Sunday 6 January 2019

A Year in Review: We’re taking some time to think.

2018 saw us make some fabulous things happen and receive recognition for our work from the Norfolk Arts Awards. Our Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award was a wonderful accolade but tinged with sadness too as this year we decided to take a break from many of our activities so we could think about the organisation’s future. We are still thinking!
In January we announced the winners of our annual prose competition, sponsored by Hosking Houses Trust and Gold Dust. The winner of our national prize this year was Kerry Hood for her eerie story The Sunbathers and Margaret Meyer won the regional prize for The Once And Only First Lady Judge, a story written in honour of her grandmother. Kerry and Margaret won cash prizes and their work was published in The Words & Women Compendium.
The Words And Women Compendium, a brave and vibrant collection of short prose, represents the best of four years of Words and Women’s annual competition showcase anthologies. Click here to buy a copy! We launched the compendium at our International Women’s day celebration at The Book Hive, a great independent bookshop in Norwich. At the launch we also announced that we were going to take our break. If you scroll down to the next blog post you’ll find our statement about this decision.

In May we were invited by the Suffolk Book League to talk about our work. The Suffolk Book League is based in Ipswich and our reading took place at their usual venue, the Ipswich Institute, an independent library founded in 1824. We had a full house; Deborah Arnander, a previous winner of our prose competition, read her story The Wife at the event, and lots of interesting questions were asked about Words & Women and suggestions made about how we might continue.
The rest of the year was devoted to celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage. We ran a poster campaign featuring quotes from women from this region - Millicent Garrett Fawcett, Miriam Pratt, Annie Reeves and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh - who’d been involved in suffragist and suffragette activities at the turn of the century. The beautiful posters, designed by Vicki Johnson, were distributed around the county and to all Norfolk sixth form centres. 
We also teamed up with Norfolk Library staff and the University of East Anglia to suggest books for the library promotion Suffragette Stories. Fourteen books were chosen for the promotion, including The Words And Women Compendium. More information about both of these projects can be found on our dedicated blog page.

Our year ended with our Outstanding Contribution to the Arts Award at October’s Hostry Festival.  We want to thank the Norfolk Arts Awards for their support and generosity. 

We hope to let you know in a few months’ time about the future of our organisation.

In the meantime we wish you all the very best for your writing in 2019 and in politically and economically uncertain times, let’s raise a glass to community and compassion. 

Belona Greenwood & Lynne Bryan

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Words And Women is taking a break

Hard as it is to imagine but back in 2011, in the dark days, there was nothing much going on to mark International Women’s Day in Norwich which was why Words and Women was set up. We are not for one moment saying it is down to us, but now there is so much on offer, even South Bank has zoomed in with WOW – the  Women of the World Festival - which will take place in the city in April 2018.  It has become a busy field with increased awareness. 

Of course Words and Women is so much more than a local event. We’ve run projects further afield in other parts of the Eastern region and we have our prose competition which is open to women writers regionally but also nationally (for women over the age of 40). Our anthologies have even been sold in Shakespeare & Co in Paris!

But, ironically, given this is the year when we celebrate the centenary of the partial suffrage of women, granting women a voice in society, we have decided we need to put Words and Women on hold.

Words and Women has achieved much over seven years:

·               We have published 6 books or to put it another way 147 women writers
·               We have distributed £30,000 of prize monies and commissions
·               We have raised money for the charities Leeway, Women for Refugee Women and ECPAT (against child-trafficking)
·               We have put on 7 International Women’s Day events, a garden festival and numerous other reading events around the East of England. These events often involved cross-discipline work with female theatre directors, comedians, film makers, musicians and artists, including Karen Reilly from The Neutrinos, Chalk Circle Theatre Company, Print to The People, Clare Jarrett, Anna Mudeka, Louisa Theobald
·               We have presented a paper at Lit Com: Writing and Communities, we’ve made a short film and have spoken about our work on T.V. and radio
·               We have developed work for the stage and the page with our Arts Council supported project About, and we have worked with young girls in schools, and with over 30 women writers from disadvantaged areas in Norfolk for our Libraries supported project Rural Writes
·               Writers we have worked with have gone on to publish their first novels and collections of stories. We are proud of them but particularly proud of two women from our Rural Writes project who were new to writing then and are now studying writing at postgraduate level

We have also been:
·               Shortlisted for Best Anthology 2014, Saboteur Awards
·               Shortlisted for Best One-Off Event 2015, Saboteur Awards
·               Shortlisted for the Women in Publishing New Venture Award 2015 & 2016

However, Words and Women is run voluntarily. Basically, the organisation is a two-woman gig and neither of us get paid for our time. So this last year, we engaged in an operation to see how we could make Words and Women more sustainable for us. But, as of yet, we’ve not found a way to secure funding.  It is frustrating that core funding for activities like ours is so difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

So we need time away to do more thinking and planning and to recoup. Hopefully we will find a way to continue. It hurts to go dark though. It still feels as if Words and Women has a role to play in supporting and celebrating women writers and other women creatives, in creating opportunities on a community and professional level, in trying to offer public space, and in mixing it up.

It hurts to stop too because, well, a woman’s work is never done. Only last week The Guardian published a letter from 70 women screenwriters deploring the lack of opportunity for women writers in television drama.  We are living through an extraordinary time where sexism and inequality is being exposed in every area of life, and yet, if we really stop to think, the Suffragettes of 100 years ago would probably be horrified at the lack of progress.

It also hurts because there is so much still to do to further women’s writing in our particular way, with warmth, an inclusive ethos, a desire to be exciting and to expect the best, to reinvent, to be passionate, to give young women opportunities and to be non-elitist, and to be kind.

Thank you for being with us over the years. We will be celebrating the centenary of partial suffrage of women with some small but not insignificant projects (please see the dedicated blog page for further details), and we will be holding our last reading for the time being on the 3rd May in Ipswich for the Suffolk Book League, so if you are in the area then please come along to that.

So now it is time to go quiet. As we do so we’d like to thank: our volunteers, our Supporters  and Super Supporters, all of the writers that have been involved with us one way or the other,  project funders (Arts Council England, the Co-Op Community Fund, Norfolk County Council APF), and in no particular order: Chalk Circle Theatre Company, Mary Muir, Melissa Bell, Guinevere-Glasfurd Brown, Isabelle King, Leigh Chambers, Anthea Morrison, Anna Brett, Hannah Walker, Andrew Cowan, Jill Dawson & GoldDust, Sarah Hosking and Hosking Houses Trust, Mary Muir, Anna Mudeka, Ashley Stokes, Unthank Books, Emma Healey, The Book Hive, Norfolk Libraries Service, Jan Holden, Print To The People, Vicki Johnson, Jo Stafford,  Chris Gribble, Sarah Ridgard, Naomi Wood, Emma Claire Sweeney, , Emily Midorikawa, Lilie Ferrari, Charlie Watson, Singular Publishing, Trezza Azzopardi, Heidi Williamson, Clare Jarrett, Louisa Theobald, Karen Reilly and The Neutrinos, Deborah Arnander, Leigh Chambers, Rose Cowan, Meghan Douglas-Ellis, Sophia Egler, Bea Fischer-Harrison, Lucy Ward, Sophie Frank, Moyses Gomez, Nadia Greenwood,  Adina Levay, Sarah Long, Gillian McArthur, Lily Meyer, Sofia Moses, Sarah Passingham, Sarah Poulton, Dani Redd, Beth Settle, Kim Sherwood, Paula Wolfe, Katherine Simmonds, Tom Collin, Jean Hogg, Jane Harris, Madeleine Young, Angela Youngman.  

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Come to our book launch and celebrate International Women's Day

Words and Women is excited to announce the launch of their latest publication – a compendium of this year’s competition winners and the best of five years of publishing women’s short prose. The book, beautifully produced by Singular Publishing, features Kerry Hood’s intriguing and ambitious short story, The Sunbathers, which won this year’s national prize for women writers over 40, and Margaret Meyer’s The Once and Only First Lady Judge awarded the East of England regional prize. But the book includes so much more, past winners and the most dynamic, bold and exciting fiction, life-writing, creative non-fiction and memoir regionally. 

The launch at The Book Hive, 53 London Street, in Norwich takes place on Friday, 9th March at 6 for 6.30 pm and will feature readings from Margaret Meyer, Lilie Ferrari, Lora Stimson and Deborah Arnander.

Everybody welcome  - there will be copies of The Compendium for sale, and refreshments too! 

Sunday 28 January 2018

Working Class Writer

This piece by Bel Greenwood, co-organiser of Words And Women, first appeared on the  Writers Centre Norwich website. It was written in response to  a recent BBC Radio 4 programme that saw novelist Kit de Waal reflect on her own life and writing career, and the barriers faced by working-class writers today. 

'I can remember really looking forward to reading Maggie Ferguson’s biography of Michael Morpurgo. I wasn’t even going to wait for the paperback version to come out. I had read his stories to my own child and watched him passionately defend the human rights of Palestinian children. I admired him, but I felt a familiar disappointment when yet, again, Michael Morpurgo was revealed to be a former head boy of a Canterbury public school who lead the late Queen Mother around the grounds, ex-Sandhurst, and related by marriage to Allen Lane, head of Penguin Books.  I can remember thinking, how typical. Of course, Michael Morpurgo has talent, lots of people have that, but not everyone has such a route map.  Frankly, if you are a working class writer you really don’t have much of a map at all.  
I am very conscious of the need to avoid being ‘chippy.’ As if holding any resentment about inequality is a character flaw and my perception of the publishing industry as elitist, and poorly representative of where I come from isn’t valid. But it is now being acknowledged by the publishing industry itself that working class writers and stories are missing and some in the industry want to remove the barriers to writers from my kind of background. Hence BBC Radio 4’s documentary, ‘Where are all the Working Class Writers?’ A passionate, personal take by Kit de Waal, who published her first book at the age of 55.
Is it so different for someone like me and someone like Michael Morpurgo?  Plenty of middle class people refuse to accept that there is any difference. But of course, there is. It isn’t only financial hardship, lack of time or a writing shed that gets in the way. It’s confidence, self-belief, having a face that fits, a happy sense of entitlement, adopting a way of speaking that is taken more seriously. Learning the alien skill of a networking session, finding a sense of belonging without any idea of the codes that tie people together.
I was born into a large family at the back of the old Arsenal Football Stadium in London. When I was five my father ran away. I don’t think he managed a single maintenance payment and my mother was left pregnant with her fifth child, on benefits in the late 1960s. It was tough, and we were very poor. I can remember us all sitting round making pyjama trouser strings in the front room and was often kept off school to help with the washing.  My mother remarried a milkman with itchy feet and we moved 14 times in 12 years. I went to 8 schools, in secondhand shoes and on free school meals, we were easy fodder for bullies. Years later, a wealthy friend, son of lawyers, asked me why life was always a battle. No one where I grew up would think to ask that question.
Having been at comprehensives and a secondary modern, I ended up at a grammar school where the headmistress asked me if my father drank, after all he is working class, he is also teetotal except at Christmas. I was one of two working class pupils in the sixth form and became a Communist and played truant in response.
In those years, I can remember visiting the home of an artist whose work resembled Modigliani. I pointed this out, and she responded, ‘Oh, you know who Modigliani is?’ She couldn’t believe that someone like me would know about an Italian-Jewish 19th century artist who lived in France. I couldn’t help thinking, why shouldn’t I know as much as anyone else. Thank Goodness for public libraries, my gateway into a bigger world where art could belong to anyone.
Why am I writing this? Because the perceptions and expectations of others feed the perception and expectations of ourselves. My mother’s ambition was for me to work in Woolworths. It took me years to get to university, the first generation in my family to do so. Even then I did it as a single parent in a city of strangers, excited but unsure how to belong, and frankly, without Arts and Humanities Research Board funding of my MA, it simply wouldn’t have happened.  I am grateful for that support and aware of what a rare chance I have been given. But it’s still hard not to feel like an imposter. In my early adult life, I spent years listening to intellectual bores who I was convinced must be more right than me because of their class. Thankfully, I have outgrown that – but the shuttle diplomacy between my working class origins, and the middle class world of publishing continues in an atmosphere of self-doubt and hope.  Now more than ever we need to tell the right stories and I believe we need a range of voices to do the telling, anything less will only ever give us a dangerously partial view.'

© Bel Greenwood 6 December, 2017

Monday 8 January 2018

Kerry Hood and Margaret Meyer, the winners of our prose competition!

Congratulations to Kerry Hood who has won our national prize for women writers over 40 in our prose competition this year and Margaret Meyer who has won our regional prize for women writers living and working in the East of England.  Kerry won for her fantastic story The Sunbathers, and Margaret won for The Once And Only First Lady Judge, a story written in honour of her grandmother.

Kerry’s story TXL was runner-up in the Bridport Prize for which she’s been shortlisted five times. She won the Cinnamon Press Award, Ink Tears Flash Fiction, and Frome Short Story Prize as well as being published by the Bristol Prize, The New Writer and Bath Flash Fiction. Two stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
She has had ten plays produced including Meeting Myself Coming Back at Soho Theatre (British Theatre Guide Highlight of the Year, Sunday Times Critics’ Choice, shortlisted for Meyer-Whitworth Award), received several Arts Council awards and has had residencies at the National Theatre, the Traverse and RADA.

Margaret is a prose writer and therapist. She has previously been a fiction editor, publisher, British Council Director of Literature and a reader-in-residence in Norfolk prisons. As a therapeutic arts practitioner she provides writing and reading-for-wellbeing programmes for ex-offenders, recovering addicts, and people recovering from mental health conditions. In 2016 she won a place on the Escalator writer development scheme run by Writers’ Centre Norwich. In 2017 she was awarded an Arts Council England grant towards her first novel, The Varieties of Flight. She writes about women, water, metaphor, criminality and not knowing. 

Kerry wins £1,000 and a month long writing retreat, generously sponsored by Hosking Houses Trust, and Margaret wins £600 and a mentoring session with Jill Dawson of Gold Dust.  Both will have their work published in our forthcoming anthology The Words And Women Compendium which will be launched at our International Women’s Day celebration in Norwich in March. (We will release more details about our celebration at the end of this month.)

Our guest judges for this year were Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, authors of A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf. All entries were judged anonymously and the unveiling of the names of the winning writers at the end of the process was very exciting! Here are the judges’ thoughts about the winning stories:

'The Sunbathers stands out immediately as ambitious and distinctive, expanding the possibilities of the short-story form. It takes a virtuoso approach to narrative perspective, expertly sustaining complex craft techniques, and its layers of symbolism make this a story that rewards revisiting time and again.’

'The Once and Only First Lady Judge is richly imagined, with an important message at its core. The characters engaged us on a deep, emotional level, and the story lingered in our minds long after we had stopped reading.'

Words And Women would like to say thank you to everybody who entered the competition. The quality of work, as always, was outstanding.