In the Media, November 2015, 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 traditional media are likely and the categories used are a guide, not definitives.

We’re still deep in book awards territory this fortnight with a number of winners and shortlists being announced. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won the Bailey’s Best of the Best for Half of a Yellow Sun. The award prompted pieces from Alice Stride in The Bookseller, an editorial in The Guardian and Anna James on The Pool about why we still need the Bailey’s Prize.

Sarah Waters won Stonewall’s Writer of the Decade; Lydia Davis will receive The Paris Review’s Hadada Award 2016; Kerry Hudson won the Prix Femina for Translated Fiction; Roxane Gay won the PEN Centre USA Freedom to Write Award; Jacqueline Wilson won the JM Barrie Award

The shortlists include the eclectic, female dominates Waterstones’ Book of the Year Award, chosen by Waterstones’ Booksellers; The Guardian First Book Award which Catherine Taylor, one of this years judges, discusses, and The Young Writer of the Year Award (which not only has gender parity, but also an equal split between writers of colour and white writers).

Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy returned her National Award for Best Screenplay, she explains why in The Guardian and Heather Horn investigates why the Prix Goncourt has been awarded to a man 102 times and a woman 11 times on The Atlantic

Irish women have been speaking out about the Abbey Theatre where nine out of ten plays in its 2016 centenary programme are written by men. Emer O’Toole writes about the reaction in The Guardian and Ellen Coyne in The Irish Times while Dr Susan Liddy, academic at the University of Limerick, writes ‘Women and the Irish film industry‘ to The Irish Times.

And if you only read one thing from this fortnight’s list, I highly recommend Jacqueline Rose’s essay, ‘Bantu in the Bathroom: on the trial of Oscar Pistorius‘ in The LRB.

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:

Inter-Media

A few pieces I’ve enjoyed/found interesting in the last month.

Books wise the focus continues on the lack of coverage of books by women and on diversity in publishing. Syl Saller writes, ‘Why women-only initiatives are vital for the arts‘ followed by Alison Flood’s piece, ‘Publisher finds that writers’ influences are mostly male‘ both in The Guardian. The publisher is Sarah Davis-Gough of Tramp Press. Also quoted in the article is Deborah Smith, translator and publisher at Tilted Axis Press. On the And Other Books blog, she explains why Tilted Axis are having a year of publishing women. A woman much in the media of late is Harper Lee. Glynnis MacNichol writes ‘Harper Lee: the ‘great lie’ she didn’t write Mockingbird rears its head again‘ looking not just at Lee but other women who’s authorship has also been questioned.

Kerry Hudson gets angry and offers some solutions on the Writers’ Centre, Norwich’s website, ‘Lost Stories, Unheard Voices – Diversity in Literature‘. (Do read the piece by Nikesh Shukla that’s linked to at the bottom of that page also, you’ll be astonished.) In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Susan Barker, author of The Incarnations, looks at her own experience as someone mixed-race English and Chinese, raised in Britain but writing about China; ‘Should Ethnicity Limit What a Fiction Writer Can Write?

It’s unlikely you haven’t noticed that the Man Booker Prize longlist was announced this week. Dawn Foster wrote, ‘Summer’s here – so it’s time to grab a Booker and start reading‘ in The Independent and there are excellent interviews with longlisted authors Hanya Yanagihara and Anna Smaill.

In other recent topics, Roxane Gay writes about the outpouring for Cecil the Lion while Samuel DuBose, Sandra Bland and the 681 other black people killed by police in the USA so far this year. Aisha Mirza asks, ‘London’s super-diversity is a joy. Why would you ever want to leave?‘ in The Guardian.

While Nina Stibbe looks at her experience of moving to the countryside in The Independent, ‘When village life turns nasty: An author reveals the dark heart of the English countryside‘ and Hazel Davis looks at the power of online friendships in Standard Issue, ‘iFriends‘.

Lots of good things on The Pool, as always. Sali Hughes writes, ‘A magazine cover that can make the world better for women‘, ‘“Housing benefit saved me as a teenager”‘ and ‘Hasn’t lying about your age gotten really old?‘. Lauren Laverne asks ‘Is work/life balance a big, fat waste of time?‘, ‘Who’s looking after all those successful men’s kids?‘ and ‘Too busy to sleep?‘. Sam Baker met Amy Poehler and I’m not remotely envious. Honest. Anna James looks at the 10 ways J.K. Rowling changed our lives and Alexandra Heminsley celebrates marketing campaigns finally realising ‘Exercise is not about getting skinny‘.

There’s been a number of other articles about women’s bodies recently. Eva Wiseman looks at the damage done to children through anti-obesity messages, ‘Learning to love our bodies‘ in The Observer. Lindy West writes, ‘My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time‘ in The Guardian and Shelley Harris says, ‘This Woman Can‘ on her blog in relation to Daisy Buchanan’s ‘A Letter I Wrote To Myself About Getting Fat‘ on her blog.

Elizabeth Day’s ‘Stop Calling Women ‘Lovely’!‘ for Elle UK makes me want to punch the air and shout ‘Fuck, yes!’

And being Yorkshire born and bred and having left and returned to the county twice, I love Sophie Heawood’s piece ‘I’ve lived half my life in London, but I’ll always be a Yorkshire lass at heart‘ in The Guardian.

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: 9th 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 awards time again this week. Congratulations to Helen Macdonald who won the Samuel Johnson Prize with her stunning memoir H is for Hawk. There’s an article about it and an interview, both in The Guardian. You can also listen to interviews with all the shortlisted writers on BBC Radio 4.

While in France, Lydie Salvayre won the Prix Goncourt with Pas Pleurer.

The Green Carnation shortlist was announced this week and there are four women on the shortlist of six – congratulations to Kerry Hudson, Kirsty Logan, Anneliese Mackintosh and Laurie Penny. Prior to the announcement, Antonia Honeywell wrote her thoughts on the longlist.

The National Book Awards (UK) shortlists were also announced this week. Lots of books by women worth a read on there too.

And the Saltaire Society shortlisted a self-published book for their First Book AwardThe Last Pair of Ears by Mary F. McDonough. The first self-published book to be shortlisted for a Scottish Prize.

That might make you think about Paul Kingsnorth’s novel The Wake which was the first crowd funded novel to be longlisted for The Man Booker Prize earlier this year. Well, Unbound, Kingsnorth’s publishers have announced a Women in Print campaign to try to increase the number of female authors published.

This week has also seen The Bookseller’s report on diversity in publishing – still not good enough, is the overriding conclusion.

It wouldn’t be an average week these days without a Lena Dunham story. Accused by a right-wing journalist of sexually molesting her younger sister following a confessional passage in her book, discussion ensued from Emily Gould, Katie McDonough, Mary Elizabeth Williams and Carolyn Edgar on Salon; Sarah Seltzer on Flavorwire; Emma Gannon on The Debrief; Grace Dent in The Independent. To cheer you up after that, here are 37 Funny and Inspired Thoughts from her book tour on Buzzfeed.

In more cheering news about prominent females, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast, had her book Texts for Jane Eyre published in America this week. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sarah Mesle wrote a stunning essay/review about the book’s feminist credentials. She’s interviewed on Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post and The Guardian. And you can read an extract, 7 Brutal Literary Breakup Texts on Buzzfeed.

And the Amy Poehler stories are still going. The woman herself answers the Proust Questionnaire in Vanity Fair. Here’s 5 Unexpected Things Marie Claire learned from Poehler’s book. Jessica Valenti has (mis?) read the book and declared ‘bitchiness’ the secret to Poehler’s success in The Guardian. Also in The Guardian, Hadley Freeman told us ‘Why Amy Poehler is the Ultimate Role Model for British Women‘.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

In translation:

  • Jenny Erpenbeck (tr. Susan Bernofsky) ‘Homesick for Sadness’ on the fall of the Berlin Wall in The Paris Review
  • Julie Winters Carpenter interviewed about translating Japanese poetry on the Asymptote Blog

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

And the 13 (I tried to keep it to 10 but it’s been a very good week) best things I’ve seen this week:

In the Media: 12th October 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.

This week, I’m starting with prizes as there seems to be a fair few announcements at the moment. The Man Booker Prize jury will announce its winner on Tuesday. In The Guardian, the shortlisted authors revealed the inspiration behind their books. (Karen Joy Fowler’s contains a spoiler if you you’ve managed to avoid the reveal so far.) The Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist contained four books by women. I’ve only read one so far, but H Is for Hawk is one of the best books I’ve read this year. But the prize that’s got me most excited is The Green Carnation Prize which celebrates LGBT literature. (You can see the longlist in the photograph above.) Eight women on a longlist of thirteen and the two I’ve already read (Thirst by Kerry Hudson and In Search of Solace by Emily Mackie) are two of my books of the year. Expect reviews of more of the books on list before the shortlist is revealed on the 6th of November.

Elsewhere, Lena Dunham continues to be everywhere. She’s guest editor of this week’s Stylist magazine in which she interviews herself while Ashley C. Ford interviews her for Buzzfeed. She’s also written for Pen & Ink about her tattoo. (If you’re interested in Pen & Ink: An Illustrated Collection of Unusual, Deeply Human Stories Behind People’s Tattoos, there’s a great piece on Brainpickings.) In other corners of the internet, people were defending Dunham against the backlash around her book and criticisms of self-indulgence; first, Heather Havrilesky in the Los Angeles Review of Books and second, Sloane Crosley in the New York Times.

Often just as unpopular, Caitlin Moran is in Time talking about Teen Girls, Sex and Pretending to be Courtney Love and in the Radio Times talking about the filming of her co-written sitcom ‘Raised by Wolves’. If her feminism doesn’t interest you, perhaps her piece lamenting the loss of birds in her garden in this weekend’s The Times will. (Paywalled)

Leading feminist writer, Roxane Gay has been prolific again this week. She’s in The Guardian writing about why celebrity feminists should be a gateway to feminism, not its all; on VQR Online talking about The Price of Black Ambition, and in Dissent with a Theses on the the Feminist Novel.

Other notable articles are:

And the interviews:

If you’d like some fiction to read (or listen to):

And the lists:

And the four best things I’ve read this week:

In the Media: 14th September 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 a bumper week for articles by/about female writers, particularly those concerning what it means to be a female writer and why reading books by women is so undervalued.

I think we’re all very aware of what my feelings are on female writers and this year’s Man Booker Prize but here’s Antonia Honeywell with her thoughts written just prior to the revealing of the shortlist. (Antonia’s blog which features a countdown to the publication of her debut novel, The Ship, is also well worth a read. In this month’s piece it’s about the years of writing it took to finally hold the proof of her novel.)

Ali Smith was one of two women lucky enough to make the Booker shortlist this year. Here’s a great piece she wrote for Liberty on D.H. Lawrence and fraudulent transactions.

Twice winner of the Booker Hilary Mantel’s also been in the media this week in preparation for the publication of her latest short story collection, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. She took The Guardian’s Q&A seemingly with tongue very firmly in cheek.

While the previously shortlisted Sarah Waters has been further discussing her latest novel, The Paying Guests. *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT* Anna Carey has posted outtakes from her Irish Times interview with Waters on her blog. If you haven’t read the book, this will ruin it completely. If you have read the book, it’s very interesting.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be chosen for a list, there’s a good piece by Julie Cohen on Women Writers, Women’s Books on being chosen for the Richard and Judy Book Club. (If you’re not in the UK, you might not have come across this but it is huge here.)

A writer who’s no stranger to lists, Kerry Hudson – it’d be quicker to type the prizes her debut Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma wasn’t listed for – was on writerstories.tv discussing her excellent second novel, Thirst, why she established The Womentoring Project and working class characters in literature.

Her characters do unlikeable things sometimes and anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I like characters who do unlikeable thinks or are wholly unlikeable. Nathan Pensky has written about readers who don’t like books with unlikeable characters for Electric Literature. Interestingly, almost all of the writers he looks at are female.

Finally, this week’s lists. Another three excellent ones to have a look at:

Thirst – Kerry Hudson

The year before this blog was created, Kerry Hudson’s debut novel Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma was one of my favourite novels of the year. Not only does it have one of the greatest (and very sweary) opening lines ever, it’s also a book about working class lives written by someone who really understands them, who can convey the brutality that some people face on a daily basis. So much so, that I recall having a conversation with David from Follow the Thread about how I found it ‘unrelentingly grim’. That wasn’t a criticism, it was recognition that Hudson had reflected back at me the lives of many students I’d taught without glossing over the relentless drudgery – and sometimes horror – of being poor and, particularly in this case, female. The only writers I’d seen do what Hudson can are Roddy Doyle and James Kelman (the latter being on my list of my favourite/best contemporary writers).

Although I included Thirst on my list of Ones to Read in 2014 without having had sight of the book at that stage, it would be fair to say I approached it with trepidation. What if it wasn’t as good as Tony Hogan?

Thirst is the story of Dave and Alena. They meet when she attempts to steal shoes from the Bond Street shop at which he is a security guard. As they sit in the stockroom and he tries to question her, as she devours the corned beef sandwich he’d been looking forward to, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be quite so straight forward:

The rise and fall of her accent put him in mind of seagulls swooping for scraps. His stomach knotted up. Just his luck to get indigestion from the sandwich she had eaten.        
‘I am apologising to you. Please. I say I feel sorry. I make mistake. I am new and it is easy to be confusing.

A few days later, Alena appears on the street outside the shop and asks him to have a drink with her. After a visit to the National Gallery and tea and cake, she asks him if he knows a good hotel room. Through a combination of being attracted to her and wanting to protect her, Dave offers her the bed in his one-bed, Hackney based, flat while he takes the sofa. After telling her she can stay as long as she likes and her checking that there is ‘no trading’, it starts to become apparent that Alena has been having a bad time:

She changed into her nightie, and imagined his belt buckle falling to the floor, him turning his bulk on the old brown sofa, unable to sleep for thinking about her in the next room. After some time had passed and she knew he wouldn’t come, she stretched out, pushed her head into the soft lump of the pillow that smelt a little of him. The sheets were a little grainy, but not enough to spoil the fact that she was in an actual bed, a double too. She stretched her legs wide, arched her back, let the mattress mould to her body and slipped into a thick, black sleep that lay itself down upon her and pressed her flat.

The story of Dave and Alena’s relationship – for that is what it becomes – is interwoven with the stories of their respective pasts.

Dave grew up on a south London estate with his mum. We’re taken back to when he was twenty-two, working at the local Co-op, running because it made him feel good, and plotting and saving to get away – to see the world. In one of my favourite pieces in the book, Hudson describes Dave running around the Roehampton Estate. It’s her eye for detail and swift glances into others’ lives that make this such an effective set piece:

He ran down from his block towards the bus stop, past the Co-op where he’d do his shift later that night, the Greggs with the fatty smell of hot sausage rolls pulling at his belly, towards the burnt-out GTI and the group of kids with rocks in their hands, stomach flab hanging over the waists of their trackie bottoms. They were eleven maybe, should have been in that well-meaning, always empty ‘Connections’ centre playing on new computers and drinking free fizzy drinks, if it wasn’t so uncool to be seen there. He’s known them since they were toddlers, all filthy faces and bare arses. They could have been him and his mates ten years ago, a pack of estate kids who’d end up fighting each other if no one else came along.

Alena’s story is also one of poverty, of leaving Siberia for London on the promise of work from her mother’s friend, a woman with a Chanel handbag, bright lipstick, a diamond ring and a gold bracelet. A friend who disappeared the moment Alena was on the plane, ready to be collected by another sex-worker.

Both of their individual stories are brutal and yes, unrelentingly grim, but Hudson offers them – and the reader – hope through the relationship that they form. However, this isn’t an easy coupling and there were moments where they were physically near to each other but emotionally so far away that I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, so desperate was I for the two of them to find their way to each other and some form of safety.

Thirst is a triumph. Hudson writes about poverty, about sexual abuse, about death, about alcoholism, about toxic relationships in prose that both reflects reality and – when appropriate – soars. It is a novel that will leave you broken and bruised but with a little kernel of hope.

Thirst will make my Books of 2014 list and Kerry Hudson’s earned herself a place alongside James Kelman as one of my favourite writers and one of our most important voices.

 

Thanks to Chatto & Windus for the review copy.

The WoMentoring Project

WoMen3

Today sees the launch of a brilliant new initiative, The WoMentoring Project. The project came about when Kerry Hudson, author of Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and the forthcoming Thirst, identified a need for peer-mentoring for female writers at the beginning of their careers. I was on Twitter when Kerry mentioned the idea and watched offers come in from so many brilliant women – writers, editors, agents – offering their time and expertise for free.

I’m one of a significant number of bloggers promoting the project today and I’m doing so for two reasons: one is because I set this blog up to promote writing by women and I know how many brilliant females there are writing and working in the publishing industry who can help other women find a place; two is because I was lucky enough to do an MA in Creative Writing and I know how expensive they are. Not only that, I’m very conscious of the many barriers that women face – bringing up young children; being a carer; a lack of academic qualifications; simply not being able to take a year out of your life to dedicate it to writing…the list goes on.

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So here’s what it’s all about, in the words of Kerry and some of the other women involved in the project:

About?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

Why do we need it?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

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Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.

Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.

Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.

Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too.

Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out. The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.

Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.

Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick.

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.

Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.

Suzy Norman

WoMentoringIllo3Web

If that’s got you thinking the project might be for you, you can find out more on the website: www.womentoringproject.co.uk and on Twitter: @WoMentoringP

Huge credit to Sally Jane Thompson (one of the mentors) who created the brilliant images for the project.

I’m looking forward to watching the project progress, it really feels like this could be a significant moment in women’s writing.

Ones to Read in 2014

For the last few weeks, I’ve been engrossed in some of the new releases coming our way in 2014. Here’s my pick of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. (Publication information is for the UK. Publication dates may change.)

A Song for Issy Bradley – Carys Bray

It’s been widely reported that Bray received a six-figure advance for her debut novel (her previous publication was a book of short stories Sweet Home which won the Scott Prize) and once you’ve read it it’s obvious why. A Song for Issy Bradley follows the Bradley family in the wake of the youngest child’s death. The Bradleys are Mormons – the father, Ian, is the local bishop; mum, Claire, married into the faith and questions it following Issy’s death. She crawls into Issy’s bunk bed and refuses to get out. Of the three remaining children, the teenagers, Alma and Zippy, struggle with usual teenage worries, being Mormons and the death of their sister, while Jacob, the youngest, tries to bring Issy back. As dark a subject as this is, Bray has an eye for humour in even the blackest situations and the book is an absolute joy from beginning to end.
Published: 19th June by Hutchinson

With 2014 being the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, there are a number of books set in this era published next year. Here are two great WWI novels and a WWII one:

Wake – Anna Hope

Another brilliant debut. Wake follows three women – Hettie, a dancer at the Hammersmith Palais, whose brother Fred has been left traumatised by the war; Evelyn, a clerk in the army pensions and benefits office whose brother Ed was an army captain, and Ada, whose son Michael was killed in the war, although she’s never been told how. These women’s stories are told over the four days in 1920 that it takes to bring the body of the Unknown Warrior from France to London. This is a powerful novel, cleverly structured. It left me feeling broken.
Published: 16th January by Doubleday

 

The Lie – Helen Dunmore

One of my favourite novelists returns with the story of Daniel, a young private in the war who has returned to the small Cornish coastal town in which he grew up. Haunted by the death of his best friend, Frederick, he acquires a smallholding and, besides visits to Frederick’s sister Felicia, isolates himself. But in order to maintain his detachment, Daniel tells a lie that will be his undoing. Dunmore successfully portrays a young man involved in horrific events and wracked with guilt over one event in particular.
Published: 16th January by Hutchinson

 

The Railwayman’s Wife – Ashley Hay

Ani Lachlan lives on the Australian coast with her husband, Mac, and their daughter, Isabel. Mac works on the railway, a job that’s meant he avoided serving in the war. Roy McKinnon’s returned from the war and has found that the poetry he was able to write during the event now evades him. When Mac is killed in an accident on the railway, Ani is offered a job running the town’s library. Perhaps the power of words can help heal both her and Roy McKinnon. Quietly affecting.
Published: 2nd January by Allen & Unwin (Already available on Kindle for the price of a chocolate bar at the time of writing.)

Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen

Rebecca Winter, once a famous photographer – everyone had that poster (the one with the same title as the novel) – rents out her New York apartment and moves into a cottage upstate in the hope that the cheaper rent will help her cover ever increasing bills. Rebecca’s unprepared for country living but Sarah, who runs the local tearoom, and the makeshift crosses that Rebecca keeps finding on the hill outside her cottage might help her see a different sort of life. I loved it.
Published: 30th January by Hutchinson

 

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

Jess Thomas, single mum to two kids – Tanzie, a gifted mathematician and Nicky, her stepson who’s bullied for being different – works two jobs to make ends meet. Her husband, Marty, has left them to live with his mum and get himself together; he sends them no financial support and when Tanzie’s offered a 90% scholarship to the local private school, he refuses to help with the rest of the fees, forsaking Tanzie’s dream. Ed Nicholls, suspended from his own company for insider trading, finds himself lying low in his holiday home – one of Jess’ cleaning jobs. When they meet sparks fly – and not in a good way – which leads to one unusual road trip. As brilliant as we’ve come to expect from Jojo Moyes.
Published: 27th February by Penguin

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary Cooke tells us her story; the story of her family – her sister, Fern, who was taken away when she was five; her brother, Lowell, who is missing, wanted for domestic terrorism, and her parents and the lifestyle they led when she was growing up – and the story of her time in college, specifically her friendship with the drama student (and drama queen) Harlow Fielding. Told in a forceful first person narrative with a fragmented structure, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves looks at human behaviour and finds us wanting. Highly quotable.
Published: 6th March by Serpent’s Tail

The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

Ruth Field, 75, is widowed and lives alone on the New South Wales coast, Australia. At night, she thinks she hears a tiger in her living room, although she is aware that it’s probably her imagination. A stranger, Frieda Young, arrives at Ruth’s door and tells her that she’s been sent by the government to look after her. Frieda reminds Ruth of her time in Fiji as a young girl, so while her sons rarely visit, she allows Frieda into her life with some devastating consequences. Terrifying.
Published: 16th January by Sceptre

Fallout – Sadie Jones

1960s London. Luke Kanowski escapes Seston, Nottinghamshire, contacts Paul Driscoll, a man he’s met once, and embarks on fulfilling both their dreams of working in the theatre. Nina Hollings is following in her mother’s footsteps by training to be an actress. But dreams are limited by cages created by family and society and the lives of the protagonists will be jaded by them. Fallout takes Jones’ writing to a new level, ambitious and mature.
Published: 1st May by Chatto & Windus

The Dead Wife’s Handbook – Hannah Beckerman

Rachel has died, aged 36, of undiagnosed arrhythmia. She narrates the novel from the place she’s currently in – one which allows her some access to watch over her widowed husband, Max, and their seven-year-old daughter, Ellie. Rachel doesn’t like seeing their grief but when her best friend, Harriet, suggests Max starts dating again, Rachel has to start to come to terms with letting him go. This could have been schmaltzy but it’s far from it. Had me reading late and sobbing.
Published: 13th February by Penguin but you can read the first two chapters here.

The Virgins – Pamela Erens

1979, Auburn Academy, an elite Jewish boarding school. The virgins are the couple Aviva Rossner and Seung Young whose classmates, ironically, think are shagging like clichéd rabbits. Narrated by their then classmate, Bruce Bennett-Jones, Erens explores the gap between appearance and reality and the consequences that gap can bring about. Tense and ultimately, shocking.
Published: 30th January by John Murray

The Last Boat Home – Dea Brovig

1974, a small Norwegian costal town. Else lives with her religious mother and fisherman father. They are poor, although this doesn’t prevent Else from sneaking around with the son of the richest man in town. Nonetheless, it is something else that will have far deeper consequences for Else: the arrival of a travelling circus. The echoes of those consequences are still being heard in the present-day sections that punctuate the book. Atmospheric and disturbing.
Published: 13th March 2014 by Hutchinson

There is also a handful of books I haven’t had the pleasure of being able to read yet but I’m eagerly anticipating.

Firstly, two young writers whose debuts – Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and Hungry, The Stars and Everything, respectively – I loved and bought for numerous friends have second novels arriving this year:

Thirst – Kerry Hudson

The beginning of a relationship is usually all about getting to know one another, sharing stories far into the night, comparing experiences, triumphs and heartaches, until we know each other inside out.

Not so for Dave and Alena. He’s from London, she’s from Siberia. They meet in a sleek Bond Street department store in the frayed heat of high summer where she’s up to no good and it’s his job to catch her. So begins an unlikely relationship between two people with pasts, with secrets, they’ve no idea how to live with — or leave behind. But despite everything they don’t have in common, all the details they won’t and can’t reveal, they still find themselves fighting with all they’ve got for a future together.
Published: 17th July by Chatto & Windus

Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth

You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.

I blinked and the floaters on my eyeballs shifted to reveal Tyler in her ratty old kimono over in the doorway. ‘Way I see it,’ she said, glass in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, ‘girls are tied to beds for two reasons: sex and exorcisms. So, which was it with you?’

Laura and Tyler are best friends who live together, angrily philosophising and leading each other astray in the pubs and flats of Manchester. But things are set to change. Laura is engaged to teetotal Jim, the wedding is just months away, and Tyler becomes hell-bent on sabotaging her friend’s plans for a different life.

Animals is a hilarious, moving and refreshingly honest tale of how a friendship can become the ultimate love story.
Published: 1st May 2014 by Canongate

And two established writers:

The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt

Artist Harriet Burden, consumed by fury at the lack of recognition she has received from the New York art establishment, embarks on an experiment: she hides her identity behind three male fronts who exhibit her work as their own. And yet, even after she has unmasked herself, there are those who refuse to believe she is the woman behind the men.

Presented as a collection of texts compiled by a scholar years after Burden’s death, the story unfolds through extracts from her notebooks, reviews and articles, as well as testimonies from her children, her lover, a dear friend, and others more distantly connected to her. Each account is different, however, and the mysteries multiply. One thing is clear: Burden’s involvement with the last of her ‘masks’ turned into a dangerous psychological game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
Published: 13th March by Sceptre

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned, the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa, a large silent house now bereft of brothers, husband and even servants, life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

For with the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the ‘clerk class’, the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. And as passions mount and frustration gathers, no one can foresee just how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be…
Published: 4th September by Virago

I hope that’s whetted your appetite for what’s to come. Full reviews will appear here on the week of publication for each novel.

Thanks to all the publishers for review copies.

Kerry Hudson on the Women Who Inspired Her Debut Novel 'Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma'

One of my favourite books of last year was the amazingly titled Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. In my end of year top ten, I wrote:

I knew I was going to love this book when I opened it and read the first line: ‘Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!’ were the first words I ever heard.

This is the story of Janie Ryan’s childhood. It is one filled with poverty, unsuitable men and grotty accommodation. It is also one of humour and ultimately, hope. Some of the book upset me enormously because it was so well written Janie’s life seemed real – I have taught children who’ve lived with/through similar circumstances and they aren’t pleasant. But they deserve to have a voice. This is a true working class novel, showing both grimness and stoicism.

Since its publication last July, Kerry Hudson’s debut novel has been shortlisted for the Southbank Sky Arts Literature Award, Guardian First Book Award, Green Carnation Prize, Author’s Club First Novel Prize and Saltire Scottish First Book of the Year. If that isn’t enough to convince you to read it then hopefully this post will!

Tony Hogan pbk

On the eve of the paperback launch of the book, Kerry’s kindly written about the women who inspired Tony Hogan:

Like Janie Ryan, the protagonist of my debut novel, I was born into a clan of matriarchal Aberdonian fishwives. There were men around of course but it was the women who dominated the conversation at the pub and who held court around the kitchen table. There were hundreds of family stories dating back generations and as I filled up my belly with mince, tatties and skirlie (a type of oatmeal and onion fried-up mix), a buttery (a kind of flat croissant) or a bottle of coke and bag of crisps my head would be filled by their stories of feuds, love affairs, stormy seas where men were lost and miraculous bingo wins. My favourite story back then was one about my grandma as a child, beloved to the point of ruin to my great-grandda, demanding the biggest Easter egg in the shop and then smashing it over his head during a temper tantrum on the bus home.

Like any close-knit community gossip was rife and my wee ears (a small jug with big ears as my Ma would say) would hear all about who had a row with who, drinks thrown in faces, women taking to drink, kids being taken into care, who had got ‘The big C’, whose Da was off to prison or too ‘handy with their fists’. It wasn’t a malicious type of gossip, not around our kitchen table at least, it was a chatter about the people around them. As an adult I think that gossip was them working out the world around them, trying to understand it. My great-grandma loved sensationalised crime stories with plenty of gory detail, my grandma swore by Catherine Cookson, my ma graduated onto Dickens and Marcus Aurelius…each generation changed and evolved but around a table, after a few jars, it was whoever had the juiciest tit-bit, whoever shouted the loudest who got to tell their story.

As well as those stories were ones from the, to me, mythical fish houses. For generations back the women in my family worked Aberdeen’s fish houses while the men went out to sea (or drank, or gambled, or all three). Born just after the oil industry ‘black gold’ boom in Aberdeen, I was the first generation not to work the ‘hoosies’. But I loved the stories; how my ma, heavily pregnant with me would pack fish till her hands were blue and cracking from the ice water but that the Friday lunchtime treat of fish and chips with ‘the girls’ made that a bit better. Or how fast grandma was with a filleting knife, how, after months of intimidation and mockery from a family of fishwives who didn’t want her there (they were often brutal places, the fish houses) and being called a cunt she held a knife to one of their throats and said ‘I’m a good cunt, I’m a clean cunt and I care a cunt for no cunt, right cunt?’

Me and my ma left Aberdeen when I was five, on a National Express coach, only returning for weddings and funerals, but those stories went with me; stored up in the slats of my rubs, a soft part of my belly. And when it was time to sit down, in Vietnam of all places, and write my first book about that world, I felt all the strong, proud, fearless, hard-working women of my family at my back; whispering their stories as I sat down to write mine.

You can buy the paperback (or the ebook, if you prefer) from all the usual places (click the name of the shop to take you directly to the book):

Amazon

Waterstones

Hive

Or you could enter Kerry’s Twitter competition to win a signed copy of the novel:

‘Want to win a signed copy of Tony Hogan? I’m  trying to put together a Tony Hogan soundtrack. Simply submit your song suggestion to me @kerryswindow on Twitter with the hashtag #tonyhogantune by the end of Monday 8th of July. If your song is one of the ten selected for the soundtrack (and you were the first to suggest it!) I’ll send you a signed copy of Tony Hogan.’

You can find out more about Kerry at her website: www.kerryhudson.co.uk and by following this week’s #tonyhogantour, details of which can be found here. Tomorrow, Kerry will be over at The Little Reader Library talking about the first year of publication.

Thanks to Kerry for such a great post and do read the book, I can’t recommend it highly enough.