In the Media: 16th November 2014

In the media is a weekly round-up of features written by, about or containing female writers that have appeared during the previous week and I think are insightful, interesting and/or thought provoking. Linking to them is not necessarily a sign that I agree with everything that’s said but it’s definitely an indication that they’ve made me think. Also, just a note to make it clear that I’m using the term ‘media’ to include social media, so links to blog posts as well as traditional media are likely.

Photo by Wayne Thomas

This week, there’s been lots of discussion on my Twitter timeline about an article by Joanna Walsh, writer and creator of #ReadWomen2014 on ‘Why must the “best new writers” always be under 40?‘ prompted by Buzzfeed’s ‘20 Under 40 Debut Writers You Need to Be Reading‘. Traditionally, these lists have disadvantaged women who, for a number of reasons, often publish their first novel later than many men. So, although it’s arbitrary/silly, this week’s top slot is going to pieces by or about those who published their first book at 40 or over.

We have Linda Grant (first novel published at 44) on why she’s hooked on the Serial podcast in The Guardian; Joan Chase (47) in her own words and Amy Weldon on her both on Bloom, a site dedicated to writers whose first major work was published at 40 or over; Ruth Graham tells the true story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (65) on Slate; Alexander Chee looks at Penelope Fitzgerald (59) via Hermione Lee’s biography of her on Slate; there are interviews with Lissa Evans (42) on the One More Page blog, Helen DeWitt (43) in BOMB magazine, Meg Rosoff (48) on Rebecca Mascull’s blog, Katherine Boo (48) on the theatre production of Behind the Beautiful Forevers in the Independent and Donna Douglas (40) on Female First; while Bobbie Ann Mason (42) has a new short story ‘Ready‘ on TNB Fiction and the first chapter of Summertime by Vanessa Lafaye (51) is up to read on One Book Lane; finally, you can find out why middle-aged women are dominated self-publishing according to The Guardian.

At the other end of the spectrum, writer Nikesh Shukla supports young writers in Bristol. They publish online magazine Rife. Here’s Sammy Jones’ ‘The Five Stages of Street Harassment‘ and Jess Connett on ‘Hidden WWI: Teenagers at War‘.

There’s also been more gender discussion. Time magazine added the word ‘feminism’ to a list their readers could vote on to ‘ban’. Roxane Gay responded in The Washington Post; Hannah McGill discussed gender depiction in Sci-Fi in The List; Jess Meacham critiqued Suzanne Moore’s column on selfie’s being anti-feminist and her use of Sylvia Plath’s poetry in ‘The Eyeing of my Scars‘ on her blog, while Non Pratt looked at gender representation in Young Adult books in We Love This Book.

And the woman with the most publicity this week is Amanda Palmer, whose book The Art of Asking was published on Tuesday. She’s in The Guardian following a live web chat; interviewed by Maria Popova of Brainpickings on YouTube; has written an article for The Independent and been interviewed in Billboard.

The best of the rest articles/essays:

The interviews:

This week’s ‘Who is Elena Ferrante?’ piece is by Jane Shilling in the New Statesman

If you want some fiction to read:

Or some non-fiction:

This week’s lists

The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell

She ignores the pain in her ribs and focuses instead on the thud of her heart as she moves closer. The baby’s lips are pursed now, opening and closing, suckling in her sleep. A fly buzzes over the pram’s canopy, then lands on the pink blanket and creeps towards the baby’s face. Lila takes another step forward, fighting the urge to swat it away. Somewhere inside she registers the cold hollow of her heart. It would be so easy.

Lila Bailey has lost her baby following a tragic accident. While she copes with her grief by staying at home and taking occasional trips to the park, a letter arrives containing a key and the news of an anonymous gift of land on the edge of the Peak District.

When she and her husband, Tom, arrive there, she discovers a cottage long since abandoned:

Above the mantle is a dusty collection of candle stumps jammed into the necks of empty glass bottles, each melted into its own uniquely twisted form. There’s a stack of old books and a curled pack of playing cards, a mildewed box of Scrabble, a chess set and a copy of Thoreau’s Walden still splayed upon the surface, as if its owner had just put it down for a moment and walked out of the room to make a cup of tea.

Who lived there? Why did they abandon it? And why does it, as Tom says ‘…feel as though something happened there’.

The parallel narrative tells the tale of five students – Mac, Ben, Carla, Simon and Kat. Close to the end of their studies and facing an uncertain future in Thatcher’s 1980, they plan a day out:

‘There’s a place…’ he hesitates, ‘…a lake. Out in the countryside. I went there once when I was a kid.’

And so the following day, they all squash into Mac’s clapped-out Fiesta and head to the lake. After a day of communing with nature, the group decide they’re going to drop out of society and spend a year living in the cottage they’ve discovered there.

The Shadow Year follows a year in the lives of both Lila and the five students (although told from the point of view of Kat), thirty years apart.

The difficulty with the dual narrative is whether you reveal the link between the two stories early, or leave the reader guessing at the risk that they’ll guess too early. I thought I’d figured the link out fairly early on. I had but there were far more twists to the story than I’d anticipated.

The Shadow Year will draw you in to the world of the lake and the cottage and keep you turning the pages until all its secrets, Lila’s secrets and the gang of student’s secrets have been revealed.


Thanks to Orion for the review copy.