As it’s International Women’s Day, I thought I’d pay tribute to the women authors who have inspired me, held me in awe of their talent and achievements and who have, most importantly, moved me with their amazing storytelling and the journeys they’ve undertaken to tell these stories.
I owe this one entirely to my friend (a special woman I’m proud to call my friend) who gifted me The Handmaid’s Tale some time ago. I finally got around to reading it last year and my oh my! It took me a long time to read it as it was so alarming, so disturbing, but I kept coming back to it, as a feminist, as a woman, as a member of a democratic society, it was a scenario that was so far from where we are, but so close at the same time. In the era of Trump, sales have rocketed for this novel (amongst others) and I can see why.
I owe this lady a huge amount. My mother returned home from work one day with a big pile of books given to her by a colleague. The colleague knew I liked reading and was getting rid of a load of books so passed them onto my mum. With all her best intentions, most of the books did not appeal to a teenage girl! Then I spotted a quite worn copy of Ralph’s Party. I flipped it over and it was the only book that sounded exciting and it was. It was the first book to make me aware that I was hurtling towards womanhood and what that might mean, and it was also the first book which made me believe I could be a writer, that this was the career I wanted to pursue. I still have that tatty copy, I’ve never replaced it.
Introduced to her writing at university via The Magic Toyshop, I loved her writing style immediately. The carnivalesque themes, the horror of the swan, this novel was a deeply powerful one for me. University introduced me to a number of feminist texts and discourses (I particularly enjoyed Simon de Beauvoir) but this one stood out and led me to purchase a number of her other works, including the wonderful Nights at the Circus. Fevvers is a fascinating character, part woman, part swan, she has always represented the contradictions of womanhood to me. How often have I thought in my life how wonderful it would be to fly?
Another ground-breaking woman and novelist, whose novel Pride and Prejudice is in fact one of husband’s all-time favourite books-he’s read it more times than I have and was actually the one who pushed me to read it. I’m always glad he did. I love tales of romance anyway, but to see a brave and forward thinking woman in Elizabeth, a character who was written hundreds of years ago, is amazing. Issues of a woman’s value lying in marriage is not new and it is incredible to think that, at a time of very traditional values, Austen wrote so candidly about a woman wanting to make her own choices. It’s pioneering to say the least.
The Bell Jar seems to be on many people’s ‘to read’ list. I would highly recommend that you do read it. Her tragic story is well known, but her particular struggles as told in this semi-autobiographic tale, are hard to stomach. A woman discovering herself sexually is a powerful narrative. Even more powerful is a woman pursuing her career against the odds, including whilst dealing with her fragile mental health. Discussions on motherhood, womanhood and one’s life are important themes here. Not unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel let me know it was ok to challenge the situations I found myself in, to know my emotions fully and that they aren’t necessarily going to be like everyone else’s emotions. This novel helped me to open my eyes fully.
Like Lisa Jewell, I always turn to J.K Rowling when I’m looking up at the big dream and wondering if t will ever come true. She is one of the most successful children’s authors of all time. Harry, Ron and Hermione have become literary staples in most households. The pursuit of good over evil, the steadfastness of friendships and love are wonderful themes in these books. In particular, in Hermione, we have a highly intelligent young lady, but who is also flawed in many ways. This is a signal to young girls that one’s identity is multi-faceted. Like Ron and Harry, Hermione also grows to be strong, brave and powerful. So not only do I have J.K Rowling to thank for keeping me on the path to my dream, but also for having a bank of wonderful books I can hopefully read to my children, my young sister, for whom Harry, Hermione and Ron can be role models.
Books have always been a huge part of my identity and they help me to articulate the things going on in my life that I’m not able to articulate yet. My wish on International Women’s Day is that we keep fighting for equality, especially in education. Emma Watson hides books on the New York subway. If we all had open discussions about powerful narratives, written down or not, we can make progress in society.