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 House of Hidden Mothers – Meera Syal

The House of Hidden Mothers opens with Shyama sitting in the reception of a Harley Street fertility clinic.

All the years spent avoiding getting pregnant, when you sat on the cold plastic seats of student/shared house/first flat toilets praying for the banner of blood to declare war was over, that your life would go on as before. And then the later years, spent in much nicer houses on a better class of loo seat, reclaimed teak, cushioned, cheekily self-conscious seats like the water-filled plastic one with a barbed wire pattern inside – her daughter’s choice of course – still waiting. And praying. But this time for the blood not to come, a bloodless satisfied silence that would tell Shyama her old life was most definitely over as inside her, a new one had just begun.

At forty-four, Shyama’s about to be told she has an ‘inhospitable womb’ but she wants to have a baby with her thirty-four year old partner, Toby. Shayma has a nineteen-year-old daughter, Tara, from her marriage but Toby’s not her father nor is there a large enough age gap between the two of them for him to act like one towards her.

Tara’s studying Media and Culture at university and has found herself living at home after being turned down for accommodation, the university being close to her family home in London. This has clearly contributed to the tension between Shyama and Tara who struggle to be civil to each other when they’re in the same room.

Also present are Shyama’s parents, Sita and Prem, who live in a flat at the bottom of her garden. Their story revolves around the flat they own in Delhi.

Five years before his retirement, seven years before hers, Prem and Sita decided to invest their life savings in a piece of Back Home, a two-bedroom flat in South Delhi not far from the centre or the airport, close to Prem’s favourite brother’s place, the idea being that Yogi could keep an eye on the property until Prem and Sita occupied it. A small flat near family, perfect for their retirement, the summer months in England with Shyama and Tara, the winter months in Delhi, eating falooda kulfi at their favourite café in CP, wandering around Lodi gardens reliving their college strolls when even the brush of a hand could send him into a tailspin of unrequited longing, playing taash in shaded dhabas over a peg of JW with the old friends who had decided to stay, those who were left.

But Yogi told Prem that his daughter and her family needed somewhere to stay while their house was finished. They stopped paying rent after a year. They’ve built an extension onto it, they’ve had two children there and fifteen years later, ten of those spent fighting in court, they’re still occupying the flat.

Initially the novel alternates between chapters set in London and chapters set in a small village in India. There we meet Mala.

At the beginning of her story, Mala is watching the delivery of a fridge to the village. And so is everyone else. Seema, the woman receiving this expensive item has also recently had a brick house with a proper roof constructed. She’s come into money and the rest of the village is speculating as to exactly where it came from. This also offers a contrast to Mala whose father died before she was married:

And so months [after her father’s death], when Ram said he would take pity on fatherless Mala with her cursed widow of a mother and unmarried sister, Mala didn’t feel she could complain. He was taking her on with virtually no dowry, just a wooden trunk full of second hand saris and stainless steel pans. Six months later, there was nothing more left in the trunk except the one coconut that wasn’t broken at the wedding ceremony, lying at the bottom poking out of an old tablecloth like the wrinkled brown head of a long-dead baby.

Mala’s first pregnancy miscarries and then when Ram’s becoming friends with Seema’s husband coincides with him stopping having sex with her, she determines to find out what happened to Seema in the months she was away from the village and returned looking as though she:

…had left something of herself behind, as if the city had nibbled quietly softly at her plump corners and everything fat and free about her had been swallowed up.

Syal covers a number of themes in The House of Hidden Mothers: surrogacy, age-gap relationships, interracial relationships, property, families, mother and daughter relationships, teenage friendships, class, privilege and female friendships. It’s a long list for a 400+ page novel but Syal’s skill is in making this a plot-driven book which isn’t overwhelmed by the number of issues covered in it.

Initially I found the structure an issue: the chapters are long (there are twelve and an epilogue in total) and once I’d settled into the world of Shyama and her friends and family, it was disconcerting to find myself jolted to a little village in Delhi and Mala’s world. Of course the two stories come together but not before we’ve been back and forth a few times.

However, The House of Hidden Mothers is an engaging read. I thought that covering a topic as controversial as surrogacy was interesting, particularly choosing a country where the procedures aren’t closely regulated. Syal writes family relationships well – there were so many cringe-inducing moments between mother and daughter where they just couldn’t manage to communicate with each other and I wanted to have a word with them both.

There was a tipping-point in my reading where I went from being interested but not gripped by the book to not wanting to put it down. I think that’s to do with the pace of the two main strands of the plot and the point when they come together. If you want to get stuck into a smart, plot driven novel with a hint of family saga, you could do a lot worse than this.

 

Thanks to Doubleday for the review copy.

In the Media: 24th May 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. 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.

The Cannes Film Festival’s been in the spotlight (haha) this week for turning women away from a screening because they were wearing flat shoes. Heels as compulsory footwear for women may or may not (depending which day it is someone asks) be part of their dress policy. Helen O’Hara writes ‘How the 2015 Cannes Film Festival became all about women‘  while Laura Craik asks, ‘Is the tyranny of high heels finally over?‘ both in The Pool. Hadley Freeman wrote, ‘Can’t do heels? Don’t do Cannes‘ in The Guardian, while Elizabeth Semmelhack wrote, ‘Shoes That Put Women in Their Place‘ in The New York Times

The other big feminist story was about ‘wife bonuses’ after Wednesday Martin wrote a piece for the New York Times called, ‘Poor Little Rich Women‘. Amanda Marcotte asked, ‘What’s Wrong With “Wife Bonuses”?‘ in Slate

Awards this week went to the five 2015 Best Young Australian Novelists, three of whom are women, all of whom are women of colour – hurrah for progress. Also in Australia, the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award was revealed, four of the five shortlisted writers are women. The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2015 were announced. Of the twenty selected, fifteen were by women. You can read those by Dina Nayeri, Molly Antopol and Lynne Sharon Schwartz by clicking on their names.

The best of the rest:

On or about books/writers/language:

Personal essays/memoir:

Feminism:

Society and Politics:

Film, Television, Music and Fashion:

The interviews:

If you want some fiction to read:

Photograph by Kwesi Abbensetts

If you want some poetry to read:

If you want some non-fiction to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 29th March 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.

News this week from ABC that a Tasmanian writer, Marjorie Davey, has published her first novel at the age of 95. She might be the oldest but she’s not the only woman to be published later in life; Abby Ellin’s article, ‘Finding Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind‘ in the New York Times includes Lucille Gang Shulklapper, first published at 60, and Cathy writes about Leland Bardwell: The forgotten woman of Irish literature, first published at 48, on 746Books.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum (give or take) the big news this week was that Zayn Malik left pop band One Direction. Before the news broke, Leesa Cross-Smith wrote ‘One Direction & Other Boy Bands‘ on Real Pants (which had me watching more 1D videos than I’d ever seen before (which was none)) while advertisements for Granta popped up). Anna Leszkiewicz wrote ‘I’m an adult woman with a real boyfriend – and I’m absolutely heartbroken about Zayn Malik quitting One Direction‘ in The Independent, Mackenzie Kruvant wrote, ‘How One Direction Helped Me Find My Girls‘ on Buzzfeed, and Huma Munshi wrote, ‘The Courage of Zayn Malik and Why Strong Men Cry‘ on Media Diversified.

Media Diversified also published an open letter ‘To the organisers of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction‘ regarding Cathy Newman and Grace Dent being members of the judging panel.

Granta, in celebration of their new website, opened up some of their archive, including these letters from Iris Murdoch to Raymond Queneau; ‘Night‘ by Alice Munroe; Sayaka Murata’s ‘A Clean Marriage‘ (tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori), and ‘Hardy Animal‘ by M.J. Hyland

It was the anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death this week. Daniel Swift wrote ‘Virginia Woolf in the Bomb-scarred City‘ in Five Dials and Louise Brearley read Virginia Woolf’s final letter to her husband in The Telegraph.

And in commemoration of the third anniversary of Adrienne Rich’s death, The Critical Flame have devoted a whole issue to her and her work. The table of contents is here.

Angelina Jolie Pitt turned to writing this week with her ‘Diary of a Surgery‘ in The New York Times. Fay Schopen responded with ‘Angelina Jolie says the decision to deal with her cancer was simple. Mine is not‘ in The Guardian, while Caroline Corcoran wrote about her own experience, ‘I never felt like I’m less of a woman because I don’t have breasts or ovaries‘ in The Independent.

But the woman with the most publicity this week seems to be JK Rowling. ‘JK Rowling says she received ‘loads’ of rejections before Harry Potter success‘ wrote Alison Flood in The Guardian; Stylist ran ‘JK Rowling’s Brilliant Response to Fan Who ‘Can’t See’ Dumbledore as Gay, Plus 9 Times She Owned Twitter‘; Matilda Battersby wrote, ‘JK Rowling defends Dumbledore on Twitter: Seven Things You Might Not Know About the Hogwarts’ Headmaster‘ in The Independent; Chris Mandle wrote, ‘Why we need more fictional gay role models like Albus Dumbledore‘ in The Telegraph and Stylist ran a piece titled, ‘JK Rowling Describes Hitting ‘Rock Bottom’ In a New Book About The Benefits Of Failure

In Harper Lee news, the cover of Go Set a Watchman was revealed this week. The Guardian are inviting people to design their own.

Finally, if you want a good reading list of books by women, the Edge Hill Short Story Prize announced its longlist this week, including Anneliese Mackintosh, Stella Duffy, Kirsty Logan, May-Lan Tan, Hilary Mantel and A.L. Kennedy.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

 

The interviews:

If you want some fiction/poetry to read:

The lists:

In the Media: 16th 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.

Photo by Wayne Thomas

This week, there’s been lots of discussion on my Twitter timeline about an article by Joanna Walsh, writer and creator of #ReadWomen2014 on ‘Why must the “best new writers” always be under 40?‘ prompted by Buzzfeed’s ‘20 Under 40 Debut Writers You Need to Be Reading‘. Traditionally, these lists have disadvantaged women who, for a number of reasons, often publish their first novel later than many men. So, although it’s arbitrary/silly, this week’s top slot is going to pieces by or about those who published their first book at 40 or over.

We have Linda Grant (first novel published at 44) on why she’s hooked on the Serial podcast in The Guardian; Joan Chase (47) in her own words and Amy Weldon on her both on Bloom, a site dedicated to writers whose first major work was published at 40 or over; Ruth Graham tells the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (65) on Slate; Alexander Chee looks at Penelope Fitzgerald (59) via Hermione Lee’s biography of her on Slate; there are interviews with Lissa Evans (42) on the One More Page blog, Helen DeWitt (43) in BOMB magazine, Meg Rosoff (48) on Rebecca Mascull’s blog, Katherine Boo (48) on the theatre production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in the Independent and Donna Douglas (40) on Female First; while Bobbie Ann Mason (42) has a new short story ‘Ready‘ on TNB Fiction and the first chapter of Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye (51) is up to read on One Book Lane; finally, you can find out why middle-aged women are dominated self-publishing according to The Guardian.

At the other end of the spectrum, writer Nikesh Shukla supports young writers in Bristol. They publish online magazine Rife. Here’s Sammy Jones’ ‘The Five Stages of Street Harassment‘ and Jess Connett on ‘Hidden WWI: Teenagers at War‘.

There’s also been more gender discussion. Time magazine added the word ‘feminism’ to a list their readers could vote on to ‘ban’. Roxane Gay responded in The Washington Post; Hannah McGill discussed gender depiction in Sci-Fi in The List; Jess Meacham critiqued Suzanne Moore’s column on selfie’s being anti-feminist and her use of Sylvia Plath’s poetry in ‘The Eyeing of my Scars‘ on her blog, while Non Pratt looked at gender representation in Young Adult books in We Love This Book.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Amanda Palmer, whose book The Art of Asking was published on Tuesday. She’s in The Guardian following a live web chat; interviewed by Maria Popova of Brainpickings on YouTube; has written an article for The Independent and been interviewed in Billboard.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

This week’s ‘Who is Elena Ferrante?’ piece is by Jane Shilling in the New Statesman

If you want some fiction to read:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists