Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Selected Listening

I don’t know about all of you, but I find listening to the news difficult these days. More and more, I find myself ducking away from current affairs, not catching up on the latest, and just kind of ignoring it all and hoping it’ll go away. I imagine that after the past year, I’m not the only one doing this!

However, I do like to listen, either to music or to the radio, and unless I’m hooked on a particular show, I’m not much of a telly-watcher. In particular, I like to listen to things which make me think, or which teach me something, and I’ve been fortunate to find some great podcasts to listen to in recent times. Those of you who follow me on social media may have seen me sharing some of these, but I thought today I would pull together a short post all about podcasts I have enjoyed, and why I would recommend them. So, here we go…

The Ghostly Lady in Green – Haunted History Chronicles

This is a great podcast series if you enjoy history with a paranormal twist. Michelle is brilliant on the history of different historical buildings, many of which she has visited and experienced herself. I’ve enjoyed so many of the episodes in this series that it was hard to pick a favourite, but on reflection I think I would have to choose the episode about Sudeley Castle. Having visited Sudeley myself and been spellbound by both the location and its relationship to Queen Katharine Parr, it was a pleasure to hear the castle’s rich and moving history presented with such knowledge and enthusiasm. You can listen here.

Yours truly in front of the banqueting hall ruins at Sudeley Castle in 2016.

Stepping Out: A Short History of Solitude – BBC Radio 4

I know, strictly speaking this is a radio series rather than a podcast, but I had to highlight it as I enjoyed listening to this so much last year. Stepping Out was my favourite episode, and I found that Thomas Dixon’s exploration of romantic ideas of solitude in nature in the nineteenth century really resonated with me in the lockdown times. You can listen here.

Perilous Places: Spaces of Solitude – Queen Mary University London

Yes, I know – more solitude. You might be sensing a theme here! I loved this whole series, but this episode and its discussion of Emily Dickinson and the ‘Graveyard Poets’ particularly captured me. I pondered the ideas this raised about the darker side of being alone for days afterwards. You can listen here.

The Witches of Shetland – Witches of Scotland Podcast

This podcast is a fairly recent discovery of mine, and I’ve only listened to a few of the thirty-four episodes currently available. So far, my favourite was the discussion of the Shetland witches. This caught my eye as I’m due to visit Shetland this summer. For someone who knew nothing about Shetland’s witches, this was an excellent discussion and a fascinating insight into the subject. You can listen here.

The Bigamy Trial that Scandalised Georgian England – BBC History Extra Podcasts

BBC History Extra are prolific on the podcast front, and from the hundreds of episodes available online, it is so hard to highlight just one that I love. Perhaps because of the period I’m currently writing about in my forthcoming novel, I’ve tended to seek out their podcasts concerning the Georgian and Regency eras. This one about Elizabeth Chudleigh’s bigamy trial really caught my attention, and was fascinating to listen to. I love how History Extra’s podcasts are so good at bringing lesser-known episodes in history to wider attention. I’ve certainly learned a lot from listening to them. You can listen here.

So, there you are – a brief summary of my recommended listening. Do you have a favourite podcast you would recommend? If so, feel free to drop a note of it in the comments below.

Awesome Authors of the Womankind

Today is International Women’s Day, a day which commemorates the women’s rights movement around the globe. It is also known as the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace – two very big and very pertinent topics in these turbulent, unpredictable and sadly occasionally regressive times. The 2018 International Women’s Day campaign theme is #PressforProgress, a timely reminder that there is still much to do in terms of achieving gender parity across the globe. It is important, I think, to celebrate our considerable successes, and 2018 marks one of the biggest achievements of women in 20th Century Britain with the centenary of some women gaining the right to vote. But it is equally important to be reminded that there is more work to be done – the recent #MeToo, #TimesUp and gender pay gap campaigns can attest to that.

While we are talking about reminders, it feels like a good time to mention that I’m still accepting submissions for the Women’s Suffrage Anthology I plan to put together this year. The deadline for submissions is April 30th, so don’t delay! Find out more here.

It also feels like an appropriate day to talk about influential, inspiring women! There has been a great deal of discussion about this in recent weeks, with media and news outlets running features and polls and creating lists of female greats from the arts, politics, history and other cultural icons. In keeping with this spirit I thought I’d put together my own list, specifically focused on some of the female writers, past and present, who have inspired me on my own journey:

Philippa Gregory

The Queen of Historical Fiction is one of my all-time favourite authors. Without a doubt Philippa Gregory was the writer who inspired me to embark on my own journey into writing historical fiction. Her keen eye for historical detail and deep understanding of the characters she portrays sets an extremely high standard for literature and, in my opinion, has helped to raise the reputation of a genre which was often dismissed as whimsical.

Virginia Woolf

I remember reading Woolf’s essay, A Room of One’s Own, and not being able to get her words out of my head. As a female writer in the 21st century context, this idea of the value and importance of literal and figurative space is one that I return to frequently as both a source of reflection and creative inspiration. So who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not me.

Susie Orbach

I read Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue at university as part of my first year undergraduate Women’s Studies course. It was a book which really resonated with me and got me thinking seriously for the first time about body image, about the way we see ourselves and the social moulding of women and girls which begins at such a young age. I remember being struck by the notion that losing weight could really be about losing space – in the literal sense women striving to diminish themselves and take up less room in the world. Powerful stuff which has stuck with me all these years later.

Naomi Wolf

Another favourite from my time as a Women’s Studies undergrad, Wolf’s sharp look at beauty and physical perfection as a means of social control is the sort of book which will change the way you look at beauty ads! I loved this book – it was a real eye-opener and the first time I had read anything which challenged me to look, REALLY look at the images that I, as a young woman, was being bombarded with on a daily basis.

Christina Rossetti

If I’m in the mood for reading classic poetry, it’ll probably be something by Christina Rossetti. Her work is beautiful and stunning, and In the Bleak Midwinter is still my favourite Christmas carol.

Charlotte Bronte

It’s quite hard to choose between the Bronte sisters but for me Charlotte is my favourite, largely because I absolutely adore Jane Eyre. Writing at a time when female writers were subject to considerable prejudice (a fact which Bronte herself observed when choosing her masculine-sounding nom de plume Currer Bell), Charlotte and her sisters’ works stood out and are celebrated as classics to this day.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Another celebrated writer of the Victorian era, Gaskell wrote novels, short stories and biographies during her career, including the first biography of Charlotte Bronte. My favourite of her books is without doubt North and South – for me this novel is the epitome of the Gaskell’s sharp and capable social commentary framed within a wonderful story of romance across the class divide.

Mary Wollstonecraft 

A writer and a woman who needs no introduction. I read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman as a student of history. I am still in awe of that book.

Tracy Chevalier

Best known for The Girl with the Pearl Earring, for me Chevalier is one of the best historical writers of modern times. Like Philippa Gregory, her work has inspired me on a personal level. Her stories are captivating; literary and yet wholly accessible. Falling Angels is my favourite of her books; I found its exploration of the late Victorian cult of death utterly fascinating.

MJ Rose 

Rose is the author I credit with introducing me to historical fantasy. In recent years I have read a lot of her books but without doubt my favourites are her Daughters of La Lune series. The stories are (quite literally) magical while the settings, from Belle Epoque Paris to New York in the roaring twenties, are rich and evocative. As a writer her books have given me a new perspective on writing about magic and weaving a touch of the fantastical into stories.

So, that’s my list! Which female writers do you find influential or inspirational? Please feel free to comment below. 

Book Review: Nasty Women by 404 Ink

Nasty Women is a collection of essays which address the question of what it is to be a woman in the twenty-first century. Edited and published by new, independent Scottish publisher 404 Ink, the collection was put together in the aftermath of and in response to the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency. The editors’ note explains that they wished to make a stand against this, to give a platform for voices speaking against the hatred prevailing across the globe and to show that in an age of ‘post-truth’ real experiences still matter.

I found the experience of reading Nasty Women enjoyable, challenging and thought-provoking. The twenty contributors tell their stories and explain their perspectives with such candour that it is impossible not to be affected. A range of experiences are covered and a huge diversity of subject matter is explored; disability, sexuality, race, religion, class, gender, all relating very sharply to the twenty-first century context.

All reading is, of course, subjective and like any other reader I did find some particular favourites, some essays which resonated with me or challenged me most. I adored Becca Inglis’s Love In A Time of Melancholia – like Inglis I am a grunge and Hole enthusiast and found her reappraisal of Courtney Love, her life and work and her exploration of her own attraction to Love’s music and celebrity highly relatable. I loved Alice Tarbuck’s Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-Witchcraft in the Twenty-First Century – not only did this appeal to my sensibilities as a witchcraft scholar, but I loved the sense of power that Tarbuck described in returning to the understanding of nature, to the rediscovery of old gifts. I was also deeply affected by Jen McGregor’s Lament: Living with the Consequences of Contraception – this essay and McGregor’s sense of betrayal by something which was supposed to symbolise liberation and progress stayed in my mind long after I had read it.

Irrespective of the stories they were telling, however, I loved the way that the essay format meant that the women themselves, as essayists, were placed firmly at the centre of their own stories: the subjects of the lived experiences, the ones in control of the narratives. These were their stories; as a reader I might not always be able to relate, but I could certainly learn something.

An excellent and thought-provoking read. Five stars.

Dangerous Women

I am delighted that today my article on the Pendle witches has been published by the Dangerous Women Project on their site.

The Dangerous Women Project is an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. A month ago, I saw the project’s call for submissions online, asking for articles which addressed the question ‘What does it mean to be a dangerous woman?’

Immediately, I knew I had to write something about the Pendle witches. As most of you who read my blog, my social media feeds and indeed my novels will know, the past couple of years for me have been occupied with researching and writing about the Pendle witches. The witches were also the subject of my undergraduate dissertation about a decade ago. I suppose you could say I am a little obsessed! During all this time, I have often been struck by how their communities came to genuinely regard them as so fundamentally malevolent and dangerous, and in my fictional recreation of their stories, I have strived to address why this was. My article today focusses on one aspect of this, their sexuality and sexual conduct as a form of undesirable behaviour.

You can find my article here. I hope you enjoy it.

‘Whores and Witches’