Friday, 27 May 2011

Women Write

Last night I attended City Library, Manchester for the launch of an anthology “Life, Death… The Whole Damn Thing”, featuring short stories from members of the award-winning writing group at Commonword in Manchester. The room was packed with writers, their friends and family members as well as some of us there as supporters and admirers.

The womanswrite group has existed for decades, encouraging many women to find their writing voices and in some cases develop their writing careers. Cathy Bolton, now Director of Manchester Literature Festival, kicked off the proceedings with some of her award-winning poetry. Novelist Cath Staincliffe rounded the event off by acknowledging the importance of womanswrite to her own successful career.What came through strongly throughout the event was the value of this supportive network in helping numerous writers to improve their work and gain in confidence.

In between Cathy and Cath, 7 members of the group read extracts from the stories appearing in the anthology. There was great variety in the work, some being very real, others rooted in fantasy or fairytale. In a way though, what was read, although enjoyable, wasn't really the essence of this event. What mattered was the sense of achievement and the pride everyone , from publisher, editor to all the writers felt in having published.

While most of the work of a librarian is dealing with published work, it was great that this event celebrating creative writing happened in a library. Without the valuable work going on in writing groups, workshops and masterclasses all over the country, sometimes in libraries, many successful writers might not come to light. Writers need to read. Many writers need to test their work in friendly and supportive groups. Writers need to promote their early work when it is published. Libraries can and do support the creative act of writing. With all the cutbacks and change currently happening to libraries in many parts of the UK, I hope this important function won't be lost.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Reading & Travel

Funny how here in NW Libraries we have just launched Reading Places, a promotion of travel writing and in the same week The Independent published in its "i" paper (Thurs p 35) a top ten list of travel books:
Arabian Sands – William Thesiger
Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
Journey to Portugal – Jose Saramago
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
A Wounded Civilization – V S Naipaul
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron
The Journals of Captain Cook – James Cook

This is a mixed selection of good writing and includes some classics and older titles as well as contemporary ones and I had selected a number of these myself to feature in our own list, but where are the women? I find it a bit remiss of the Indie not to have included even one woman.

I must admit that a lack of female writers to choose from struck me too while I was looking for titles to promote on our own site. There are obvious reasons why women found it harder to travel in the past and I LOVE this qoutation from George Eliot Daniel Deronda, Book II, Chapter 13, p135 (Penguin).
We women can't go in search of adventure - to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without complaining. That is my notion about the plants: they are often bored, and that is the reason why some of them have got poisonous.
Times have most definitely changed and a moment's research soon comes up with plenty of female travel writers . The easiest possible hunt on Amazon today displays 2,829 results for Women Travellers in a list that includes lots of handbooks and guides for independent women, especially those travelling alone. There are collections of comic writing, descriptions by fearless adventurers and cautionary tales for the inexperienced and unwary.

Wonderful Virago published a collection in the early 1990s edited by Mary Morris, surveying 300 years of travel writing in which women are observers of the world in which they wander; their prose rich in description, remarkable in detail. This is now on my "books to read soon" list.

What also strikes me about the Indie's list is that several of the writers included are known as novelists as well- George Orwell, Jose Saramago, Joseph Steinbeck, VS Naipaul. Is this something that men find easier than women- moving seemlessly between different sorts of writing? I wonder. There are probably lots of female novelists who have also published memoirs and travel descriptions- but who are they? I can think of Kate Grenville who wrote the highly recommended novel about early settlers in Australia The Secret River, and then followed up with a memoir Searching For the Secret River, about her family and the inspiration for the novel. Are there other examples like this?

It would be good to be able to add to the short list of Women travel writers on this website, so do get in touch with your own ideas.

In the meantime I hope you will discover one or two titles to read on our site- we have given you a lot more than 10 to select from. And please send us a photo of yourself reading on your travels, whether that's to somewhere exotic or just as far as your back garden.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Reading Places

This time last week I was in New York, and find I am still recovering from what was a very hectic trip. Apparently there are 5 time zones between here and there and consequently it will take me 5 days to feel normal (!) again.

On our trip we did squeeze in a couple of bookshops as well as the very grand New York Public Library building, which somehow felt strangely familiar. The Strand Bookshop off Union Square boasts 18 miles of books. It was certainly densely packed and I was able to spot lots of titles by American authors I now want to read. This store has a great website too with lots of book choice information.

All of which is preamble to telling you more about Reading Places which launches on Monday. If you revisit this website on Monday 9th May you should spot a new banner and link to our new promotion. If you follow through, you will have approximately 100 books promoted to you, all linked to the theme of travel. I have tried to match Fiction & Non- Fiction titles, so for example if you are planning a trip to Easter Island you will be able to find both a novel and a factual account flagged up for you. We can add more titles through the year so please get in touch if you read a particularly evocative novel while on your travels.

We also want people to send us photos from their travels, pictures of books or people reading in unusual places. These will go up on our Facebook site, NOW that's what I call READING.

More next week