Tag Archives: women

Review: ‘The Body Lies’ by Jo Baker

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing class.

When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the lecturer recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.

Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?

Starting with an assault on our unnamed pregnant protagonist, The Body Lies‘ drops the reader straight into a world where this woman is almost constantly at the behest of the men around her – from her husband who won’t look for a new job in order to facilitate a move to a place she feels safer in to the head of department who continuously expects her to take on more and more work despite her inexperience and the difficulties she has managing her work-life balance to the students who snipe at one another in her class, overruling her at every point. 

By leaving this character nameless, Jo Baker says a lot about her interpretation of the world – and how the character is unable to make herself heard and understood in her male-dominated life. However, don’t think that ‘The Body Lies‘ is a novel that is constantly screaming about inequality – its power lies in the fact that the author has managed to subtly weave the point in to almost every sentence without the reader even being conscious of it. The way the issues are presented is almost ‘normal’, reflecting how insidious sexism and inequality is in our society today. You may not notice it but it is happening.

Jo Baker’s skill for beautiful prose makes ‘The Body Lies‘ a truly stunning literary thriller. The slow-burn tension allows us to empathise with the main character, understanding the pressure she is under and how burdensome it is to be a woman. The imagery Baker creates heightens the tension at key points as well as showing the reader the beauty of the world despite the horrific events that occur in it. 

The Body Lies‘ is a compelling study on what it is to be a woman, how women are subjugated and taken advantage of in many areas of their lives and how unsafe many of us feel on a daily basis. 

I’m genuinely not sure I’ll find a more engaging read this year.

Vic x

2018 Review: Emma Whitehall

Today’s guest is Emma Whitehall, member of Elementary Writers and editor of ‘Sisterhood‘. Like many of our guests, Emma has had a rather eventful year but I’ll let her tell you all about it.

My thanks to Emma for her honesty and for taking the time to review her 2018.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
The first half of this year was dedicated to putting together Sisterhood, which is an anthology of fiction featuring some absolutely phenomenal women writers. I came up with the idea around this time last year – I wanted to celebrate female friendship, and put some good out into the world at the same time, and the idea hit me like a lightning bolt. I have to say, working on Sisterhood is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. So far, we’ve raised more than £300 for Newcastle Women’s Aid (a charity that helps women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse), and, on a personal note, I got to know nine truly wonderful, talented women, who have inspired me so much this year at times when I really wanted to throw in the towel. I am so, so proud of what we accomplished, and want to say thank you to all the girls – long live Elementary Sisterhood!  

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And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
Anyone who knows me knows that the musical Hamilton has a very special place in my heart. For my birthday back in May, my mam and I travelled down to London to see the West End production, and it was incredible. I was sobbing before the first song was over, and essentially didn’t stop for nearly three hours. It was my first time in London, too! We did a little sightseeing the next day, and saw the city from the top of the London Eye, but being in the second row at a West End show, watching my favourite musical, was simply beyond compare. My mam was a good sport, too – seeing as she commented, about a month before we went down, that she “hates rap music”…

 Favourite book in 2018?
I also started a new job this year, working as a Bookseller at Waterstones, and one of the first books I read “for work” was The House With Chicken Legs, by Sophie Anderson. I hadn’t dipped into children’s fiction since I was a child myself, and this book rekindled my love of the genre. It’s a beautiful book, about a girl who is torn between following in her grandmother’s magical footsteps helping spirits pass on to the next life, and living a normal life on her own. I love it so much, and I was so happy to see it on the Blue Peter Book of the Year shortlist. Now, almost everything I read is “middle grade” fiction! 

Favourite film in 2018?
I’d have to go for The Shape of Water. A lot of the film was beauty for beauty’s sake, I thought – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. Plus, I love a strange, sad monster story – it’s all I write about!

Favourite song of the year?
This has been a year for fluffy pop on my Spotify playlist, if I’m being honest. My top two plays have been Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Be Alright by Ariana Grande. I’ve had a lot of stress this year, and my usual crashing rock music or melodramatic Broadway numbers haven’t helped a lot – but both of these songs are light, happy, and leave me dancing, even just a little.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
This year has been non-stop, for me. I edited an anthology, changed jobs, nearly moved to London, and now I’m in the process of buying my first flat. I have to admit, this summer I had a very bad time with my anxiety. Luckily, I have some very good friends who set me on the right path when things were at their bleakest. Thanks to them, I went to counselling, made some tough choices, and I’m leaving the year feeling more positive. 

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
To be kind to myself. The main thing I took away from my counselling was that I’m not very good at that. So my main resolution for 2019 is to stop giving myself a hard time, accept compliments when I get them, and try to stick to the new thought patterns my counsellor taught me. 

What are you hoping for from 2019?
I want to do more with Sisterhood. I always said to the girls that I’d love it to become a regular publication, and to open submissions up to everyone who identifies as a woman. But, in the short term, I just want to get settled into my new home, and get it looking how I want it to. I get to have a study, and I can’t wait to have a special place just for writing!

**Summer at Hollyhock House Blog Tour**

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Today I’m pleased to welcome Cathy Bussey, the author of ‘Summer at Hollyhock House‘ to the blog to talk about writing a realistic heroine. This topic is of particular interest to me and I hope it’ll be of use to you too when considering how to make original, realistic characters. 

Cathy is an author, journalist and hopeless romantic who wrote her first book at the tender age of six. Entitled ‘Tarka the Otter‘, according to Cathy it was a shameless rip-off of the Henry Williamson classic of the same name, and the manuscript was lost after she sent it to her penpal and never heard a jot from her since. 

Fortunately reception to her writing became more favourable and she spent ten years working for a range of newspapers and magazines covering everything from general elections and celebrity scandals to cats stuck up trees and village fetes. She has been freelance since 2011 and written for ‘The Telegraph’, ‘Red Online’, ‘Total Women’s Cycling’ and other lifestyle and cycling publications and websites. 

She is the author of three non-fiction books and her debut and thankfully non-plagiarised novel ‘Summer at Hollyhock House‘ has been published by Sapere Books. 

Cathy lives on the leafy London/Surrey border with her husband, two children and a dog with only two facial expressions: hungry and guilty. Her hobbies include mountain biking, photography, wandering around outside getting lost, fantasising about getting her garden under control, reading, looking at pretty things on Instagram and drinking tea. You can find her there, on Twitter or visit her website. 

My thanks to Cathy for sharing her experience with us. 

Vic x

Cathy Bussey

Writing the heroine you want to be
By Cathy Bussey

The stories of women’s lives have always gripped and fascinated me. I grew up with chick lit and I’m firmly part of the Bridget Jones generation. The Shopaholic series, Sex and the City – these were the cornerstones of my literary and emotional education.

I adore the intelligence with which women write about the issues that affect us all. Love and romance, friendship and family, mental and physical health, children, ageing parents – there’s so much in everyday life to explore that I’ve never tired of the women’s fiction genre. But. 

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

I always struggled to find heroines with whom I could truly identify. 

The classic city girl who can’t get a hair out of place and screams at the sight of a spider – that ain’t me. 

I can’t walk in high heels since I had children, nor do I want to. Glossy shopping sprees, makeovers, shoes, handbags, manicures, Prosecco, spa weekends, nights out with the girls – the stereotypical setting of chick-lit doesn’t reflect my internal reality. I’ve never once fantasised about moving to New York.

I have only once found a heroine that spoke to my other, wilder side. 

One of the best romcoms I ever read was called Going Ape and it came free with a copy of Cosmo. I can’t even find it on Google so I assume it’s out of print, but it had an enormous impact on me. It was set on a monkey sanctuary and the heroine was a scientist. I adored her. She was no less flawed and quirky and adorable than Bridget, Becky, Carrie et al, but she got her hands dirty. Very dirty, actually. 

So when I came to create my own heroine, Faith, I wanted to write her for women like me. For girls like the girl I used to be. 

She’s a nature girl, a bit of a wildflower, she’s outdoorsy and active and energetic. She rides bikes down gnarly trails and digs ponds with a shovel. She gets the guy – or does she? – on her own terms. 

She represents a different definition of femininity, and one with which I can both identify, and aspire to. I created her for me, and I really hope somewhere out there other women might feel that I created her a little bit for them, too. 

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