Age Is A Work Of Art

I have many pictures of my daughter and myself and I love them all, but they really do remind me how old I am!

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art‘  Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

In the month that I reached 65 (but without the consolation of my state pension), I am comforted by the words of Polish poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec. I intend to see myself as a work of art from now on.

A year has gone by since the first wave of coronavirus. It has felt like a year on hold in a lot of ways – mostly in relation to seeing friends, travelling, and enjoying live events – but for me it has also been a year of great progress.

I have made progress in writing, a lot of progress when I think about it. I had completed a first draft of my second book Does She Love Us? by December 2019, but during 2020 I had some fantastic advice and feedback on that draft and made some major structural edits and revisions which I completed by December 2020. I think the book is now finished and I am actively looking for the right publisher to bring it into the world, with several options under consideration. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the different routes to publishing, both traditional and independent, especially if you’ve got experience of one or other or both.

I was very lucky this week to have the chance to talk to writer and musician Miles Salter about Does She Love Us? The book is set in 1963 and is about the lives of working-class women in a northern mining village. In International Women’s Week we talked about how things were different for me and my mother, and how they are different for my daughter. There has been a lot of change, but in some areas, just not enough. Women are still fighting for equal treatment in terms of pay and status at work, they are still battling against misogyny and assault, and they still experience discrimination economically and in terms of health, as emerging studies about the effects of the pandemic are showing.

In my novel, I deal with legal and economic inequality, constraints within marriage, lack of contraception and illegal abortion, issues which were not the same for me, thank goodness, but even today many women are still engaged in daily struggles because of poverty, poor health and social discrimination. If you’d like to hear me talk about the book, you can listen again by clicking here. The programme was broadcast on Wednesday 10th March.

The Arts Show
Click here to listen to Miles Salter interview me about my forthcoming book Does She Love Us?

As I’ve said before, I found writing and reading fiction hard last year, but I did make a start on my third book, provisionally called The Man in the Street Had No Shoes. I’m about a quarter in, and need to crack on with it, because I’m already starting to play around with the structure, and I need words on paper to do that properly. I made most progress with poetry and have produced about 40 new poems and revised a whole lot more. I am looking forward to some of these making their way into pamphlets or being published in print or online this year.

One of the good things about 2021 is being able to read fiction again. So far my reading list has been dominated by prize-winning women writers – Maggie O’Farrell’s wonderful but tragic Hamnet, Bernardine Evaristo’s delightfully wide-ranging Girl, Woman, Other and Anne Enright’s challenging and disturbing The Gathering. I’ve just started tackling Hilary Mantel’s momentous The Mirror and the Light which I know will be an immersive experience.

Coming back to the matter of age, it was interesting to see Bernardine Evaristo’s observation that there were no older women on the recently announced Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. Although one or two are in their sixties, she was particularly highlighting the absence of women in their seventies and eighties, and really speculating whether they disappear at that point. Men don’t, as a nearby article on Richard Murdoch at 90 illustrated. I hope women over 60 don’t disappear – I for one have got so much more to do!

With best wishes to you all!

It's Never Too Late…To Start Writing

Happy New Year! My resolution for 2020 is to connect more with readers and this is my first of what I hope will be monthly communications this year. For me, 2019 was a momentous year, having my first book published at the age of 63 was a great personal achievement – it really is never too late.

I’ve had a fantastic time meeting readers and other writers at literary festivals, conferences and events in 2019 and have particularly enjoyed talking to small reading groups. I think it is my favourite thing to do, so if you would like me to talk to your group about any aspect of my book or the writing process, please do ask. This photograph is of my daughter’s yoga group’s book club!

In 2020 I’m already looking forward to being at York Literature Festival again, this time in a collaborative presentation called Family History: Fact or Fiction with my fellow writers Jane Austin and Yvie Holder. We will be at Explore York Library at 2pm on Monday 23rd March. Tickets are £3-£5 from Explore York.

The Peacemaker

Set in 1938 The Peacemaker tells the moving story of young woman’s struggle to make peace with her father on the eve of the Second World War. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a short extract to whet your appetite…

Violet would like to go back to Thorndale, her memories of it were vague. She remembered it lush and green in summer and white with thick snow in winter. But always with the sun shining in an intensely blue sky. She remembered the row of cottages on each side of the lane which wound up towards the mine. All the men worked there, her father among them. She remembered a tiny house filled with children who came to see her mother. Peggy read from the Mother Goose, while the children dipped sticks of rhubarb into little bowls of sugar set between them. Violet remembered her sitting with her own children in the back field, showing them how to pierce daisy stalks with a fingernail and thread a chain. She remembered how Peggy let them stay up on a cloudless night to look at the stars and showed them how to look for bears in the sky. She was a mother who always heard the birds singing. But Violet also remembered the rain on the window, the howl of the wind down the chimney when the fire would blow out, and her mother weeping when her little brother died. She remembered a dark cupboard where she would hide with Daisy and Frank, waiting for Pop to stop ranting.

The Peacemaker is published by John Hunt Publishing. If you don’t have a copy, you can order it from any major or independent bookshop or direct from Amazon or other online retailer. If you have read my book, and you liked it, please leave a review on Amazon or on Goodreads, it really does help.

Does She Love Us?

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I am also delighted to say that the start of 2020 marks the completion of the final draft of my second novel Does She Love Us? in which a young woman’s buried childhood memories are triggered by the death of her mother. This character-driven novel has the quality of memoir and draws on my own experience as a child living in a mining village in South Yorkshire in the early 1960s. As the world goes through dramatic changes, Does She Love Us? focuses on the drama of everyday lives. It explores the nature of love and the experience of women through the distinctive voices of a quiet but perceptive child and her romantic, emotional mother. Please stay in touch via FB, Twitter or Instagram or my website for updates.

Awakening The Writer Within Retreats and Workshops

If you are interested in writing, or need some practice, do think of coming on one of our Awakening The Writer Within retreats or workshops. Details are on the events page of the website. In the meantime, here’s a writing tip to help your creative thoughts flow.

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You Wear It Well – A Writing Exercise

In The Peacemaker, Violet is a young woman obsessed by clothes. I love writing about what people are wearing as I think it’s a great way to convey character. Use your own clothes to think about how they convey aspects of your own character and use your observations to write a poem or short piece of prose.

Make some notes about significant pieces of clothing:

Try to think about the first piece of clothing you remember wearing – were you playing outside with your friends, had you been taken to buy a new outfit for a holiday or party, were your pyjamas your first clothing memory?

What were your teenage faux pas when it came to clothing – flares or drainpipes? Punk or Pinstripes? Baggy jumpers or crop tops? Whatever your era, which piece of clothing represents the biggest fashion mistake that you loved anyway?

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What’s in your wardrobe now? If your pipes burst this winter, what is the first piece of clothing you would rescue, and which would you happily see rot? Why?

Now look at your notes and let them tell a story. You might find a compelling story in one particular memory, or a thread that winds through your life. If you’d like to share any of your writing, do send it to me, and if you’re happy to see it published online do let me know, it would be a pleasure to feature your writing.

Please let me know if you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I hope to be back with another in February.

All the best for a brilliant 2020!

Janet