Five Centuries – Five Influential Female Writers #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2020 #EachforEqual

Yvey IWD 2020

Today, Sunday 8th March, is International Women’s Day. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day helps shine a light on the economic, social and political achievements of women. The call to action this year is #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. The idea being that, “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world”.

about-iwd

As an author I have been inspired by many female writers over the years, many of whom defied the rigid rules of society, often risking ridicule and reputation in order to pursue a writing career. Trailblazers, if you will, that both individually and collectively paved the way for future generations to come.

So, in order to mark IWD 2020, here are my thoughts on some of those trailblazers, whose lives and work have both inspired and intrigued me.

 

Aphra Behn – a celebrated poet and novelist, was also one of the most influential dramatists of the late 17th century. Working as a spy for the British Crown after her husband passed away, then refused remuneration for her services, she found herself in desperate need of money. She vowed never to depend on anyone else for money again and took up writing to support herself. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage was produced in London in 1670. She became of the period’s foremost playwrights and continued earning her living in the theatre and as a novelist (links to The Rover here) until her death in April 1689.

Virginia Woolf said of her:

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft – was an 18th century philosopher and proto-feminist, best known for her feminist philosophy A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in response to educational and political theorists of the time who did not believe women should receive a rational education. Instead of viewing women as ornaments or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they were human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, also went on to become a writer, best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell – was a 19th century English novelist, biographer and short story writer that I was first introduced to whilst studying at university. Like Charles Dickens, Gaskell’s stories offer detailed portraits on a wide variety of Victorian society including the poor, and the appalling state of impoverished workers in the industrial centres of the North. Her novels are therefore of great interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature and because of the social realism in them, her stories attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who in turn invited her to write for the periodicals he edited: Household Words and All Year Round which included my favourite Gaskell novel, North and South – if you haven’t read it, you should.

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Jean Rhys CBE – best known for her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (written over a hundred years later) – Jean Rhys was a 20th century novelist born on the Caribbean island of Dominica to a Welsh doctor and a third generation Creole. However, when she was 16 she moved to England for education purposes. In Wide Sargasso Sea she turns to the themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica – namely a certain Mr Rochester and his first “madwoman in the attic” wife, (Bertha) Antoinette, who is drawn in quite a different light than she was in Jane Eyre.

I love this quote by Jean Rhys:

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – is a 21st century Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction, and was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. My first introduction to her work was We Should All Be Feminists, an essay based on TEDx talk of the same title that the writer gave in London in 2012 (here). She shared her experiences of being an African feminist and said gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. However, she also said she is “hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better”.

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Liza Perrat – The Story behind The Swooping Magpie

Eva Jordan in conversation with Liza Perrat - The Story behind The Swooping Magpie - Post Header

On my blog today, I’m very pleased to welcome the lovely Liza Perrat who has written a guest post about her current novel, The Swooping Magpie.

Hi Liza, it’s an honour to have you here today. I haven’t read it yet but The Swooping Magpie sounds like an amazing but heartbreaking read. Can you tell us a little bit more about it, the story behind it?

The Story Behind The Swooping Magpie

We’ve all heard the terrible stories of the Magdalene Laundries, 18th to late 20th century-institutions housing “fallen women”, term implicating sexual promiscuity or prostitution work. In practice, most of these “laundries” were operated as gruelling work-houses. However, many people are unaware that similar institutions operated in Australia and, inspired by a true-life scandal, this the story behind The Swooping Magpie.

It is difficult for any Australian born after the feminist movement to understand what it was like to be sixteen, pregnant and unmarried in 1970. Marriage was still the vital cornerstone of Australian society and it was impossible to imagine having a child outside of this union blessed by church and state.

So, rather than rejoicing at the new life growing inside her, these girls were hidden away in shame –– at their parents’ house or sent to homes for unmarried mothers.

While The Swooping Magpie demonstrates a society that refused to support mothers battling to raise an infant alone, it also exposes the brutal adoption industry practices that targeted healthy newborn babies for childless couples.

Until the mid-70s it was common practice to adopt out the babies of unwed mothers. In the 1960s, Sydney’s Crown Street Women’s Hospital was one of the largest sources of Australia’s adopted babies. Patient documents from there, and other maternity hospitals show that from the moment most unmarried girls arrived, their records were marked “for adoption”.

They were given three days after the birth to sign the adoption consent, and then thirty days to change their minds. These laws were meant to give legal certainty to adoptive parents while protecting relinquishing mothers’ rights. But in practice, those rights were either denied or the women had no idea they existed.

During this time, approximately 250,000 girls had their newborns taken, many claiming they were pressured into signing consent whilst under the effects of postpartum sedation. Forced to pay this terrible price for pregnancy outside marriage, thousands of women harboured their grief, in silence, for decades.

The Swooping Magpie Book Description

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Excerpt From Chapter 1

I wrinkle my nostrils against the caustic smell of cat piss as we pick our way across the filthy footpath to the black gate.

My mother steps aside as the high gate creaks open, nods at me to go through. I scowl, don’t move.

‘You heard what your father said, Lindsay.’

With a sigh, I push past her.

The storm flushed away, the humidity has seeped back into the air at this tail-end of another scalding Australian summer. There’s no warmth in me though, only ice-blocks freezing my insides so that I become so cold I can’t stop shivering.

It’s not just the fear that sets me quaking, but the helplessness too. Like when I was a kid about to launch myself down the slippery dip. I’d hesitate, knowing that once I slid off there was no turning back, even if the metal burned my bum raw, or that once I reached the bottom I’d tumble forwards and scrape my knees.

My mother nudges me ahead of her. I don’t realise it yet, and I won’t speak of the whole sorry tale for years to come, since every time I thought about it, the memories would leave me frustrated, sad and angry, but I would recall walking through those black iron gates as crossing the threshold into the darkest hell.

Liza Bio

Liza grew up in Australia, working as a general nurse and midwife. She has now been living in France for over twenty years, where she works as a part-time medical translator and a novelist. She is the author of the historical The Bone Angel series. The first, Spirit of Lost Angels, is set in 18th century revolutionary France. The second, Wolfsangel, is set during the WW2 Nazi Occupation and the French Resistance, and the third novel Blood Rose Angel –– is set during the 14th century Black Plague years.

The first book in Liza’s new series, The Silent Kookaburra, published in November 2016, is a psychological suspense set in 1970s Australia.

Liza is a co-founder and member of the writers’ collective Triskele Books and also reviews books for Bookmuse. liza perrat

Connect with Liza Perrat:
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Sign up for her new book releases and receive a FREE copy of Ill-Fated Rose, the short story that inspired The Bone Angel French historical series.

The Swooping Magpie is available in both ebook and paperback at all the usual retailers.

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Eva Jordan reviews… Over My Shoulder by Patricia Dixon

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This is the first book I’ve read by this particular author and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Over My Shoulder is no holds barred look at the physical, mental and emotional effects of a controlling, abusive relationship. A dark psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat racing through the final pages.

Set in Manchester, written in the first person, the story is narrated retrospectively through the voice of Freya, the main protagonist. Freya takes us back to where it all began, as a young woman in her twenties during the 1990s. I didn’t particularly warm to Freya, to begin with. It wasn’t that I disliked her as such, but first impressions painted a picture of someone shallow, materialistic, more concerned about her looks and labels, easily impressed by those who could afford the finer things in life.

However, I quickly realised my initial judgment was somewhat harsh. I also remembered what it was like to be a young woman at the start of my own adult life, all the angst, uncertainty and possibilities that lay ahead, the need to forge my own identity and yet at the same time the need to assimilate, to somehow fit in.

So in that sense, the author got Freya’s character bang on because she also demonstrated just how vulnerable young people are, how prone to manipulation they can be and therefore, despite coming from a loving and caring family, what a prime target for dangerous, and controlling individuals like Kane, they can be. Kane is the antagonist in this tale, a real anti-hero, the very epitome of evil, although, as with all good storytelling, the reader is not privy to the depths of Kane’s depravity until much further into the story.

Over My Shoulder is a dark tale of domestic abuse and the far-reaching, destructive effects such a relationship can have on the victim and their loved ones. Well written with a sympathetic understanding of a difficult subject matter, it is a rollercoaster of a read that also delves into the murky underworld of criminals and sexual predators. Gripping, hard-hitting, it is not a read for the faint hearted but it is one that will find you taking a sharp intake of breath towards the conclusion and will also, perhaps, at times, like me, find you looking over your shoulder.

You can purchase Over My Shoulder on Amazon

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Patricia Dixon on Social Media:
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Eva Jordan reviews… Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn

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They say timing is everything and to my mind, this is a story that couldn’t be more socially and politically relevant. With global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, Anatomy of a Scandal delves into the murky waters of sexual harassment, political corruption and abuse of power, the underlying suggestion that the perpetrators of such deeds are often orchestrated by those who have obtained their position in life through privilege and opportunity.

The story centres around three key characters, namely Kate, a highly ambitious barrister, James, an MP and close friend of the Prime Minister, and Sophie, his loyal wife. Kate, working class, single and child-free, has worked hard to forge a successful career for herself. With a few close friends and barely any social life she is a somewhat serious character. She also has a strong belief in right and wrong, in justice, which in part powers her ambition to succeed. However, as the story evolves, you can’t help but wonder what other forces fuel her drive.

James, Oxford-educated, is both charming and attractive. Unlike Kate, James, thanks in part to his privileged upbringing, has a strong sense of entitlement and, despite his charming façade, harbours a sanctimonious disdain for anyone he believes is beneath him, including most women. Sophie, James’s wife, recalls a conversation with her husband, “‘The trouble with women,’ James once told her, making the sort of sweeping generalisation he would never make in front of female colleagues but did at home, ‘is that they lack the courage of their convictions. Mrs Thatcher aside, they don’t have our self-belief.’”

Sophie, with “a look that belonged to a certain class” is both snobbish and elitist, “James will be fine (she says when her husband is accused of a criminal offence) because he is the right type … and he has the prime minister’s patronage.” She is not a particularly likeable character but she does redeem herself towards the end of the story.

Part courtroom drama, part psychological thriller Anatomy of a Sandal is set during the present day with flashbacks to the past. Gripping and pacy it is extremely well written with believable, well-rounded characters. A timely thought-provoking study of class, privilege and toxic masculinity, eerily echoing recent and current debate. A brilliant read and one I highly recommend. A big fat five stars from me!

Eva Jordan reviews… A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray ‏

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Published by Oneworld Publications

This year marks the  100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK.  Also, on March 8th, it was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, observed annually since the early 1900s. I, therefore, thought it appropriate to review a book that was both fitting and relevant to both these historic events.

A History of Britain in 21 Women is written by Dame Jenni Murray; probably best known as Radio 4’s presenter of Women’s Hour and whom I had the very great pleasure of meeting last year. These short biographies are a personal selection chosen by Murray to present the history of Britain through the lives of twenty-one women, whose lives embodied hope and change, who refused to surrender to established laws of society, and, who still have the power to inspire us today.

In the introduction, Murray, born in 1950, states that growing up “the role of a woman was to learn how to be a good wife and mother, do the cooking and cleaning and nurture those her around her.” She quotes Thomas Carlyle, circa 1840, who said ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men,’ and as a young girl growing up in Barnsley in the 1950s and ‘60s that’s pretty much what Murray believed. However, it was education that made her question the expectations placed on women, and after attending a wonderful girls’ school she began to discover many women that had influenced history and also challenged the assumption that a woman’s place was in the home.

Murray writes about, to name but a few; Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni tribe who fought bravely against the Romans to preserve a social structure that had been practised by, and was so important to the women of the tribes of Britain, namely equality; Aphra Behn, the first English woman playwright to earn her living by her pen; Astronomer Caroline Herschel, after whom a crater on the moon is named; And, computing pioneer Ada Lovelace. We are also given an insight into the courageous account of writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) entitled ‘Account from Paris of a terrible Operation – 1812, who, when she discovered she had breast cancer and under the insistence of specialist surgeons, underwent one of the first recorded mastectomies at a time when there was no effective anaesthetic – ouch! She was 59 years old at the time and went on to live until the ripe old age of 88!

Written as biographies in small chunks, A History of Britain in 21 Women is well researched, informative and entertaining. Dedicated to “all the young people who need to know” it is an illuminating, easy read offering a great deal to both women and men of all ages. However some of Murray’s omissions were interesting and there was one woman in particular whom I felt wasn’t deserving of a place amongst such great individuals – but that’s purely politics. Nonetheless, a thought-provoking read finishing with a timely reminder that we still have a way to go and the fight for gender parity must continue.

 

#PressforProgress – Still A Long Way To Go

 

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft

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Image: Pixabay

Today, Thursday 8th March 2018, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. It is also a day that marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The call to action this year is #PressforProgress and with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp momentum is particularly strong this year. 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK. So, a century on, how are we doing?

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Image: Pixabay

Sadly, the findings of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (International Women’s Day website) suggest gender parity is still over 200 years away. Disheartening to say the least. Further research suggests that globally, one in three women suffer from gender-based violence, sixty-two million girls, annually, are denied access to education, and women in the workplace still suffer in terms of pay and representation. Much has also been written about the inequality female writers still face in the writing and publishing world. As a female writer myself, I wanted to explore this a bit further.

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Image: Pixabay

In terms of reviews, literary prizes, and senior positions within publishing houses, many are still being awarded to men above women. Even World Book Night (The Guardian) shows that the picks of the last 5 years have been made up of 64 male versus 36 female authors. And author Nicola Griffith shows gender bias in her study, published in May 2015, of prizewinning books both here and across the pond, broken down by the gender of their protagonists. Her findings suggest that in the last 15 years, 12 of the Booker-winning novels have had male protagonists, two have had female protagonists, and one has had both male and female protagonists. The Booker fared better than the Pulitzer, which has had no female protagonist among its 15 winning books. I was also disappointed to find in a study carried out by The Guardian in August 2016, articles written by women, irrespective of their content or subject matter, attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men.

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Image: Pixabay

Aleesah Darlison (Writers Edit) attributes continued gender discrimination to “tradition and possibly even culture… It’s incredibly difficult to change centuries-old thinking, but women are continually striving to move forward.” 

Whereas some writers like Christine Piper (Writers Edit), author and winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for After Darkness suggests that the confines of professional limitations based on gender are sometimes self-imposed and said “Like many women, I’ve been guilty of self-sabotage: doubting my ability, playing down my talents, taking rejections personally, and being shy about pursuing opportunities. Men are socialised to be confident and champion their abilities (but of course not all male writers are like this), while women are not – if a woman does do those things she’s often seen as arrogant or a ‘tall poppy’.”

However, it’s not all bad news, women are making advances. I only have to look at my daughter to see the opportunities available to her compared to my mother who, born in 1950, was paid half the wage of a man when she first started working. Nonetheless, let’s not get complacent, continue to unite, support one another and #PressforProgress for women.

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Image: Pixabay

 

It’s Not Always Fiction!

Happy New Year everyone! May 2018 bring you health, happiness and success (in whatever way you measure it) and if you get thrown a few curve balls along the way, may you have the strength to manage them. I would also like to wish all the book lovers out there many happy reading hours. May we all find the time to read lots of books this year, and hopefully put a dent in that ever growing TBR pile while we’re at it (pssst, we all know that will never happen and that TBR piles are only ever apt to grow!). And to all my writer friends, I wish you every success for the coming year, may you be blessed with the time and inspiration to do what we all love to do the most – write!

In the meantime, take a look at some of the beautiful gifts I received over the festive period and on my 50th birthday in November. There’s a diary with a difference, a toolbox for writers, a colourful book about some of  history’s amazing women and a treasury of unusual words. Each one is lovely or unique and just goes to prove, that when it comes to reading or writing, it’s not just about fiction!

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First up is the Me.You. Diary by the lovely Dawn French. Bought for me by my OH, it is absolutely gorgeous and in the words of the lady herself:

This book is a way for us to tell the story of a year together. Feel free to write your appointments in it, lists, thoughts and reminders of, say, who to kill, and when, and in what order. But I’ve also written about age and life as I see it, through the seasons and the months, and I’ve added some places for you to join me in some fun and some thinking. By the end of the year, I am hoping you will have a fatter, scruffier book that is written by me but totally personalised by you.

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Secondly, bought for me by my lovely children is The Writer’s Toolbox, a fun approach to helping with writer’s block, getting past that difficult opening line, or simply rounding out characters. Developed by long time writing teacher Jamie Cat Callan, The Writer’s Toolbox is described as:

An innovative kit that includes a 64 page booklet with exercises and instructions that focus on a ‘right brain’ approach to writing. Sixty exercise sticks will get stories off the ground, 60 cards fuel creative descriptions and four spinner palettes will ignite unexpected plot twists. For an aspiring writer this kit is the perfect first step on the path to literary greatness!

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Thirdly, if, like me, you’re bit of a history buff, then I highly recommend  this beautifully illustrated book by writer and artist, Ann Shen, again bought for me by my lovely children, which takes a look at 100 remarkable women that helped shape and change history. Great for young and old alike, it provides a perfect snapshot of each woman, alongside Shen’s lovely illustration of each.

The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolour portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

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And finally, just for sheer amusement and the love of unusual words, I highly recommend Foyle’s Philavery, another wonderful gift from my other half. Written by Christopher Foyle (chairman of the world famous Foyles bookshop in London’s Charing Cross Road) this book is a collection of some the overlooked gems of the English language.

Some of these words appeal because of their aptness, some for their obscurity, some for their euphony, and some for their quirkiness. As a collection, they represent the fruits of a lifetime of reading and will delight all word lovers.