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.
I’m delighted to announce that I will be reading an extract of my as-yet-unpublished first novel A Tiny Speck of Black and then Nothing at the Writing on the Wall festival in Liverpool on Wednesday 14 May.
In other writing news, the Yorkshire Post recently featured an article on Something Rhymed, the literary website I run with Emma Claire Sweeney. Throughout 2014, Emma Claire and I are profiling the writing friendships of well-known female authors, and this month we’re turning the spotlight on Emily Dickinson and Helen Hunt Jackson.
We’re still actively looking for more literary pals to consider for the site, so please keep letting us know your thoughts by Tweeting us, or contacting us via somethingrhymed.com.
It’s been another busy couple of months since I last posted anything here, and I have decided to make it a resolution for 2014 to update this news section more regularly.
Just to touch on a few of the things I’ve been up to recently: I took part in a writer’s residency at First Impression in Portugal, presented a seminar discussion (with my great friend Emma Claire Sweeney) at the annual NAWE conference, and read from my Tangled Roots memoir at a Literary Club event at NYU in London, alongside club members and the talented poet Todd Swift.
But my main news is the launch of www.somethingrhymed.com, a new website I’ve set up with regular collaborator Emma Claire. It’s about the literary friendships of famous writers, a subject the two of us have written about before in The Times and Mslexia.
Each month on Something Rhymed, we’ll be profiling a different pair of writer pals and challenging ourselves to complete an activity based on a prominent feature of their relationship.
We’ll be posting regular updates on our progress, and we’d love for as many people as possible to get involved by letting us know of any literary friends we could profile.
Or you might like to make it your New Year’s resolution to complete the activities alongside us. You can find out about the first challenge here.
An article by Emma Claire Sweeney and me appears in the new issue of Mslexia. Its theme is rivalry between female author friends – a subject that we became interested in through our wider research into writing friendships.
We’d touched on issues of friction within writers’ relationships in the talk we gave at the NAWE conference last year and also in a piece we wrote for The Times. But we felt it was an issue that could be explored in more detail, which was why we approached Mslexia with our idea for the feature.
Although rivalry is often regarded as only a detrimental force within a friendship, Emma Claire and I know from our own relationship that the competition between us has been good for us as writers, and good for our friendship too – since it’s encouraged greater honesty between us.
We wanted to find out whether other authors felt the same way. As well as investigating the historical friendship between rivals Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, we sought the opinions of several modern-day writers to get their views on the subject too.
The Mslexia diary I’d ordered arrived this week. As usual, in addition to all the calendar-related stuff you’d expect, it contains inspiring words by writers, a useful directory and summary of The Writing Year ahead, and plenty of blank pages for scribbling down ideas.
The diary’s theme in 2013 is collaboration and the Inspirations page for August focuses on the writing friendship between Emma Claire Sweeney and I, which we talked about in our feature in The Times back in May and also in our recent discussion panel at the NAWE conference.
Having had such an enjoyable time at last year’s NAWE conference, I was really happy to take part in another panel discussion there this year. This time, Emma Claire Sweeney and I gave a presentation on the subject of friendships between writers along with two other “writing friends”, Emily Pedder and Monique Roffey.
Some people might remember that Emily and Monique were two of the writers we interviewed for our feature in The Times
back in May. Taking the newspaper article as a starting point, we used our session at the conference to ask Monique and Emily some questions inspired by what they’d told us the last time we met with them.
Emma and I were also able to delve a little further into the friendships of some of the historical writers that our research for the article had centred on – Brontë and Gaskell, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Mansfield and Woolf to name but a few – as well as discussing practical tips with our audience of modern day writers for ways of sustaining a successful writing friendship through the good as well as the rockier times.
Having been friends with Emma for well over a decade now, I feel extremely lucky to have someone who’s been with me through my writing years. As we shared with the group at the conference, there have been ups and downs in the trajectories of our careers, disappointments as well as triumphs, but something I really do appreciate is that Emma’s been there for the whole of this period and that she’s still usually the first person I turn to if I have a difficult decision to make or a knotty plot problem that I’m struggling to untangle.
For this piece, we had the pleasure of travelling out to Ireland to interview Anne Enright (shortlisted this year for The Forgotten Waltz) and her friend Lia Mills. Back in London, we met with Jill Dawson and Louise Doughty, both former Orange nominees who’ve long been a source of support to each other), and also Emily Pedder and Monique Roffey (shortlisted in 2010). These two signed a co-mentoring agreement to keep themselves on track with the writing of their memoirs.
The inspiration for this article grew out of personal experience. Emma and I have been the best of friends since we met, in Japan, over a decade ago. We were working as English teachers in Japanese schools at the time. Separately, we were writing in secret, although we hadn’t yet found the courage to admit our ambitions, even to each other. Since then, we’ve been able to watch each other’s careers progress and we’ve shared in the successes and also the disappointments we’ve experienced so far. It’s been wonderful to talk with other women who’ve relied on each other in similar ways.
Many thanks to Anne, Emily, Jill, Lia, Louise and Monique. Thanks also to Tim Clare and Joe Dunthorne for your insights on a friendship between two male writers. This story is also featured in our piece.
Finally, thanks to Emma herself. Despite the long hours we’ve put into this, working with you has been just as fun as it always is.