Thursday, 13 March 2014

A review of our IWD event by Deborah Arnander

Lois Williams
Lily Meyer

On Saturday 8th March Lynne Bryan and Belona Greenwood held their fourth annual event for International Women’s Day, combining it with the launch of their inaugural anthology.  It was jam-packed, standing room only, attended by men, women and children of all ages: including what appeared to be a couple of punters near me at the back who didn’t get it together to leave the bar in time and couldn’t push their way to the door.   Still, after the initial bemusement they looked like they were rather enjoying themselves.  As well they might: Belona and Lynne put on a great show.  The Words and Women organization is a fantastic resource.  You don’t just need a room of your own if you’re a woman writer.   You also need somewhere to read your work and have it heard by a receptive audience, and that’s what you get at these events.   It’s also liberating, as an audience member, to hear women read aloud funny, outrageous, honest, moving material that they might hesitate to expose in other contexts.   There’s no call here for the dreaded apologetic demeanour that leads to accusations of women holding themselves back.   And although the atmosphere on Saturday felt supportive, Words and Women is not about blanket endorsement of women’s efforts.   The five women who read were winners of the Words and Women writing competition: first prize-winner Dani Redd, fellow short-story writers Lily Meyer and Kim Sherwood; memoirists Anni Domingo and Lois Williams.  The whole big stack of anthologies sold out  – that’s how good the readings were.  I’m told you can get one on Amazon, or via Unthank Books, or by pestering the nice people at Waterstones.  

Let's Eat Grandma!

The other great thing about Words and Women is that it’s not just about the words.  At most literary events, the audience is expected to sit quietly and listen to writers reading at what can feel like interminable length.  After a while, no matter how spell-binding the story-teller, your bum starts to hurt and you wonder what to have for tea.  Saturday’s event included a very beautiful, meditative, multi-layered short film about women’s writing space, mental and physical, and two barnstorming performances by women musicians:  Karen Reilly, who seemed to just open her mouth and fill the whole room with the power and joy of her voice, from a whisper to a growl, acapella and off-mic, with three songs she composed with her band the Neutrinos (including one about Amanda Knox); and fifteen-year-old duo Let’s Eat Grandma, stars of the future, who I might describe as Lily Allen meets the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, only completely original, and also very cool, despite a dramatic rescue by Belona Greenwood when one of them got locked in the toilet just before they were due to go on.  That’s the kind of event it was: fun, inspiring, with plenty of room for the unexpected.  Previous events have included top-quality art, stand-up comedy, theatre, and a bonkers book raffle.  If you haven’t been already, get along next year – but turn up early, or you might not get in at all.

Deborah Arnander was born in Northumberland and spent her childhood in Thailand.  She has worked as an academic, translator and speech-writer.  She won an Escalator New Writing Award in 2009 from the Writers’ Centre Norwich, and is currently working on her first novel, about a GI baby, set in wartime Norfolk and 90s California. She has a short story in Unthank Books’ first Unthology and Words And Women: One, and has published poems on the webzine Ink, Sweat and Tears, and in the anthologies Not Expecting Fish, Gatehouse Press, and Voicing Visions, (Norwich Twenty Group Spring Exhibition 2009). 

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