Sunday, 10 December 2017

Long time, long view: thoughts on finishing a first collection of poems

My thanks to Words & Women for blog space in which to share news of my debut pamphlet Like Other Animals (HappenStance 2017).

First things: I’m a slow writer. Like Other Animals was written over ten years. The poems took shape alongside my life as a teacher in the US and my return to Britain some years later. The pamphlet is a celebration of encounters with the natural world. It’s also a reckoning with childlessness and a reconciliation with my body.

Writing the pamphlet was a lesson in the art of the long haul. I kept leaving things out of the poems. I kept leaving myself out of my body. It was only when I came back to Britain and began to reunite with landscapes I’d known from childhood that I was able to write about the experience of reproductive illness and accept its realities. I’m still learning the influence and solace of these formative places. Returning here allowed me to complete the manuscript – a psychological completion, really, more than a page count.

I’m indebted to the kind directness of my editor (lovely Nell at HappenStance) in telling me to include the more difficult and cantankerous of these body poems in the pamphlet – I’d been afraid of having written them, for what they revealed about my own physicality. The poems seemed more embodied, less cautious about life, than I was. But they’re also poems about how we name what happens to us, and about whose words we fight with along the way, and it was this rationale that persuaded me to let them in.

The wind drops us a pile of clouds - Footpath near Ringstead, Norfolk
While I was living in Pittsburgh – a city I’d felt adopted by and in which some of the poems are set – often, at my desk or before sleep, my mind would flood with images from home: the Wash and its expanses. Cut fields and a line of trees. Sixteen hours of daylight at the end of May. The birds and insects that belong with those long days. Like Other Animals is, I think, the outcome of a decision to return here. Begun in one country and revised by another. For anyone reading it, especially if she is an East Anglian writer, I hope its visual geography will resonate and that the lines will be good company.





If you’d like to hear more in 2018, Lois will be reading at Saltmarsh Poets on 2 April and in Ipswich on 3 May. Like Other Animals is available from HappenStancePress.







Lois Williams grew up on Britain's Wash coast and spent many years abroad teaching as a university lecturer and visiting poet in the USA. Like Other Animals, her debut poetry pamphlet from HappenStance Press, was published in 2017. Lois's poems and essays have appeared in Words and Women: One, Verse Daily, New England Review, The Rotary Dial, Antiphon, Mslexia and Granta. Her work has been recognised with residencies from the Charles Pick Fellowship and Vermont Studio Center. 





Friday, 24 November 2017

Animating Hysterical Females: Marking the centenary of women’s suffrage

by multi-media artist Tracy Satchwill

Film still from Hysterical Females
'In 2018, we will be marking the centenary of women’s suffrage. As an artist with a passion for women’s history I wanted to create a film to commemorate the 100th year anniversary. The majority of us know about the history of suffragettes: the force-feeding, the protests, the breaking of windows, so I wanted to look at it from a different angle, focusing on the core of the problem which was the men’s behaviour towards women. This led me to look at the discrimination against Edwardian women in general, starting from girlhood. Why were young girls’ encouraged to suppress their ambitions? Why was marriage the only vocation for women? Why was self-sacrifice in women deemed a biological duty? Why didn’t politicians take women seriously? I wanted to communicate some of these obstacles in my film.

My interest in moving image was sparked last year whilst watching Rachel Maclean’s video Feed Me at the British Art Show in Norwich. The film was visually inviting and attractive however addressed ‘uncomfortable subject matter’ (British Art Show 2015) such as the sexualisation of children and infantile behaviour of adults. I realised elements of Maclean’s work could be applied to my own. I also recognised that in moving image I could communicate much more information about a narrative: being an audio, optic and tactile stimuli to the audience.

For the project I gained a deep understanding of Edwardian women by reviewing personal letters, scrapbooks, biographies and documents, gathered by historians, feminists and sociologists. I found Girls growing up in Victorian and Edwardian England a valuable resource for an insight into the expectations of girls in the home, and as adults, and for understanding the foundations of our contemporary society (Dyhouse, 1981).

Whilst researching British women’s history I felt angered, inspired and enlightened, driven to inform my audience about the fight for women’s freedom and independence and encourage discourse around the topics of gender, identity and society. In today’s culture these subjects are important to address at a time when the feminist perspective is abandoned by many young women as ‘unpalatable’ due to the ‘vilification and negation’ of the topic (McRobbie, 2009 p.1).

Film still from Hysterical Females

In the film I focused on the perceptions and experiences of people rather than factual events, looking at feelings and emotions. I felt it could be difficult and tedious to translate historical information creatively whilst keeping the facts accurate. I approached the subject in a non-literal way, creating an aesthetic surreal world, which communicated historical behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. I looked at the different perspectives of Edwardian women from the viewpoint of the politician, suffragette, anti-suffragist and husband. In the final film I represented these characters as playful and theatrical, which would attract a broader audience and the playful element would engage attention more effectively than bare facts, drawing from the works of Rachel Maclean.

Hysterical Females is about a young, curious but naïve woman called Esther who explores a visually inviting but uncomfortable world where there’s a struggle between power and freedom. In this domineering patriarchal society women are treated as victims and represented as automated, unconscious and desired objects. Men are the masterful creators and women dismembered, punched and severed art objects. The protagonist is a living doll, a fusion between a toy and a young woman (Walter 2010, p2), converted into an uncanny animated lifeless object.  The disturbing anti-utopian society is part reality and part fantasy, with the narrative being both disruptive and disjointed, with an emergence of the relevance and irrelevant.

Film still from Hysterical Females

A rebellion, a radical change is required to overcome and deconstruct the oppositions and boundaries of patriarchal thought. The appearance of an angel signifies entering another world. Her function is of prophecy, communication and guidance (Allmer 2009, p.12). She is a suffragette, a savour of the women of today.

Collage was the main medium used in the film, which corresponded to the popular women’s pastime of the Victorian era, combined with the techniques of stop motion, live action and animation, and the use of disjointed sounds, music and dialogue, aiming to create a powerful emotive piece.

The creation of my first film has been an enjoyable experience with the aim to inspire the audience to find out more about women’s history and it’s importance in our society today.
To watch the film, please click on the link below and use the password for access.

(password epankhurst)

My next project is a short video that urges women to embrace imperfections, expect less of themselves and focus on what they care about. Not Enough Time is communicated through cuttings from contemporary magazines, which puts pressure on women to live up to unrealistic expectations. '

Film still from Not Enough Time

Tracy Satchwill is a multi-media artist working in animation, film, sound and graphic art. She is open to collaboration with writers, musicians and community groups. For further information visit: www.tracysatchwill.com

References
Allmer, P. (2009) Angels of anarchy: women artists and surrealism. Munich; London: Prestel.
British Art Show 8, (2015) Rachel Maclean [Internet] Available at: <http://britishartshow8.com/artists/rachel-maclean-1509> [Accessed August 2016]
Dyhouse, C. (1981) Girls Growing up in Victorian and Edwardian England. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
McRobbie, A., (2009) The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change. London: Sage.
Twells, A. (2007), British Women’s History: A documentary History from the Enlightenment to World War I, London: I. B. Tauris.
Walter, N., (2010) Living Doll: The Return of Sexism. London: Virago Press.



Friday, 17 November 2017

Our prose competition has now closed for entries

Thank you to everybody who sent in their work. We have had over 300 entries of short prose, fiction and non-fiction, from all over the country. We will announce our top 40 here in the first week of January 2018 and then our national and regional winners will be announced a few days after that! Meanwhile we will be busy reading the scripts along with our guest judges Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney,  the authors of A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Winning last year's Words And Women’s prose competition

Our annual prose competition is open for entries until the 15th November. Click here for submission details.

There are two major prizes on offer: the East of England Prize and our National Prize for Women Writers over the age of 40.
  
The national award, generously sponsored by Hosking Houses Trust, offers women over the age of 40 the opportunity to win £1,000 and up to a month-long writing retreat at Church Cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon. The East of England prize offers the winner £600 and a mentoring session with Jill Dawson of Gold Dust. 

Below is a post from Deborah Arnander, the national winner of last year’s competition with her short story The Wife, which opens a window on her time in Church Cottage. If you’d like to read up on what it means to win the regional prize then click on April in our blog archive and winner Melissa Fu will give you the low-down.

A House of One’s Own,Deborah Arnander

(C) Deborah Arnander
 In Church Cottage, the Hosking Houses Trust provides the lucky resident with more than a room: with, in fact, a House of One’s Own, to quote the title of Janet Malcolm’s wonderful essay on Bloomsbury and the ‘spirit of industry’ that still resides in houses like Charleston.  These places speak, Malcolm says, ‘of the values by which Chekov’s good characters are ruled: patient, habitual work and sensible, calm behavior.’  That spirit rules in this place too.  You cannot fail to feel its benevolent influence. 
            The cottage has been appointed with great thoughtfulness.  There is a huge enamel bath, a comfy bed, a proper writing chair.  A well-stocked bookcase includes works by many of the impressive women who have been here before.  The River Stour is at the bottom of the lane, and the resident has use of a reputedly unsinkable white boat.  Clifford Chambers is a pretty village built around a cul-de-sac, with an interesting church, some beautiful old houses, and a Manor that reminded me of Tintin’s Marlinspike Hall.  It is a walkable two miles from Stratford-upon-Avon.  At night, there is total silence.  The church bells ring the hour.
I worried before I came that I might balk at the change to my routines, that I might even miss the perverse satisfaction of stealing time out of the day.  But the cottage works its magic, and in the time I’ve been here, I’ve found myself unwilling even to turn on the radio. I knew it would be an age before I got another chance to be so single-minded about my work.  I let the outside world recede.  I had the whole day to dive down.
(C) Deborah Arnander
            I brought my most recent notebooks with me, and some print-outs of my semi-abandoned novel.  I decided to work on the novel first.  In the absence of other distractions, I managed to rewrite the first four chapters in a way that gives me hope: it’s much closer to the point-of-view character now.  I’ve always known that there are major problems with the plot; I’ve had some ideas about what I need to do to fix that. 
I’ve also been thinking for some time about a book of interconnected short stories.  At the Cottage I started to wonder what that might look like: there would need to be enough variation, for example, in the ages or life stages of the protagonists.  I sketched out half a dozen potential stories centred on a particular theme, and started composing one of them.  I have always found it difficult to see my work as a whole, rather than the few sentences or pages I’m working on.  But now I realize that a less fragmented day, with no other responsibilities, makes that wider view possible. 
There are several books at the cottage by one of the Trust’s patrons, Tracey Emin.  Speaking of the inspiration for her ‘Lonely Chair’ drawings, she told an interviewer: ‘When I’m in my house in France, I’m really, really happy.  I feel at one with something and at peace with something.  I spend a lot of time on my own there and I spend a lot of time sitting in a chair thinking.’  Those words have been echoing inside me all the time that I’ve been here.  Encouraging surroundings, time for uninterrupted thought, and perhaps especially, solitude: these things are essential for a writer.  I am so grateful to the Hosking Houses Trust, and to Words and Women, for running the competition.    

Deborah was born in Northumberland but spent her childhood in Thailand.  She has a PhD in French literature, and works as a translator.  She won an Escalator award in 2010, when she began her first, soon to be completed novel, The Cinderella Watch, which was shortlisted in 2014’s TLC/PEN Factor competition. She has published stories in Unthology One and Words and Women One, Three and Four, all with Unthank Books, and poetry in the webzine Ink, Sweat and Tears.  She is married with two children.