Category Archives: PG CWWN

The 5th Biennial Postgraduate Contemporary Women’s Writing Network Conference

Illusions in Contemporary Women’s Writing:

Secrets, Lies and Deceptions

 

DeMontfort University Leicester, 9th – 10th April, 2015

 

PG CWWN 2015 LogoIn the wake of recent critical movements, studies of literature have become increasingly engaged in addressing what a text might hide or reveal, and the role of reader and writer in these acts of disguise and discovery. Such concerns are especially prominent in the work of contemporary women writers, from the skilful performances of gender and sexual identity in the novels of Sarah Waters and Angela Carter to the blending of autobiography and fiction in the work of Muriel Spark, to feminist (re)visions of fantasy and science fiction.

This conference seeks to examine the prominent place that secrets, lies and illusions occupy in contemporary women’s writing, and the uncomfortable truths that ‘deceptive’ writing might reveal. Incorporating the theorisation of ‘illusion’ in modern neo-liberal and feminist debates, we seek to interrogate contemporary women’s writing in the broadest of senses, from novels to autobiography, short stories to magazines and crime fiction to poetry. What challenges might the illusions at play in such texts pose to the boundaries of selfhood, identity and society? And what can ‘deceptive’ literature reveal about the present and future of women’s writing?

In considering these and other questions, we welcome papers from diverse disciplines including literature, linguistics, film studies, cultural studies, women’s studies, history, music, media and communications. Topics may include (but are by no means limited to):

* Correspondences between reality, (auto)biography and the fictional

* Contemporary realisms (including magical realism)

* ‘Deceptive’ narratives (metalepsis and metafiction)

* Fantasy and the fantastic (science fiction, fantasy and erotica)

* Disguised, deviant or performing bodies

* Literary frauds and narrative hoaxes

* Revisions of history, myths, folklore and fairy tales

* ‘Deceptive’ fiction (including detective and mystery fiction)

* Feminisms, Post-feminism and ‘equality illusions’

Please submit a 250 word abstract for 20 minute papers along with a brief biographical note to illusions@pgcwwn.org by 15th December 2014.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us via the email address above, or through our Facebook and Twitter.

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An Interview with Susan Sellers

Interview by Shelagh Weeks

Professor Susan Sellers is based at St. Andrews University.Her specialisms straddle three main areas: creative writing, modernist and contemporary women’s writing, and literary theory. Her novel ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is a fictional account of the intense sibling rivalry that existed between Virginia Woolf and her painter sister Vanessa Bell (Two Ravens Press in Britain and by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the United States). In this interview she discusses her latest novel ‘Given the Choice’ is published by Cillian Press. 

What was the genesis of the novel, and how did the ambitious, yet flawed character of Marion emerge?

I spent a number of years in Paris as a doctoral student and had a variety of jobs to make ends meet. I came across a businesswoman I suspect may have been Marion’s alter ego. What struck me about her was the way she used her considerable intelligence and creativity to further the careers of other people. My previous novel Vanessa and Virginia explored how the making of art was essential to both Virginia Woolf and her artist sister Vanessa Bell. Marion is different. She realises early on she doesn’t have what it takes to become a professional artist,so her energy and passion are expressed vicariously through her clients. I liked this idea of a female Svengali. Another impetus was that moment in life when we must decide whether or not to become a parent. For women, the issue is pressing because we cannot easily have a baby after the age of 40. So we must make the choice in our 20s and 30s which often disadvantages us professionally. In Marion’s case the situation is complicated because her husband is desperate to start a family. The other strand was our infinite capacity for self-delusion. Marion is convinced she has plenty of time – and in the way we all do when we want to believe something, can produce stories of women having late babies to support her stance. Marion deludes herself about various things, but I was conscious of the flaw at the heart of the feminist message which says women can have it all on the same basis as men. While studies indicate men’s age is a factor in conception, men can and do go on fathering children until much later in life. One of the characters Marion comes across is the forty-seven-year-old Amanda, who has missed the window when she might have become a mother because of divorce.

This is a tightly structured and crafted novel, with background detail carefully inserted to build and develop key themes. Rather than use chapters, you have given titles or headings for each section: I wonder why you chose to direct reader attention in this way? Sometimes the headings are merely descriptive, but increasingly they seem to imply, comment, are playful or employed ironically e.g. ‘the waiting game’/ ‘just deserts’/ ‘happy ever after’.

I always write my first draft of a novel as freely as I can, telling myself that at this stage no one will ever see it and I can therefore try out what I like. The headings were there from the start, and I realised – as I cut and rewrote – that they could be useful in a number of ways. Though I wanted to write a novel with interesting characters, I didn’t want readers to empathise with them too closely. I enjoy novels where I become so wrapped up in the characters that my hopes for them dominate my reading, but I didn’t want this to happen here. The headings helped create this distance – signalling the text’s artifice to readers. In line with its title, the novel gives the reader the choice of ending, and the headings were crucial in signalling these. There are three endings rather than a straight either/or choice because I wanted to indicate a spectrum of possibilities. The endings are deliberately generic. There’s the inconclusive ‘real-life’ ending, an ending where Marion gets her come-uppance, as well as a happier outcome.

The novel overtly explores social contexts, growing up, houses and homes, parenting, creativity, the way that art expands meaning and consciousness, ageing; it touches on issues such as single parenthood, poverty, youth employment, and also, quite potently, exploits the undercurrents and symbolism of dress, surfaces, nourishment, hunger, place, spells, water and colour. Was such a conscious (or unconscious)weaving of the explicit and implicit in your book an incremental development?

My novels go through many drafts, and change each time. In this case I began with a number of ingredients: a successful if manipulative businesswoman, the art world setting, the need to make a decision about children. Then there’s the stage of ‘what if?’ If my businesswoman’s married, what would her husband be like? What if he wants children and she doesn’t? What might make her not want to have a baby? Is her career a sufficient reason? Or is there is something more? And of course the more one works, the more the material opens up avenues for exploration and reveals ingredients of its own. What’s essential is that any exploration or ingredient I incorporate should fit the novel’s arc.

At times, as I questioned or disliked Marion’s assertions, her use of money, power, and her interactions with others, I wondered if a male protagonist might escape such scrutiny and whether you had deliberately set up such reader reactions so we were forced to question our own judgements and our choices as a reader? 

Given the Choice is set in 2007-2008, just before and then during the sub-prime fiasco that not only led to wide-spread bankruptcy, but also fuelled the realisation that free-market capitalism might not be the best model for a world with finite resources. Money is a crucial element in the novel. It underscores the hype of the art world setting,and removes any financial consideration from Marion’s decision about maternity. It also gives Marion power since she can use it to transform the lives of the artists she represents. I liked the idea of taking a ‘tricky’woman as my protagonist. Marion is capable of generosity, but can also be ruthless and resort to lying when the going gets tough. We have plenty of sympathetic women in fiction now,and we even have some downright bad ones (who usually get their just deserts). What we don’t have enough of are ones in the middle -perhaps because they are more like ourselves then we care to admit. Ambitious women, for instance, who when circumstances require play dirty.

I felt, throughout, as if you were setting up the possibility of Marion and Jean-Claude having some sort of liaison (just as the novel hints that Edward may look elsewhere). Was this deliberate, and if so, was such plotting a ploy to sustain tension, or was it a gesture towards those things in life that might happen, yet don’t?

That’s fascinating! Jean-Claude is certainly one of the most important characters in the novel and his relationship with Marion is central. I’m not sure I ever imagined they would have an affair – Jean-Claude is too chaotic for Marion, and he despises her easy wealth -though when their business relationship breaks down they miss each other. The notion that what happens in life is more often than not the result of contingency is an important strand to the book. I’m intrigued and thrilled to discover you felt an affair between Jean-Claude and Marion was hinted at, because it becomes yet one more thing that might have occurred.

I struggled with the shift into multiple versions of the same event; the narrative, up until that point, had seemed to inhabit a different sort of terrain. Nevertheless, I appreciated what this conflation added, structurally.  Can you expand a little on these writerly choices?

I wanted to lead readers through all three endings so that the dissatisfaction or ‘rightness’ of each could be experienced and reflected on. This meant I ruled out an announcement that might have prompted readers to only look at one. At the same time,I was aware of the need to make what I was doing clear. I couldn’t help thinking of John Fowles and how, when he wrote multiple endings for The French Lieutenant’s Woman, some of his readers complained to his publisher that there had been a printing error. It was the painter, Jean-Claude, who came to my rescue. He’s working on a series of paintings which all have the same subject. However, each picture is different – because his mood changes, or there’s a shift in the way the ingredients assemble, or because a new perspective emerges. Jean-Claude also has the last word.  As he looks at his unsold canvases,another version of his subject occurs to him which he resolves to try. So I hope the reader is left with the sense that there are many more possible outcomes than the three I have sketched in.

I particularly enjoyed the dialogue, many of the pacey jump-cuts between parallel stories, the flashbacks and the writing of Marion’s near drowning; what sections did you most enjoy writing?

I always enjoy those parts of the writing where words seem to flow. This can happen at any stage, though I suspect it does so most frequently when I have been able to clear some proper time for writing and don’t have my head half-full of all the other things I should be doing. Personally I find it very hard to write in an odd hour here and there (though I am admiring and envious of writers who can). I seem to need to carve out much larger blocks of time in order to immerse myself, and for what I write to have any chance of coming alive on the page, let alone flow. In Given the Choice, I enjoyed researching the contemporary art world and then creating the art installation Marion takes Peeter (a young Estonian pianist) to see. I also enjoyed writing about the music Peeter plays. And I have a soft spot for Jutta (Peeter’s Estonian girlfriend) who is perhaps the only character not to be caught up in Marion’s spell.

Conversely, what did you struggle most with in the novel?

Marion is a fairy-tale figure – she can make her clients’ dreams come true. But (as Jutta realises) she is also manipulative, destructive and witch-like. In fairy tale characters are schematic – often reduced to functions of the plot – and their power resides in inviting us to match our experiences against the templates they offer. I think there is currently too much emphasis placed on characters in fiction – on whether or not they are likeable, on how easily we can relate to them – at the expense of everything else a work of fiction contains. I don’t particularly like Mr or Mrs Ramsay or even Lily Briscoe in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and yet I think it one of the most powerful novels I have ever read. With Marion as my central character, I was aware of a tension between wanting to distance readers from her, and providing a rationale for why she behaves as she does. This was particularly difficult when it came to her back story, and made me hesitate about how much of it to give. In the end, quite a few details about her growing up were either omitted or alluded to in passing, so I could focus only on those which were crucial (such as her relationship with her mother). It was Marion’s husband Edward who enabled me to make these issues explicit. Quite late on, he gives up his high-paid job as a financier and decides to enrol for a degree in Classics, which is a long-held ambition. One of the essays he has to write is on myth, fairy tale and what it is we want fiction to do.

Call for Steering Group Members

The PG CWWN is currently looking to recruit new members to the steering groupjoinus

We are looking for individuals who can be part of a proactive team to continue the work of the PG CWWN (including the website, mailing lists, and social media presence), and who will develop new activities and relationships to further the community, as well as work as part of the group to deliver the next biennial conference in 2015.

If you have a passion for contemporary women’s writing and want to help further the work of the network then please read through our full call here: Call for Steering Group Members 2014.

If you have any questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via email.

‘Nolite te bastardes carborundorum’: On Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Krystina Osborne

I was delighted to win the PG CWWN’s recent competition honouring the work of Margaret Atwood and I was overjoyed to receive a signed edition of The Handmaid’s Tale as a result of my winning tweet. I was also asked to expand upon my competition entry in the form of a short piece of writing on the novel, and was immediately overcome with the fear that I would not be able to do justice to such an iconic work in a book review. The Handmaid’s Tale, an exploration of the oppression of women in a dystopian future, won the first ever Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987 and was nominated for the Booker Prize, also receiving numerous other literary accolades. Therefore, I have elected to concentrate on my own personal experiences of the text in an attempt to gesture towards its enduring appeal.

I initially encountered the novel as a teenager, when my friend studied it as part of her A-Level English Literature course. As is sadly often the way with the texts one associates with school, she soon tired of it and I recall her repeatedly lamenting the irony of being forced to read ‘a book about women not being allowed to read’. Intrigued, I asked to borrow the novel and soon became engrossed in the Republic of Gilead, enjoying the darkly comic idiosyncrasies of a society in which the simple enjoyment of a game of a Scrabble is considered to be a transgressive act for a woman. I remember cheering on my favourite character (the rebellious Moira) as she escaped from the ‘Red Center’, feeling crushed when it transpires that she was swiftly captured by the authorities. Such was my affinity with the book as an example of science fiction that I even briefly toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo of the phrase ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ (a pseudo-Latin translation of ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’, the memorable motto which also formed the basis of my competition entry!), only to discover that many an Atwood fan had beaten me to it.

By contrast, upon rereading the novel in preparation for writing this blog post, I was struck by how frighteningly relatable the ostensibly distant world of the Republic of Gilead actually is. My personal favourite Atwood novel is Cat’s Eye, a disturbingly realistic examination of the lasting effects of childhood bullying, but The Handmaid’s Tale is, in many ways, equally realistic. Atwood herself classifies the novel as ‘speculative fiction’ rather than science fiction, a distinction intended to signify that the events of the novel could conceivably happen; the implementation of an electronic monetary system and attempts to ban pornographic material particularly resonate in modern society. Whilst revisiting the novel, I noted that Atwood’s omission of any detailed physical description of her protagonist enables Offred to serve as an ‘everywoman’, allowing female readers to imagine themselves in her place with alarming ease. Furthermore, Atwood emphasises Offred’s frustration that women are encouraged to perpetuate the ideologies of Gilead by policing each other’s behaviour. The misogynistic division of women results in resentment and envy between the groups, rather than reinforcing values of sisterhood, thus serving as a stark warning to a contemporary society in which women are pushed to routinely judge each other on a daily

Whilst the ending of the novel is ambiguous, the metafictional epilogue reveals that Offred’s narrative was transcribed following the collapse of the Gilead regime, her legacy living on, despite her own uncertain fate. The cultural impact of The Handmaid’s Tale is evident, and it has already been the subject of various film and radio adaptations, a theatre production and an opera. During a recent talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Atwood revealed that she is currently working on a graphic novel version, which will introduce Offred’s story to a different audience. Even my dubious friend was eventually won over by the originality of The Handmaid’s Tale’s plotline. However, whilst the novel displays the undeniable scope of Atwood’s imagination, I argue that its legacy is to serve as a reminder that we must never allow this vision to materialise.

The Conversationist by Nadine Gordimer

Review by Nagihan Haliloğlu

In his ‘On Poetry’ Glyn Maxwell informs us that when asked what their favourite landscape is, ‘the children of today, from anywhere on earth’ choose the picture of a savannah, ‘choose it over all other’. Whatever these children are looking at, they are not looking at the swampy vlei on the cover of the Bloomsbury edition of Nadine Gordimer’s The Conversationist. We are not in the savannah that – judging by these children- our ancestral memory seems to be drawing us to. Gordimer’s setting is described as being continuously ravaged by the elements and humans alike- fires, floods and mining. According to Maxwell’s psychologists, one of the reasons the savannah seems more attractive to the human race is that it affords open space and prepares one mentally for the hunt. But even the pleasure of the possible chase is chastened in Gordimer’s account of the land, with the conservationist impulse of Mehring, the anti-hero, the conversationist of the title.

After a three hundred page narrative of shifting tenses and focalizers, in which we are shown, with tired metaphors, time and again, that the farm house owning white Mehring is out of tune with the rhythms of the land, while the black people that work for him will be there long after he’s gone, (with the refrain ‘No one will remember where you are buried’, said once by his British leftist lover, and remembered many more times), there is a metafictional moment in which Gordimer lets us in on the mystery of what has been going on in the passages in which it is not clear whether conversations of the conversationist have actually happened, or whether they are projections in Mehring’s mind:” It may sound crazy- No, put it another way. A funny thing- You don’t have to be a believer in a lot of superstition and nonsense- there’s a difference between thinking to oneself and thinking as a form of conversation, even if there are no answers.”

One of these thinking-as-conversation passages is a phone call that may or may not have happened with his ex-wife: ‘– It’s not Terry who wants to speak to you. I do. – That’s also not impossible at this juncture’, a conversation whose reality is further undermined with ‘It would be crazy to suppose the call might even have been you, but not entirely inconceivable. The sort of thing you would do’. Gordimer believes that this is all within the purview of stream of consciousness, which she conveys with a liberal helping of em dashes. From the very beginning Gordimer tests the age-old belief that dashes reflect fragmented consciousness and view of the world, however, the effectiveness of this stylistic boon is severely tested with excessive usage.

Once one is able to get over the hurdles of (late-)style, Gordimer’s tale is one that nicely reconstructs race and gender politics in South Africa in the apartheid era. Through conversations, Gordimer gives expositions of the various political positions held by the whites, the Boers (who are shown to make a distinctly separate category) and the blacks. The Boer-Anglosaxon divide provides the background for the last confrontation of the novel, in which Mehring feels he has been set up by a Boer girl to be caught in flagrante by the Boer vice squad -another subplot the narrative does not fully unravel.

However the scene does suggest that the interesting foil for Mehring’s self-absorbed white industrialist is the village Boers and not the blacks who, as we are ‘subtly’ told time and again, will inherit everything one day. Mehring is at once repelled and attracted by his Boer neigbours’ life style, described very well in one early scene. He is patronizingly touched when de Beer talks about ‘you people’ assuming that he must have a family with him at the farm house for ‘they cannot conceive of a man without a family of some sort’. When they come to visit him Mehring muses about the children and the womenfolk: ‘She’s a beautiful child as their children often are- where do they get them from?- and she’ll grow up- what do they do to them?- the same sort of vacant turnip as the mother.’ And ‘the elder girl, motherly towards smaller ones as only black or Afrikaans children are’ and without further exposition Gordimer is able to relay the racially inflected class-consciousness of the South African elite.

At other times the narrative exposes us to various discourses without making quite clear where they come from, events and their causes are also more suggested than told. Paragraphs go on for a bit before we know whose perspective we are getting, and the referents of the various ‘he’s are discovered several pages later. One thing this does is to add discursively to the unstable and unsafe physical environment that Gordimer has been depicting from the start. Despite the adulterating effect of the supposedly African local narratives that start off each chapter as some guiding narrative into the plot, the veld and vlei come off as rather difficult and unwelcoming places that hide unwelcome truths. While on the narrative level the exercise of layering the uncanny might have gone too far, some of the palimpsests Gordimer constructs are fundamental elements of the crafty uneasiness conveyed by the novel.

When one of the farm hands is attacked in the night in a pasture, rumour grows quickly that there is ‘something down there’, a spirit. The text has no proof of the existence of the spirit, but it has told the reader several pages earlier that there is indeed a dead body abandoned there somewhere. In a way, by providing only a few moments of lucidity and fewer clear shots of evidence of crime, Gordimer tries to work through suggestion rather than telling, leaving it to our imagination the depths and palimpsests of crimes and violations that the characters and the country she depicts have to contend with.

The Lady Doth Protest: Conference Report

‘The Lady Doth Protest…’: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations

FWSA Biennial Conference

University of Nottingham

June 21st-23rd 2013

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Playing on Shakespeare’s oft-(mis)quoted idiom, ‘The Lady Doth Protest’, the FWSA’s biennial conference welcomed a varied and international audience to the University of Nottingham for a three-day conference from the 21st-23rd June 2013. With the theme ‘Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations,’ this conference aimed to analyse the history of feminism on the global stage to its continuing significance in times of austerity and international political unrest. ‘The Lady Doth Protest’ functioned as a truly interdisciplinary space to discuss feminism within the academy and in activist movements, featuring three keynotes from leading activist-scholars, an advocacy and activism roundtable headed by The Feminist Library, AWAVA and WLUML, and a three-day interactive exhibition from Music & Liberation: Women’s Liberation Music Making in the UK, 1970-1989. If this wasn’t enough, the organisers also arranged evening entertainment with the raucous Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, a Queer Feminist Burlesque Collective who will be performing at The Fringe this year, and a film screening of Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, a poignant documentary directed by Dagmar Schultz. It is a feat in itself to review the sheer breadth of activities on offer so in an attempt to be brief I will focus on the panels I attended. To hear more on the entertainment, exhibition and activist sentiments of the conference, I direct you to Donna Marie Alexander’s review here.

At first glance the four-parallel panel programme looks impressive, if a little overwhelming. Across the weekend the diversity of papers was clear. From panels on negotiating neoliberalism to spirituality and feminism, ‘The Lady Doth Protest’ interrogated feminist pedagogies, critical ontologies and the practical exploration of ‘new’ feminist questions. With such a rich programme one might feel in danger of missing out on all the conference had to offer, however, the organisers thought of this too. For the benefit of attendees and non-attendees alike the organisers arranged bloggers and live-tweeters to be stationed across all panels, and at routine points these summaries were uploaded onto the FWSA conference website.

Championing each day the FWSA arranged a keynote address from an established activist-scholar. Introducing day one, Dr Nirmal Puwar (Goldsmiths, University of London) explored the act of space invading in feminist history. Puwar examined the use of sound, speech and singing as a protest device in feminist past to feminist future(s). On the second day Professor Nadje Al-Ali (SOAS, University of London) spoke on protest, mobilisation and change in the Middle East and the ‘Arab Spring.’ Al-Ali discussed the contributions and marginalisation of feminist and women’s groups in times of wider national unrest. On the third day Professor Diane Elson (Emeritus Professor, University of Essex) shifted the focus to the UK and the current impact of austerity measures on women and children. Chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group (WBG) Professor Elson presented WBG’s economic analysis and revealed the disproportionate effects of austerity for women and single-parent families. The keynote addresses, while diverse in content and methodology, ultimately united on one key issue: women’s voices continue to be silenced world-wide. To hear more on the keynote addresses, visit the FWSA blog.

As for the panels I attended, these were focused on literature and engaged with the politics of the page. Presenters discussed iconic pop-feminist texts from Greer to Moran, post/feminist representations in the fiction of Michèle Roberts and the rape/revenge film, and the destabilising function of Judith Halberstam’s ‘queer art of failure’ in trans* fiction. Other presenters looked beyond the fiction page and located moments of feminism in South Asian autobiography, while others problematised the gender-equalizing resolution 1325 in the United Nations and its revival of Hegel’s ‘beautiful soul.’ Engaging, thought-provoking and well-presented, I left the conference with actor Will Rogers’s words in my ears: ‘A man only learns in two ways, one by reading and the other by association with smarter people.’

Yet still, the literature panels were sparsely attended in relation to other panels focused on the social sciences and activism. There are positives and negatives to arranging panels by discipline and both were felt.  The creator of ‘The New Academic’, Nadine Muller, who was presenting at the event, accurately summed up some of the drawbacks.

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For me as an early postgraduate researcher not presenting at the conference, a smaller audience has its advantages. Smaller audiences make it is easier to approach other attendees and it can often transform stuffy question sessions into more fluid conversations. At the close of the conference it was the questions raised in these panel discussions that stuck with me. How can we define women’s writing when many women writers reproduce the same patterns of marginalization? Does writing have to rely on didactics to be defined as feminist? Why do we do what we do – what is the political potential of literature?

When we turn our gaze to these questions that so often appear at the forefront of our minds as scholars and feminists we are reminded of the importance of feminist conferences as critical forums that challenge our ideas as much as they support them; before the lady doth protest, the lady doth question. The FWSA’s 2013 biennial conference excelled as an intersectional feminist space that presented not only important emerging research but important difficulties, new and old, within feminist activism and the academy.

Michelle Green

University of Nottingham

Bloomsbury Book Review Series

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Book Review Series

Call for Book Reviewers for the PG CWWN Blog!

The PG CWWN is pleased to announce the launch of a new book review blog series. Thanks to generous sponsorship from Bloomsbury Publishing House we have a selection of recently published titles by contemporary women writers available for discussion. For this series we are looking for a team of reviewers to produce short pieces for the PG CWWN blog about these fiction titles.

All reviews will be published on our revamped blog page on the PG CWWN website. Reviews should be no more than 1,000 words. Books will be sent out on a first come, first served basis, and reviews will be expected within six weeks of receiving the book.

To join our team of reviewers email the network at blog@pgcwwn.org or simply request a title by posting on our facebook page or by tweeting us @pgcwwn.

Titles currently on offer include:                                      page1image4832

  •   Brothers, Caroline, Hinterland (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)
  •   Dabbagh, Selma, Out of It (London: Bloomsbury, 2012) [2011]
  •   De Vigan, Delphine, Underground Time, translated from French by George Miller(London: Bloomsbury, 2012) [2009]
  •   Giovanni, Janine, Ghosts by Daylight: a memoir of war and love (London: Bloomsbury,2011) SIGNED COPY
  •   Gordimer, Nadine, The Conservationist (London: Bloomsbury, 2005) [1974]
  •   Hale, Shannon, Austenland (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)
  •   McVeigh, Jennifer, The Fever Tree (London: Viking, 2012)
  •   Nicolson, Juliet, Abdication (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)
  •   Osler, Mirabel, The Rain Tree: a memoir (London: Bloomsbury, 2012) [2011]
  •   See, Lisa, Dreams of Joy (London: Bloomsbury, 2012) [2011]
  •   Summerscale, Kate, Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: the private diary of a Victorian lady(London: Bloomsbury, 2012)
  •   Worsley, Kate, She Rises (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)
  •   Young, Kerry, Gloria (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)
  •   Young, Kerry, Pao (London: Bloomsbury, 2012) [2011]

Introducing Writing From Below

‘GSDS takes sides—we write history from below, we redress exclusions from the canon, we appreciate lived experience as a crucial voice in the making of expert knowledge, we question divisions between the private and public and what that means for our bodies and lives, and we unpack the bias embedded in power/knowledge relations that are dressed as value neutral and grounded in Reason.’
– Carolyn D’Cruz, ‘Taking responsibility for Gender Sexuality and Diversity Studies’

A new peer reviewed, interdisciplinary Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies (GSDS) journal, Writing from Below, calls for papers.

Writing from Below is currently the only interdisciplinary GSDS journal in Australia. With an international scope, and a highly esteemed Advisory Board, we intend to publish the highest standard of scholarly, creative, and cross-genre work that engages with GSDS.

Taking our cue from Carolyn D’Cruz’s swansong for the GSDS programme at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Writing From Below denotes not only our critical trajectories, but also our attendant history. This journal is not an attempt to generate an interdisciplinary conversation focussed on issues of gender, sexuality, and diversity, but rather it is a space to facilitate the conversations that are already occurring across the academic community. Looking further back to 1963, and paraphrasing E.P. Thompson from The Making of the English Working Class, we are looking for the work of scholars whose academic “aspirations are valid in terms of their own experience”.

In a nutshell, Writing from Below positions itself as the recourse for cold-comfort rejection notices phrased as “it’s good, but not for us”. It probably is for us. We are now calling for submissions of between 3000 and 7000 words for our second issue, the theme of which follows our title, Writing from Below. We are looking for writers, artists, and independent researchers whose work is on either canonical or non-canonical sources, whose work features slippage between the typical academic/artistic genres and disciplines. As such we are particularly interested in emergent work on women’s writing, and particularly encourage submissions from postgraduate students working in this  field. We ask authors to think broadly about what writing from below means, about all the ways that writing and researching differently from within the academy creates change. There is space here: take it.

Our Call For Papers is now extended to 26 August 2013.

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Karina Quinn, Nicholas Cowley, and Stephen Abblitt

Managing Editors, Writing from Below

Supported by La Trobe University and the Centre for Creative Arts.

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Contemporary Women’s Writing and Literary Prizes: Conference Report

CWWA Event  CWWA

Contemporary Women’s Writing and Literary Prize Culture

 24th June, Leeds Metropolitan University

This free one day event was organised and run by the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association, and focussed on the impact of the literary prize culture on the style and, perhaps more importantly, the availability of contemporary women’s writing. It was well attended by a diverse range of delegates. PGRs, academics, and writers were addressed on a varied range of topics presented by academics, an author and a commercial publisher and this cross-industry approach to the advantages and disadvantages of literary prize culture resulted in some interesting discussion, idea generation and even disagreements. There were five speakers at this event, all of whom had been invited to speak by the CWWA in recognition of their unique expertise with regard to the main topic of the day.

Delegates received a warm welcome upon arrival at the Northern Terrace site, and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The absence of pre-presentation nerves among most of those in attendance added to the convivial feeling of the event, and this fed into some interesting conversation following on from some excellent and informative (and even interactive) papers.

Much of the day’s discussion focussed on the way in which market pressures skew the market in favour of books that publishers know they can sell. It seems that one of the biggest impacts as a result of literary prize culture has been the reduction in the availability of titles and the increasing commercialisation of fiction. This inevitably leads to a decline in literary fiction, and the general consensus of the day was that even those literary titles which do get through risk disappearing without trace if they cannot win, or at least get shortlisted, for one of those elusive prizes. In their paper Dr Helen Cousins and Dr Jenni Ramone discussed the antipathy of some readers to these prize winning books, they also referred to figures which show a shortlisted title can increase its sales figures by hundreds of thousands of copies. This trend of readers and publishers is of particular concern for women’s writing as all the speakers acknowledged the markedly lower numbers of female authored books which make it on to these lists (with the exception of the Orange Prize). The papers delivered in the morning sessions were complemented by the highlight of the day: Jane Rogers reading her own work and discussing this with Dr Susan Watkins, chair of the CWWA.

jessie lamb Jane Rogers has written eight books and a collection of short stories, for which she received nominations and awards from various literary prizes, most recently for her novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb. She read a tantalising section of this work, as well as one her short stories ‘Morphogenesis’, form her collection Hitting Trees with Sticks’.  In discussion with Susan Watkins, Jane talked about how Jessie Lamb nearly sank without trace before being ‘rescued’ from obscurity by literary prizes.  Showing a different side to literary prize culture, she discussed the way winning a prize can extend books life and readership, a note in contrast to earlier discussions which suggested books then become part of the hype of the moment, to be forgotten as soon as a new shortlist is announced. Jane acknowledged this complicated effect, particularly highlighting the literary prize culture’s feeding of the high street bookshops fixation on famous names, which further limits the availability of titles. This fascinating interview was concluded with the less positive notion of the artificial lines that literary prize culture creates within the market that has forced the necessity of women only prizes, such as the Orange prize, and with the hope that one day we will just be able to talk about literature, without reference to the gender of the author.

Adele Cook

University of Bedfordshire

Margaret Atwood Competition: Win a Signed Book!

Celebrating Margaret Atwood

 margaret_atwood_the_handmaids_tale

Enter the PG CWWN competition for your chance to win a signed copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale!

In October 2013, high-school students in Ontario, Canada, will be able to choose gender studies as an elective course in the Canadian curriculum. Until now, interdisciplinary analysis of gender and sexuality has been limited to colleges and universities. In celebration of this development the PG CWWN is hosting a competition recognising one of the most iconic Canadian writers of the 20th century, Margaret Atwood, whose work continually crosses the frontiers of gender, sexuality and feminist discourses. The PG CWWN is giving away a SIGNED copy of the novel that continues to position Margaret Atwood as a leading voice in women’s writing and feminist debates: The Handmaid’s Tale.

You can enter the competition on our Facebook page or via Twitter by telling us either why you love Margaret Atwood OR what makes The Handmaid’s Tale such a popular and resonant feminist novel.

The competition opens on 1st July 2013 in celebration of Canada Day, and will end on 31st July 2013.

Twitter Entries: Please tweet your response to @pgcwwn and include #atwood

Facebook Entries: Please post your response of no more than 100 words on our Facebook page.

All entries will be posted on the PG CWWN website in a special blog post on Margaret Atwood. The winner of the book will be selected at random and invited to expand on their tweet to produce a short commentary to accompany this curation on the PG CWWN website.

Download and share information about the Margaret Atwood Competition