In our time away, Emma has been on a First Impression writing retreat in Barreiro in Portugal. I have taken part in a trek in northern Thailand organised by Mahouts Elephant Foundation. For eight days and more than 130 km, we walked a pair of elephants from where they have been working in a camp on the outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai to their new forest home. You can read more about the trek here if you are interested.
Emma and I are looking forward to bringing you September’s month of posts, starting with today’s profile of writer friends Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Russell Mitford. We are grateful to Lydia at Persephone Books for suggesting we research the relationship between this pair. You can read the whole post here.
In what has been a very busy month, writing-wise, it was an absolute treat to attend the dinner for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2015 on 14 May – and a huge surprise to win!
Having enjoyed reading their novel extracts so much, it was great to meet the four other writers shortlisted for the prize (Tracy Kuhn, Amy Spencer, Sonia Velton and Rebecca Welshman), the prize judges who were able to attend that evening (literary agent Nelle Andrew and bestselling author Allison Pearson), as well as Professor Janet Todd, president of Lucy Cavendish College.
An added delight was having the chance to share all this with my close friend and Something Rhymed collaborator Emma Claire Sweeney. Emma and I have been supporting each other’s ‘writing journeys’ for well over a decade now, and she has seen me through so many ups and downs. So this made her the obvious person to ask along as my guest for the evening. Having Emma there to celebrate with me made the whole experience extra special.
Emma Claire Sweeney and I were delighted to be approached by new literary magazine, Shooter, with a request that we contribute an article to their first issue.
‘Success is Counted Sweetest’, our piece on the literary friendship between Emily Dickinson and Helen Hunt Jackson, is the result. Readers of our joint website Something Rhymed may recall that we profiled this fascinating relationship on-line some months ago, but it was a pleasure to revisit it in a longer form in print.
Our research into this pair has caused us to seriously reevaluate our earlier impressions of Dickinson as an out-and-out recluse, and encouraged us to look with a more careful eye at the woman known to her curious neighbours as The Myth.
This process of reevaluation has, in fact, played a much broader part in the work we’ve been doing for the website.
Jane Austen’s radical friendship with family governess Anne Sharp, we discovered, challenges the notion that she was a timid, conservative lady. Diary entries left behind by Virginia Woolf cast doubt on popular depictions of her and Katherine Mansfield as bitter foes. The bond between Helen Keller and Nancy Hamilton transforms the ‘saintly’ image of the former and shows her as an even more interesting individual.
If you are interested in finding out more about these friendships, or the many others we have featured so far, you can do so by visiting the Profiled Writers page of Something Rhymed.
The plan was relatively simple. For twelve months, we’d profile the literary friendships of a dozen pairs of famous female authors and challenge ourselves to complete monthly activities based on an aspect of each of these alliances.
During 2014, we’ve publically recalled our first impressions of each other; thrown a party together; composed long handwritten letters; even spent a day dressed in each other’s clothes…
Our project has developed in unexpected ways, giving us opportunities to collaborate with other writers and organisations.
Shortly after setting up Something Rhymed, we gave our first joint podcast interview. We’ve appeared together at the Ilkey Literature Festival and written articles for a variety of publications, including Women Writers, Women[’s] Books and the Independent on Sunday. On our own website, we’ve featured interviews and guest blogs with contemporary female writers we admire – most recently, Diana Athill.
When this time last January, we announced our intentions to set up Something Rhymed, several well-wishers expressed concern that we wouldn’t be able to find enough female literary pairs to complete our year-long task. But, as Emma Claire mentioned in a recent post, thanks to our close-knit community of readers from around the globe, the reverse has turned out to be true. Suggestions via Twitter or through our website have helped us to unearth many more collaborations than we could ever have envisaged twelve months ago.
And so, we’ve decided to keep sharing our findings at Something Rhymed into 2015, beginning this January with the extraordinary friendship of Mary Lamb and Dorothy Wordsworth.
We’d like to thank all our readers for their support and to wish them a Happy New Year.
Season Butler, Reshma Ruia and Kit de Waal were all kind enough to answer some interview questions about their friendships, as was prize advocate Irenosen Okojie. We’ll be featuring a new creative piece inspired by their answers during our talk at the Ilkley Literature Festival next week. This is a free event and we’d love to see you there.
~ the literary friendships of famous female authors
Ilkley Playhouse Wildman
Wednesday 15th October
For a taster of the sort of thing we’ll be discussing, you can also read our article for Hippo Reads, which went live on their website yesterday.
We’ve also been working on plans for some related events and projects, including an appearance on 15 October at the Ilkley Literature Festival.
I’ll be posting some more information about this event over the next few weeks, but you can go to this page to find out what we will be doing that evening.
As I mentioned in a recent post on Something Rhymed, Emma Claire and I are very keen to celebrate positive representations of women’s friendship on-line. With this in mind, we’ve just launched our #SomethingRhymed hashtag on Twitter with this tweet:
Women’s relationships are too often seen as bitchy & backstabbing. Tell us about a time when a female friend supported you. #SomethingRhymed
We’ll be sharing our own stories (in 140 characters or less), and, whether you’re a writer or not, we’d love to hear about your positive experiences of female friendship too. If you’re not on Twitter, but would still like to add your voice to the conversation, you can leave a message in the Comments section at the end of all of our Something Rhymed posts.
Do remember too that you can keep up-to-date with the blog by typing your email address into the box beneath the banner on the right hand side of the screen, and then clicking on the ‘Follow’ button beneath. On mobile devices, you need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the box and ‘Follow’ button.
My friend and frequent writing collaborator Emma Claire Sweeney asked me to take part in the Writing Process Blog Tour, for which all the writers involved are asked to answer four questions about their work. You can read Emma Claire’s answers, and follow the tour back, here.
1. What am I working on?
These past few months have been all about juggling. I have been working on an overhaul of my first novel A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing, a longish short story ‘The Happiest of Homes’ due to be published later this year, a number of commissioned feature articles, the most recent being this one for the Independent on Sunday co-written with Emma Claire, and also our joint literary website Something Rhymed.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I’ll limit myself to talking about just a couple of things, the novel and the website.
A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing is set in the Japanese city of Ōsaka. It’s the story of an intense friendship between a young English teacher and a Western nightclub hostess, and what happens when the hostess disappears. It’s a book about lost things – a vanished jade necklace, the protagonist’s mother who’s deserted her, and a missing best friend. I’ve also woven traditional Japanese folktales, family stories and national history into this literary thriller.
Friendship, an important theme of A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing, is the main focus of my website Something Rhymed. In this case, Emma Claire and I have been looking at the literary friendships of some of the world’s most famous writers. We’d noticed that, although information about the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge, or Fitzgerald and Hemingway can easily be found on-line, the literary pals of, say, Jane Austen, George Eliot or Virginia Woolf tend to be a bit more hidden. Something Rhymed attempts to redress this balance, and asks why these important relationships so often seem to have been written out of history.
3. Why do I write what I do?
My novel was influenced by my years living and working in Japan when I was in my early twenties, and also my own cultural background. I’m half-English, half-Japanese and I was brought up on my mother’s stories of her life in Japan many years ago. I have often found myself wanting to write about these things in my fiction.
With Something Rhymed, Emma Claire and I just felt that there was something missing from the record where female literary friendships were concerned. We’ve long relied on each other as writing allies – celebrating successes together and providing much-needed support when the going gets tough – so were convinced that, if we looked hard enough we’d discover other writerly relationships comparable to ours. With the help of Something Rhymed readers, we’ve made many new discoveries this year.
4. How does my writing process work?
At the moment, I write every morning in the week and sometimes at weekends too. In the afternoons, I do other things: teaching (creative writing), cleaning, marking students’ work, errands, admin, lesson prep. There’s always lots to do, but I try to keep my writing time sacred. I make a note of what I want to accomplish each day in my diary and attempt to stick to it. This keeps me mostly on track.
Next week I’m passing the blog tour to writer and freelance Arts Project Manager, Irenosen Okojie. She has worked with the RSC, the Southbank Centre, and programmed for Duckie for their series of interactive nights. She was a selected writer for the Flight project run by Spread the Word and for the 30 Nigeria House Project by Theatre Royal Stratford East. Her work has been featured in the Observer and the Guardian, and her short stories have been published internationally..Irenosen is penning her first novel and a collection of short stories. She is 2014 Prize Advocate for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, currently obsessed with her family beagle Gogo and addicted to Viennese whirls.
The practical session will use visual prompts to explore ways of creating believable characters on paper. It’ll be suitable for participants of all abilities and levels of experience, and I hope to see you there.
Tickets: £10 (£8 concessions and Gallery Supporters)
For more information and to book your place, please click here.