Janice Galloway on Muriel Spark

Photo: Muriel Spark, writer. 1918 – 2006.

At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 11th August 2018. There are many other events in the Muriel Spark theme at the Book Festival this year. Here is the link.

Muriel Spark is one of the Book Festival’s 2018 themes. This most entertaining event is chaired by Jenny Niven, Head of Literature at Creative Scotland, and it is Janice Galloway who gives forth on the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A tour de force, Galloway is a consummate performer, delighting us with cockney accents, flamboyant quotes and well-timed biographical info. ‘You made the right choice!’ Niven tells us in her introduction. Galloway’s first novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing, was published in 1989 and followed by more stories, libretti, non-fiction, poetry – you name it.

Not just amusing, but also a veritable wealth of knowledge on the subject, Galloway arrives with a great grin and only a little nervous knee wobbling. This is the centenary year of Mrs Spark, as Ms Galloway refers to her, and it has ignited divers projects around the world notably here in Spark’s home city. Galloway is lecturing, workshopping and producing her own work in response: “delving deep” as Niven put it.

Looking into the audience with penetrating gaze, Galloway elucidated Spark’s life: born in 1918, she only started writing when 40, after a lively time as wife to Syney Oswald Spark (“the only thing she liked about him was his name”). In ‘Rhodesia’ he threatened to shoot her (many of her short stories are about such goings on amongst the ex-pat community) and she hid herself and her son for 4 years before she could return to “old blighty” in 1944. This prompted her to develop an ‘it was for the best’ attitude, stressed Galloway, in her fast but exceptionally clear delivery.

Janice Galloway

 

Spark, she continues, changed what was expected from women’s writing, coming at it from a female point of view, in a common sense “no horsing about” kind of a way and signalling that, contrary to the fiction which previously had been published, women could write about anything.

Galloway’s gift is a reading from The Ballad of Peckham Rye bringing the characters to life with slow circular sweeps of her arm and perfect London accents. “The guests in the pews rustled as if they were all women”, she reads. It is an absolutely beautiful rendering.

She discusses Jean Brodie of course, gives advice on writing, and more. With a single finger held up to emphasise her words, she tells us that there was “no bigwiggery” about Muriel Spark.

book festival

Adele Patrick – interview

Adele Patrick is the Lifelong Learning and Creative Development Manager at Glasgow Women’s Library. She is a guest curator at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2018 with Revolting Women.

Adele Patrick is a charming advocate for girl power! She speaks carefully and eloquently, amazing quotes encapsulated in almost every sentence, and with her striking style, keen gaze and enthusiastic smile, she’s an easy person to talk to. It was also a pleasant surprise to get a warm hug on parting.

She explains that she is from “a working class background of bouffanted, formidable, feisty, matriarchal women”, and the word revolutionary appears and reappears throughout the conversation, not least in what she calls “my role as an older woman in the movement”. None of her passion for women’s equality has flagged since she started to foment Women in Profile in 1987/88 which aimed “to re-brand Glasgow away from a masculinised culture to be more inclusive for European City of the Year in 1990.”

Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) where she works today, has just been pipped to the post as Art Fund Museum of the Year by the Tate’s St Ives branch. Just now off the London train, she speaks creatively and eloquently in response: “We realised how monolithic the establishment is and were really pleased to be the grit in the oyster. There we were, sitting in the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum where the awards took place) in the belly of the beast surrounded by the Rubens (whose God the Father hangs there) and in the company of the guardians of culture, the old boys’ and girls’ clubs, proud to have rattled cages, but it is also sobering. It would have been a brave decision to give us it.” She went on to explain that they are preparing to unleash their collective response. “We are the first equalities organisation to be in the final, so it is apt to share our experience. Someone told my colleague, ‘well, it is a sexist organisation isn’t it?’ referring to the Women’s Library. There is certainly no place for complacency!” she said wryly.

She is reading Helen Pankhurst’s Deeds Not Words, which is part of the Pioneers and Provocateurs event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Fern Riddle. She explains that it reminds her both of what the struggle for equality has achieved and how far there is still to go. “The book contextualises the route of change from the first-wave (feminism) through politics, reproductive health and women’s representation. The gestation period for change is so incredibly long; the tenacity of resistance to relinquish power is unbelievable.” This year, 100 since the Representation of the People Act, is “a critical one to do something brave.”

Patrick is one of the Book Festival curators and her theme’s title is the delicious and courageous Revolting Women. She chose Pankhurst (great-granddaughter of Emmeline) alongside luminaries such as Hilary Clinton, and there are any number of other delights to choose from, the most lauded of which are the Herland (say her-land) Salon and the Take-Over Tents. The former were pioneered by the GWL in the Scottish west, so are coming to Edinburgh for the first time. With characteristic excitement she states, “I am absolutely thrilled, it’s going to be utterly brilliant, especially the pay-what-you-can fact of it. It will be a crucible for showcasing what women do, in a safe space and to a mixed audience, because still these types of spaces are few and far between when showing more diverse work.” Heir of the Cursed will be there (aka Kenyan Beldina Odenyo Onassis described as “a caulbearer born of an apparition, a primordial memory, a penny drop in the wee hours” by Sofar Sounds (secret gigs and intimate concerts) giving us her own songs and doing feminist lullaby workshops; and there will also be militant T-shirt printing inspired by the pop-up library titles. (Incidentally if you have any spare white ones, please send them to the GWL).

Adele PATRICK 2

This year, young women have again been involved in the planning of the programme and taken a leadership role. In the past, those who had done that followed up with a trip to the festival where they met published authors whose backgrounds were not necessarily different from theirs, who had also survived depression or who had experienced similar poverty. It is vital to Patrick that such budding lasses have these opportunities, because “you never know what they will do with them. In meetings with politicians I’ve spoken a lot about how diminished women’s dreams and ambitions can be, the criminal lack of aspiration, the narrowness of expectation for women (also in the education system). I have a vision of a different future because I have seen how remarkable the results can be given a tiny bit of encouragement.”

There are many other fantastic ideas: Every woman writer who is taking part in the Book Festival has been asked for a Spotify list of her choice of revolutionary music to form the soundtrack to the Herland Salon; four powerful women of colour will focus on detoxing institutions (such as museums, see above) in Breaking Down Barriers; Queer Africa (the GWL has strong connections with Nigeria) features short stories of feminism and intersectionality in contemporary Africa; and “part of our aim for the Take Over tents is that the names of the Scottish women who got us the vote will roll off the tongue in the future – we have strident spine poems, manifesto workshopping and we hope to fuel your appetite for change. Obviously there will also be tea and buns!”

As I watched Patrick walk away, I noticed the inscription on her bag: Diversity is being asked to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance. It struck me that her work is all about inclusion – she is not only developing intelligent and ground-breaking projects, but at the same time she has her eye on the deep underlying issues. She is using the knowledge and wit that she has built up through years of experience which in turn has given her an understanding of how to tackle those who still, whether knowingly or unconsciously, oppose genuine equality. “Most people do subscribe to these shared values, but in the work setting in particular there’s a mismatch between individual principles and this lack of alignment that we are seeing.”

For more information about the Revolting Women programme at the Edinburgh International Festival 11 – 25 Aug, see https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/themes/revolting-women-213

Are you planning to go to the Book Festival? What is the event you most want to attend? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment if you have time.

We Shall Fight Until We Win – book review

Book Review: We Shall Fight Until We Win, A Century of Pioneering Women. The Graphic Anthology.

We Shall Fight Until We Win is an anthology of pioneering women from the past 100 years. It has been published by 404 Ink (last year they produced Nasty Women whose contributors include our very own Becca Inglis), and Glaswegian BHP Comics, whose alphabet book, The Mighty Women of Science came out in 2016.

From Emeline Pankhurst and Nicola Sturgeon, through Noor Inayat Khan  and Shami Chakrabarti, to M. Thatcher and Mhairi Black MP, this wonderfully active and varied book gathers together 100 years of female power. And that’s just the subjects!

Most strips encompassed in the book have a writer and an illustrator, also female: Denise Mina (words) on Betty Boothroyd  (for eight years the Speaker at the UK House of Commons); Shazleen Khan (graphics) on Joan Bakewell  (author, playwright, Humanist of the Year, and appointed ‘a voice of older people’); Letty Wilson  (graphics) on The Vindication of Diane Abbott .

On top of that, Laura Jones (Emerging Publisher of the Year 2017) and Heather McDaid (The Saltire Society Emerging Publisher of the Year) are the Scottish publishing freelancers who started 404 Ink, both under 40 and pioneering ahead in their field, both able to commission seriously skilled young women.

 

We Shall Fight 2
Nicola Sturgeon ilustrated by J Milton.

Strength and determination abound in this publication, and it starts, as you would expect, with Emmeline Pankhurst, Nicola Love’s  text running, “We were willing to break laws…so that we might force men to give us the right to make them”. In one of those happy coincidences, Charlot Kristensen’s  graphic on page 5 depicts the suffragette rally taking place in the same street in London where 250,000 recently marched to register their feelings about (among other things) the misogyny of Donald Trump.

Each chapter is idiosyncratic with a distinct style and quality: realistic (Sophia Alexandra Duleep Singh); caricature (Poison Penmanship, Jessica Mitford); like a traditional comic strip (Jackie Forster); innocent looking drawings (The Radical in the Footnotes, Beatrice Webb); colourful (The 60%) and monochrome (Jeyaben Desai) reflecting both artist and story. “A graphic novel can say more than just words, without cramming it all into text.” states illustrator Maria Stoian.

The contributors involved in this publication specifically depicted women “with multiple sides to them” (Jenny Bloomfield). “It became a project to make it diverse. It’s historical so that was hard” (Heather Palmer, BHP). Above all, We Shall Fight is informative and documents women who have made an astonishing difference: in torture rehabilitation (Helen Bamber), as a WW11 spy (Inayat Kahn), and there is also a group of school kids, The Glasgow Girls, who stood against the policy of detaining children for immigration purposes.

Jenny Bloomfield is right,”it is amazing what you can get across in a small physical space.”

A Graphic Novel of Women, Equality Is Not Won, is an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Sat 11 Aug 13:45 – 14:45

Do you often read graphic fiction or non-fiction? I’d love to know, so leave me a comment and we can have a chat.