cole, lost in a heatwave, arrives at a house in which the inhabitants are expecting him. He soon realises he’s not their John Cole but stays anyway. There he begins to discover what both he and those around him are capable of. Eerie, disconcerting and unusual.

 

 

A Song for Issy Bradley – Carys Bray

The story of the Bradley family, a family of Mormons, coming to terms with the death of their youngest member, Issy, from meningitis. We move between the family members – two teenagers, Zippy and Alma, seven-year-old Jacob, and parents Ian and Claire as they question their faith and work out how life can go on. Unexpectedly full of humour with great characters.

 

 

The Woman Who Stole My Life – Marian Keyes

Stella Sweeney’s back in Ireland trying to write a follow-up to the best-selling novel that saw her move to New York. Her yoga loving son who hates her is in tow; her artist ex-husband, Ryan, is giving everything he owns away in the name of art, and whose phone calls is she avoiding? Funny, smart and a cracking love interest.

 

 

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans

When Mattie starts forgetting things and then disappears, her godson, Noel is evacuated to St. Albans and Vee Sedge. Vee and her son, Donald, are both taking advantage of the outbreak of war in their own ways. Noel ends up drawn into both. A novel about survival with crooked characters you can’t help but fall for. Funny, acutely observed and heartwarming.

 

 

Wake – Anna Hope

The return of the unknown soldier to Westminster. The story of three women whose lives have been affected by the war. Hettie, a dancer whose brother, Fred, has PTSD. Evelyn, who lost a fiancé and a finger in the war. She’s also losing her brother who’s returned a different person. Ada, whose son Michael died but who she continues to see on the street. Their stories are connected although they’ll never meet. Devastating.

 

 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary Cooke tells the story of her family, quite an unusual family and the events that took place when she was sent to stay at her grandparents. Did it happen as she remembers or is she fooling herself? An unusual take on what it means to be a family.

 

 

 

Lila – Marilynne Robinson

The one that converted me to Marilynne Robinson. Lila is a prequel to Gilead and tells the story of his second wife prior to and including their meeting and marrying. It’s about loneliness, not being able to see yourself clearly and fighting the urge to run away. The prose is beautiful and the story is heartbreaking.

 

 

2a.m. at the Cat’s Pajamas – Marie-Helene Bertino

Christmas Eve Eve in Philadelphia. Nine-year-old Madeline’s mother is dead from cancer and her father can’t get out of bed. She’s desperate to sing – at school initially but, better still, at a jazz club. Madeline’s teacher, Sarina, has dinner with her ex-boyfriend to contend with after school ends and Jack Lorca, owner of the Cat’s Pajamas, jazz club, has a relationship with his son which is in need of repair and a police fine that he can’t pay. The day that awaits all three of them is skilfully interwoven in a story that’s equal amounts grit and heartwarming.

 

In the Media: 23rd November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

It’s been Ursula K. Le Guin’s week. Awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards, she gave a widely praised speech about the need for freedom. You can watch it here, or read the transcript here. She’s interviewed on Salon, in The Guardian by Hari Kunzru and there’s a piece on where she gets her ideas from on Brain Pickings

Arundhati Roy and Megham Daum are the women with the second most coverage this week. Roy’s in Prospect, talking about ‘India’s Shame‘ and the caste system and interviewed in The Observer, where there are plenty of unnecessary comments about her looks. While Daum is interviewed on FSG’s website, in The Guardian and on The Cut.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the best things I’ve read this week:

‘I’m proud to be a feminist.’ Emma Jane Unsworth at Off the Shelf Festival, Sheffield

It’s a rainy autumnal evening when I arrive at Sheffield Central Library. Upstairs in a room lined with cases of leather-bound books, a small stage is set. Emma Jane Unsworth is here to talk about her latest novel Animals.

The event begins with Unsworth reading from early in the novel. She chooses a section where Tyler has been visiting dating strikes drunk, resulting in her committing cyber suicide and we learn about Laura at school, always top or second in English.

This is followed by an interview.

Unsworth is asked whether Animals is a novel about drinking. She says there’s a lot of drinking and drugs in the novel, often to excess. She wanted to show the ups and downs, the joys of going out with your best friend but also the hangovers and the existential crises.

This is followed by a question about ‘settling down’, which the interview suggested doesn’t happen in the book. Unsworth says she hopes she shows a breadth of possibilities. She wanted there to be joy in the excess but also to show that there’s a pressure that comes with doing the same thing over and over. It reaches a point where there’s no freedom in it any more for Laura. From a political view, she wanted to explore how women are expected to do certain things with their bodies at certain times. Society dictates that a woman should prepare her body for pregnancy.

The interviewer asks if she thinks there is a pressure to grow up. Unsworth says she noticed it within her own group of friends in their late twenties as people began to marry and have babies. Those who did neither of these felt they were being left behind, as though they were failing. Women should have choices but they are false choices if they’re made by fear. She questioned why you might feel that life would have less value if you didn’t marry/have children and did you reach a point in your life when you have to change completely? At this point, the voice of the two women – Laura and Tyler – started to become real in her head and she wanted to turn it into a narrative, a comedy about a duo and their escapades. ‘I don’t understand what it means to grow up! I wanted to fight that!’ she says.

Was Animals good fun to write? The nights out were but some of them made her feel queasy! She talks about the joy of going out with girlfriends, the way that you feel free to talk more. She says one of her favourite scenarios is a pub table, a bottle of wine and her best mate; she’s sorted so much out that way! She also wanted to document Manchester; it was an act of preservation.

The interviewer comments on how good it is to read an urban novel not set in London. Unsworth says she couldn’t imagine it being set anywhere else. She enjoyed doing the little booze tours in the book and the wanderings at strange times. She’s seen the buildings in Manchester grow, change, move and shift in her time there, it’s deeply ingrained in her imagination.

The interviewer asked for questions from the audience.

The first is about the title of the novel. Unsworth says it comes from the Frank O’Hara poem but it wasn’t her idea. She wanted to call it The Rogue because it’s rarely applied to women and she wanted to nod towards the Picaresque, a genre rarely applied to women. Everyone hated it but she dug her heels in until Francis Bickmore, her editor, sent her the O’Hara poem. She quotes the first stanza:

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

She changed her mind then as she felt the poem referred to Tyler and Laura’s glory days, days that did so much for both of them. She goes on to talk about how, although comparisons have been drawn with Withnail & I, she was wary of slotting female characters into a male blueprint. That’s neither original nor progressive. She wanted them to be dirtier and grimier than Ab Fab and with a different tone to Withnail & I.

Somebody else asks about her protagonists being highly educated but lacking stimulation and fulfilment. Unsworth says she wanted a backdrop of real, modern day Britain so the Olympics, Mars Rover, Higgs Boson and the recession are all there. Manchester was grim, shops were shutting, people couldn’t get jobs doing what they wanted so ended up in telesales and coffee shops, feeling lucky to get those. She wanted her characters to be pretentious, not too sympathetic. They ponce around town quoting Yates and drinking which is just the way the voices came out. (Unsworth says it sounds awful when writers say that!) She expands on that saying the voices arrived when she was two drafts into a completely different novel. She thought they were interesting so began writing it into her phone. When she transferred it to a computer, she discovered she had 16,000 words. She’d never written so excitedly nor so fast!

What does she think of the Booker Prize and why do comedic books rarely win, are they difficult to write? She knew that’s what she wanted to write and she’s got braver with the humour as she’s written more. She says she ‘wussed out’ with her first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything because she was worried what her boss might think of her, what her nan was going to think, so she removed some of the sex scenes. Her family are proud of Animals though because it’s fiction! She says she thinks there’s a presumption that if something’s funny it can’t be taken seriously but she feel passionate/less low and more connected to the characters if they’re humourous.

Someone asks about Laura being a writer and the book she’s writing about a priest who falls in love with a talking pig. Unsworth says it’s her being silly, taking the mickey out of the magical realism in Hungry the Stars and Everything. She wrote it down, showed it a friend and they liked it. She expected an editor to say something but they didn’t so it’s still in there!

Do you see a lot of yourself in Tyler? There’s something appealing about her, she’s tough/solid and ‘ain’t changing for anyone’, but there’s no room for growth then. Unsworth says she’s loads to learn and loads to do and isn’t ready to stop changing/growing or being sympathetic.

Has she always wanted to be a writer? She reveals that she used to write Valentine’s poems for her friends at school and charge them a pound! She went on to be a journalist but went part-time to write her first novel. She also reveals that the first draft of her third novel is finished.

Did you feel like a proper grown-up when the first book came out? She said it’s strange when it’s an object. She was scared but once it was out felt excited and emboldened.

Is there a difference between publishing as a journalist and publishing a novel? Unsworth says she still worried when she was writing journalism but not a lot went online at that time so it still felt small scale. It’s a big thing to write a book people might keep. It’s also risky because it’s your own ideas while articles are often written for commissions or to spec. It’s liberating and terrifying writing a novel but, she says, she’s writing to be read and to share things.

Someone else asks about Tyler as a female anti-hero. Unsworth says she couldn’t have written anything else. She’s never tried writing from a male point-of-view but neither was it a conscious choice to write about women behaving badly or in a way that is perceived to be bad but that was what created the narrative tension, along with societal pressures. She says she became braver as the writing went on, especially in redrafts. She started to think about extremities and the limits and depths of what these two women could bear mentally. She wanted to make it a farce and she’s glad she did.

How’s the film going? (Animals was optioned as a film by producer Sarah Brocklehurst in April.) I have to know where the scene’s going before I can get a word down, she says. Every single scene is plotted out. But she loves writing dialogue and is under no illusion as to the length of the process or the amount of collaboration that will come later.

What do you think about the apparent desire for likeable characters in books and have you had any comments about how unlikeable your characters are? Unsworth says she thinks this is more of a problem for women writers, that people conflate them with their characters. She talks about Alicia Nutting, writer of Tampa and how many interviews she read where the interviewer begins by expressing surprise at how nice Nutting is, as though a woman can’t write an unlikeable character who isn’t herself. She says she agrees with the idea that characters need to be believable in context and refers to Claire Messud’s comments to Publishers Weekly following the publication of The Woman Upstairs.

The penultimate question is how Unsworth feels about being part of a movement. She talks about how lucky she is to have caught the wave and be part of a pioneering group challenging conventions. She mentions the television programme Girls, the film Bridesmaids and fellow writers Annaliese Mackintosh and Zoe Pilger. However, she says, ‘The second something’s a trend, it’s a trap’; she has an appetite and interest for characters that go against the grain and she wants to keep exploring what makes these women bad. She doesn’t want to become complacent and stop questioning. She makes clear, ‘I’m proud to be a feminist. It’s an honour to be connected with those writers.’ She thinks it’s brilliant feminism is being talked about but we need to interrogate it too.

The final question is women without children being undervalued in society. Unsworth says there’s a moral value attached to being a parent or getting married despite no one suddenly graduating to a new level of compassion. There’s a feeling in society that if you lose a baby, you’ve failed; it’s why you can’t say you’re pregnant for three months in case you miscarry because shame comes with that loss. She says that life isn’t a series of checkpoints to tick off and by choosing not to marry or have children, you’re just going on another path. It should be a choice and not one made out of fear or pity. She dislikes society’s view that women in their 40s and 50s who go out drinking are described as ‘such a tragedy’ or ‘not quite right’. Humans justify their position by dismissing the alternative which just reduces the possibilities for everyone.

The event ends almost where it began, thinking about women drinking and behaving in a way that society doesn’t like. Unsworth is an interesting and entertaining speaker; she’s clearly passionate about fighting for a different space for women and doing so through fiction that’s both smart and humourous. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for book number three.