Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Going back to Top Withens

A couple of weeks ago, I went back to Haworth, for the first time since the trip that inspired How to be a Heroine, and got to talk about Wuthering Heights to the fabulously Brontë-literate women of the Brontë Society and Brontë Parsonage Museum, who refer to not just the Brontës, but their friends, servants and hangers-on by their first names.

At the Parsonage, I went Beyond the Ropes, to look at the treasures. There was a drawing Emily made, at eleven, of a fist smashing a mullioned window, spidering the glass; whose fist? Whose window? Or was the smashing, maybe, something Emily wished she could do herself?

I saw an Angria book, tiny enough to fit comfortably in the palm of a child's hand, or to be read by one of the toy soldiers who inspired them, should they ever come to life. And I saw Anne's heartbreaking last letter, planning her trip to Scarborough to see the sea. And Emily and Anne's diary paper of 1837, with Haworth news mixed with news from their fictional world, as though they were living in them concurrently. It ends with Anne asking Emily if she intends to write that evening, and a decision "We agreed to go out 1st to make sure if we got into the humour. We may stay in—"
And of course, I scrambled up to Top Withens. It was a warm, beautiful evening, the heather especially purple and the grass especially green, and I set off late enough that I had the moors pretty much to myself, the whole epic sweep of them. I thought about all the things that happened since I was last at Top Withens and felt amazingly lucky. And I didn't long for Heathcliff at all. Maybe I am finally growing up.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Friday, 18 April 2014

In which I lust after fictional men...

and get a sneak preview of the BBC's new Jamaica Inn, which is aces; my piece for Intelligent Life.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Miss Temple: Jane Eyre's Womentor

Today's the launch of a brilliant idea from Kerry Hudson, whose novel Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma I hugely recommend.

Womentoring is for any women starting out in a literary career who want advice, support or just a conversation with a mentor. A female mentor. Which as fellow Womentor (Kerry's coined a whole new word!) Shelley Harris says, is a rare, rare thing. It's true that in fiction women often end up with male mentors (Buffy and Giles, Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley), or mean mentors (Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada). But what about Jane Eyre's Miss Temple?

Miss Temple is the headmistress of Lowood School, and doing her best to make things better for the girls in her care. The very first thing we see her do is give the girls bread and cheese to make up for their revolting meagre breakfast of burnt porridge. When the girls have to walk back from church on winter Sundays, with the wind "flaying" their faces, Miss Temple is there
walking lightly and rapidly along our drooping line, her plaid cloak, which the frosty wind fluttered, gathered close about her, and encouraging us, by precept and example, to keep up our spirits, and march forward, as she said, “like stalwart soldiers.” 
When the school's cruel funder Mr Brocklehurst says Jane is a liar, Miss Temple doesn't listen. She feeds Jane tea and seed-cakes, finds out the truth and proclaims Jane's innocence to the whole school.

Later, Miss Temple inspires Jane to find her career; she becomes a teacher at Lowood too. And when Miss Temple gets married and leaves, it spurs Jane on to travel Thornfield and the rest of her big, complicated, brilliant life. Miss Temple is a wonderful (wo)mentor.

I've been lucky to have lots of people to ask for advice and share drafts with, and it's exciting to be able to pay that forward. And Womentoring could be the start of something revolutionary; along with ReadWomen2014, this feels like a year for literary women to stop being sidelined, start roaring and support each other. There are some really fantastic literary women signed up to become Womentors (and, erm, me). It's all free. So please do apply for your very own Miss Temple here.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Books for prisoners

I'm sure you've read about how new rules have now banned anyone from sending books to prisoners. I read about it in this piece by Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Then I was one of the writers who signed this open letter to ask Chris Grayling to reconsider the ban; among the other authors were Salman Rushdie, Mark Haddon, Carol Ann Duffy, Laura Wade, Jack Thorne, David Eldridge, Moira Buffini, Jackie Kay, Maggie O'Farrell and Naomi Alderman.

Over the past two weeks I've found out a lot I didn't know about books in prisons. While all prisons must have a library, cuts have meant prisoners are locked in their cells for longer so can't get to the library, cuts have also reduced library opening hours and limited library stock. While prisoners can buy books, an employed prisoner earns around £8-£10 per week, and after buying phone credit, toiletries and food, that doesn't leave much money. There are shocking levels of literacy in prisons (an issue also really movingly highlighted in Clean Break's latest play Pests), so making sure prisoners can get books is partly just about making sure they are able to learn to read, which can only help when they get out and are trying to make better lives. It's also about giving them access to empathy, to understanding themselves and others, and to being able to imagine themselves into better futures.

So I very much hope the Government reconsiders the ban. The Howard League's website is updating regularly on the campaign.

I also tried to think of ways to get more books into prisons, and have been in touch with Prison Reading Groups, an amazing charity that runs reading groups in prisons. If you are a writer and would like to help get more books into prisons, they would love it if you could:

1. Donate a single copy of your book to PRG, so that they can take it into their reading groups and see if the prisoners would like it to be one of the books they read.

2. Offer to do an author visit to a prison.

And if you're not a writer, the PRG would, of course, love donations to help them carry on with their work.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Tipsy Chicken, the Blue Devil and the Green Dragon

are all gin recipes in the rather brilliant Bloomsbury Cookbook, which I wrote about for Intelligent Life magazine: read it here.
13th April 2014, update!: I had a Bloomsbury-inspired tea party and can report that the Chocolate Armistice Creams (kind of a Swiss Roll; supposedly serves two but it was enormous!) and Banana Tea Loaf are particularly delicious. We were going to attempt some of the gin cocktails but after frantic email exchanges we decided Sunday morning was far too early to be thinking about absinthe, and that Sunday afternoon was probably too early to be drinking it. Probably. So we went for sherry instead—Carrington's favourite drink.