A Secret Sisterhood – out in paperback today

I’m so happy to announce that A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontё, Eliot and Woolf is out in paperback today. My friend and co-author, Emma Claire Sweeney, and I are having a blog tour to celebrate, and there’s a post about this on our joint website, Something Rhymed.

In this post, we also talk about some planned changes we have coming up on Something Rhymed, which include opportunities for those who’d like to write a piece or two for the website or to help out with editorial or admin. Do take a look if you are interested.

Something Rhymed literary salons

Thanks to a generous grant from Arts Council England, Emma Claire Sweeney and I have been able to organise a series of literary salons at NYU London.  These events will bring together writers and literary professionals, to discuss the problem of gender equality in the literary world and come up with positive solutions.

Something Rhymed Salon flyer

For more details about the salons, please click here. We look forward to seeing you there.

Something Rhymed Salon flyer p2

A Secret Sisterhood: a book written with my friend, Emma Claire Sweeney

Creative Commons licence
Creative Commons licence

Emma Claire Sweeney and I already blogged about our forthcoming book on Something Rhymed, but I thought it would be a good idea to share a link to that post here too. A Secret Sisterhood, which focuses on the literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, will be published by Aurum Press in the UK and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the USA, both in late 2017.

Emma and I are heavily into research and writing now, but we look forward to sharing snippets of the stories of these friendships on our website, and delving into everything in much greater depth in our book, A Secret Sisterhood.

‘Working With Writing: the art of collaboration’ at City University

There are still a few places left for Working With Writing: the art of collaboration at City University London this Thursday.

The event, chaired by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, will feature author Heidi James and her editor Hetha Duffy of Bluemoose Books, as well as Emma Claire Sweeney and me.

Emma Claire and I will be talking about our jointly-run website Something Rhymed, and our research into historical literary collaborations between some of the world’s most famous female writers.

If you can make it, we’d love to see you there:

Citylogo

Thursday 23 April 2015 at 6.30pm
Performance Space, College Building, St John Street, London, EC1V 4PB
£10, including a glass of wine or soft drink.

 

Article in Shooter magazine: Emily Dickinson and Helen Hunt Jackson

The only authenticated portrait of Emily Dickinson (later in childhood). This image is in the public domain. The original is held by the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College.
Emily Dickinson (later in childhood). This image is in the public domain. The original is held by the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College.

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.

Something Rhymed… a continuing story

When Emma Claire Sweeney and I launched Something Rhymed at the start of 2014, we were clear about one thing: it would be a year-long project.

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…

The clothes-swap challenge: me dressed in Emma Claire's dress
The clothes-swap challenge: me, on holiday, in Emma Claire’s dress.
And Emma, at her book club, wearing my top.
And Emma Claire, at her book club, wearing my top.

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.

Article for Hippo Reads and event at the Ilkley Literature Festival

Last night, Emma Claire Sweeney and I met up at the Southbank Centre for the pre-award celebration for this year’s SI Leeds Literary Prize. As a former runner-up, I really wanted to go along to support the 2014 shortlistees – not least because of the help Emma Claire and I have received from three of them.

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.

 

SOMETHING RHYMED

~ the literary friendships of famous female authors

Ilkley Playhouse Wildman

Wednesday 15th October

9.15-10.15 pm

 

 

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.

Update on Something Rhymed

emily - 154 H cropped
Copyright: GREGphoto

Emma Claire and I have had a busy summer with our website Something Rhymed.

Following our article for the Independent on Sunday, we wrote another related piece about female writing friendships for Writers & Artists.

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.

Blog tour: The Writing Process

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.

Osaka at sunset, on my last visit there a few years ago.
Osaka at sunset, on my last visit there a few years ago.

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.

Emma Claire and me
Emma Claire and me

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.