Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Words And Women are part of the Norfolk Storytelling Project

Holly J McDede and Isabelle King recently collaborated on  a  Norfolk Storytelling Project for Future Radio, creating a  ten minute podcast on Words And Women and  the subject of writing space. The podcast was first broadcast on Future Radio  on  April the 4th. To listen to it again please click here
Holly presents the podcast when Isabelle has written a piece about the venture which she’s kindly let us reproduce below:
‘Words and Women helps female writers build rooms of their own
By Isabelle King 

Virginia Woolf's prophesy 

 “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” – so says Virginia Woolf in her famous essay 'A Room of One's Own' . 

Still from Space
But that was 1929. Surely women have rooms, and money, of their own by now, right? But yet, women writers are still the minority in the literary world. Only 13 have won the Noble Prize for literature since 1909. Book reviews are still mostly by men, about men. With that in mind, Bel Greenwood and Lynne Bryan decided to make a film to explore Virginia Woolf's proposition. Their latest creative project, Space, is a film that focuses on, well, space. But not just any old space – all the spaces where women in the East of England like to write. 

A quiet International Women's Day 

This past International Women's Day, held on the 8th of March, the Lounge bar on St Benedicts Street was packed. The overflowing audience of men, women, and children pressed up against the door to get a glimpse of women reading their work. It would just be another energized literary reading in Norwich, except, one by one, women – and only women – took the centre stage. Inside the Lounge, it was loud, literary, and female. But up until 2011, International Women's Day quietly tiptoed past Norwich, unnoticed. It was a little too quiet for local writer Bel Greenwood. 

Still from Space
“I used to live in Italy and on International Women's Day in Italy, any strange man walking past would give you a bunch of flowers, I mean, International Women’s Day was celebrated, there was always something on and so,” Bel said, “when I was here in Norwich, I just thought that there was nothing that was actually marking the day and that lots of people didn’t even know that March 8th is International Women’s Day.” 

The rooms of writers 

Bel decided to organize a reading on International Women's Day that year. But, International Women’s Day is just one day in a year. Many of the problems women face are ongoing. Bel teamed up with fellow writer Lynne Bryan and launched Words and Women.  With the two forces combined, Words and Women has grown into much more than a single event to mark International Women’s Day. The organization brings local women writers together all year round through hosting literary and net-working events, running writing competitions and promoting the work of women in the region both socially and online. 

Still from Space
With the help of Unthank Books, they've even got their own anthology. The idea for making a film about women’s writing space was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own' where Virginia Woolf argues that women writers must have 500 pounds and a locked door. “We wanted to explore whether things had actually changed for women writers. Do they still need a room of their own in order to write? Do they still need a private income?” Lynne said. 

Lynne has a room of her own, but she knows she's very lucky. 

“My room is white, it’s quite big, I’m very lucky, it’s taken me a long time to get this room but it's my space,” she said. “I'm very privileged.”

As for Bel: “I usually write in the middle of kitchen chaos with a small yapping dog. I sit in bed and write very early in the morning sometimes and then I move to my kitchen, which really is a mess. So I don’t have a space in the house that is dedicated to writing.” 

So, what about women in the East of England? Lynne and Bel decided to investigate. 
“Where do they sit and write? Do they sit and write? Some writers stand at a lectern and write standing up. Do they, are they lucky enough to have an office? Do they write as they walk along the cliff tops?” Lynne asked. “Do they write in a field? Do they write in a cow shed? Do they write in a subway, you know, where do they like to write? Where can they write?” 

Local women were encouraged to send in photographs and text about their writing space – from kitchens, studies, libraries to garden sheds. Each space highlighted just how personal a writing space can be. As Bel points out, a room of one’s own isn’t necessarily a room. “It’s not just about physical space, it’s also about a sort of mental freedom to concentrate on your writing,” Bel said. “That can be quite difficult to achieve sometimes, especially for women because you are juggling so many different things.” 

“Space” – the film 

The film is an eclectic mix of visuals and voices, layering in and out of one another, depicting the many different sorts of spaces women writers occupy. After the film was shown, it sparked a lot of conversation about the varying spaces where the women in the room liked to write. Writers Kim Sherwood and Lily Meyer, for instance, are housemates, but that doesn't mean they write in the same space. Kim writes wherever she can. 

“I tend to write anywhere that I can where it’s not too strange, mainly my bedroom because that’s the least strange place but I suppose trains, rivers, not in the river that would be difficult, fields, cities, anywhere that I can get away with it really,” Kim said. 

But Lily is much pickier. 

“ I write in one specific chair at our kitchen table, Kim and I are housemates, and one specific seat on the couch in our living room and sometimes in my bed but never at my desk and I do not like writing in public, I don’t like people watching me and making noises,” Lily said. 

Rooms without space 

But, despite their focus on space, Words and Women doesn't have a room of their own. Not yet, anyway. But that doesn't mean they can't create space for others. For two hours at the Lounge, they've created a world where women writers can read their work and be applauded for it. 

“I think it's a lovely way to come together as a community. Writing can be a very solitary activity and being a part of something like Words And Women or the University of East Anglia lets you know there are other people around who have the same passions as you and are possibly just as odd as you and it’s really nice to support each other and to hear other works and be inspired by other people,” Kim said. 

After the reading, the women writers slowly trickled home. Perhaps, when they got there, they picked up their pens. Or sat on their computers. Or maybe they didn't go home at all – but to browse through the library, or shut themselves up in an office, or run through a field. Or pet their dear house rabbit for inspiration. 

If you're a writer, whatever it is you like to do, or wherever it is you like to go, or whether you're male or female, the important thing is to sit down, and write.’ 

Isabelle King is an actress whose first voice over job involved making cat noises for an animation film about cats and dogs, alongside Alex Zane- there began a strange love for all things audio. She is the founder of Books Talk Back, a literary event in London and Norwich, supporting the work of new writers, which she is developing into an audio project. She also writes and produces for the Norfolk Storytelling Project on Future Radio.  

Holly J. McDede is a second year Creative Writing and Literature student at the University of East Anglia who became obsessed with radio in the public radio wonderland that is San Francisco. Nowadays, she runs the Norfolk Storytelling Project through Future Radio and hops around with a fancy Zoom recorder talking to strangers about their feelings on sports and the weather. 

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