Today's post comes to us from Kasia James, the editor of The Milk of Female Kindness, an anthology on modern motherhood. Her discoveries in the adventure of pulling together an international group of writers on a universal topic make for some interesting reading to anyone hoping to work collaboratively with a diverse group. Enjoy part one - part two coming your way next week.
Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….
Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood - ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.
The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people!
Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.
The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.
The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!
Today, I have the good fortune to have a Guest Post by the talented Cheri Roman, who has just released her first novel, Descent. It is being very well reviewed, and you can see my personal take on it here. She writes for us on a subject close to my heart – fantasy, the improbable, and how ludicrous it is to discount ‘genre’ fiction. Enjoy!
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word fantasy as “the product of imagining impossible or improbable things.” That’s not a bad start for defining fantasy as a genre. However, when you have such a name, it can be challenging to get the literary world to take you seriously.
One of the things that appeals to me most about fantasy writing is that literally anything can happen. You can have sentient storm clouds and flying houses and mice who fence and speak with the facility of an Elizabethan stage actor, because it’s fantasy. Nothing is out of bounds so long as it fits within the plot line.
That said, fantasy is not fluff. The basis of all fantasy stories lies in the question stem, “what if…” What if a boy found out that he was really a wizard? What if a group of siblings was transported to an alternate universe? What if a group of supernatural beings came to Earth and fell in love with humans? Such questions are interesting, not just in and of themselves, but for the deeper answers they point to about what it means to be human. Heroes and villains in fantasy are experimental models we can mentally climb into for a test drive. In fact, a good book in any genre should be like entering one of those virtual reality games, but with fewer limitations. By immersing ourselves in the world and characters created by a talented author, we are able to safely explore the extreme edges of moral and emotional dilemmas we hope we never have to face in real life. And just like lifting extra weights at the gym, the lessons we learn in those imaginary worlds can strengthen us for the everyday challenges of real life.
The boy wizard begins by searching out who he really is, something all of us must do at some point. The group of siblings must decide whether landing in a new world means finding a new moral center. Their example can inspire us to cling to our own moral code under much more “normal” circumstances. The supernatural beings have to learn that there is a cost to every decision we make; a fact we might ignore or fail to discover on our own. None of these are “light” matters. All of them hold eminently human lessons. The value of fantasy, and indeed of literature in general, lies in its ability to reveal such lessons, allowing us to see the world from a point of view other than our own, and learn from it.
Fantasy is often discounted as “light reading,” or worse, the less than brilliant sibling of science fiction, herself a distant cousin to literary fiction. But don’t sell it short. Considering the lyrical prose and plot complexity created by such authors as Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George R.R. Martin in the mix, one should resist the temptation to dismiss fantasy as “light” anything. Instead, we should judge the writing by its own merits just as we do any other genre, and thereby enjoy the ride twice as much.
Cheri blogs at The Brass Rag, which is well worth checking out.
You may also like this post by Sabrina Garie, about her favourite fantasy character: the lovely, practical and not at all ethereal Samwise Gangee.
One of the women I’ve been privileged to meet over the past few months while compiling our collection of real reflections and experiences about being a mother - ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ – is Angélique Jamail.
She is a sublimely talented poet, and I’m really looking forward to reading her debut novel when it is released. Apart from being a writer and mother, she is also a teacher, bellydancer, and wearer of fabulous hats. I was lucky enough to interview her recently. Read on, lovely people, read on…
What are you passionate about today?
My family, my writing, the environment, equal rights for all genders and orientations. I’m passionate about these things all the time. There’s an expression I try to live by:
“Live your life so that your children can tell their children you stood for something wonderful.”
I’m far from perfect, but I try to make whatever corner of the world I touch a better place than it was when I found it. Sometimes I manage to be successful.
You’re a teacher, I understand. I read a quote from Barbara Trapido once, which read (if my memory serves me even vaguely correctly) “I wrote my first novel at my kitchen table in my fortieth year. A degree in English literature left me feeling that I was singularly unqualified for the task.” Do you feel that knowing too much about literature can be paralyzing to a writer?
I sometimes like to tell my students that I want to ruin them for reading for pleasure. They look at me quizzically till I explain that I want them to understand and enjoy literature and writing so intimately that they will never be able to read something without noticing the artistry (or sometimes lack thereof) that went into writing it. After studying literature and writing for so many years myself, this is exactly my wonderful burden, and I wouldn’t trade it. A small part of why I teach, I think, is to share this love of the written word with other people.
But I think I understand where Trapido was coming from in that statement – the feeling of personal inadequacy while groveling in awe at the mountains of excellent literature that has come before. I certainly do feel that, often, but somehow it doesn’t prevent me from writing. It spurs me on and motivates me. Part of me wants to have written literature worthy of being included in someone’s beloved canon, somewhere. That ambition helps me get a draft down on paper. Showing it to my workshop group, though, that’s another story! When I have to share it with people, that’s when the feelings of inadequacy rear up. But I also know that there is no growth without honest and constructive critique, so off those little manuscripts go.
Does poetry come to you spontaneously, or do you need to work at it?
I love the idea of found poetry, and occasionally I will write something very spontaneously and not have to revise it too many times, but more often than not, it’s a slow process from first draft to publishable poem. I like that, though: I want my poems – or stories, or essays – to incubate for a while. There might be months between first and final drafts, occasionally years. I have multiple manuscripts going at once; it’s the only way I can get anything done.
Do you find writing longer fiction a marathon compared to the contained beauty of poetry?
I really find beauty in every form. For me, the best part is the process. I recently completed my first novel, which took me several years because I was having babies and teaching full-time while I was doing it, and also because I hadn’t ever written a novel before and was learning the process as I went along. I remember there were whole semesters where I wrote only one or two chapters.
I love short forms because it’s the closest I get, as a writer, to something like instant gratification in my work. I can potentially write a poem and revise it and have it critiqued and revise again and do a final edit in the space of a few weeks. Writing fiction requires a different head-space, I think: I have to imagine stories differently from how I imagine poems, even narrative ones. And the novel was so different even from other fiction forms. I’m not sure I’ve ever had so many different threads on a single project in my head at once. The day after I finished the first draft, I remember, I felt very lonely because for the last year of my writing it, the characters and their interactions had been in the background of everything I did, as my subconscious tried to finish the book while I went about the other obligations of my life, waiting every day or every week to have time to sit down and write.
Poetry has been described as ‘crystallised moments’. Would you agree?
That’s a good question. In one sense, yes, a poem (unless it’s a long form poem) can be a sharply, vividly defined moment in thought. But I wouldn’t have immediately thought to characterize it with this phrase, I think. I was once involved with someone who refused ever to revise any poem, insisting that the definition of poetry was a snapshot of the poet’s experience in a particular moment, and that to revise a poem was destroying that snapshot. To each his own, I suppose, but for me, the process of making that poem – the length of my editing process – is quite different.
A dear friend of mine, Margo, and I absolutely love wearing hats. We had this grand plan a few years ago to bring hats back into style and started wearing them out places, but then she moved halfway across the country, and we couldn’t really do that very often anymore. I thought that posting pictures of fabulous hats would reach a wider audience than just wearing them out and about, and I wanted some sort of weekly thing I could do on my blog that had to do with fashion – which would be my hobby if I had any free time! So then Fashion Fridays was born. It quickly evolved into a forum for me or other people to share fun accessories – I enjoyed having guest bloggers come in and participate! – but also to discuss real issues about body image and beauty and even wellness. The frequency has dropped down now because I have so many other pots on the writing stove, as it were, but I’m still posting Fashion Fridays occasionally and am definitely open to queries from other writers.
I understand you’ve also dabbled in bellydancing. Do you see any parallels between dancing and writing? From the outside, one seems to be very public and extrovert, and the other very private (at least in conception) and introvert.
I have terrible stage fright and have to force myself to get out in front of people in order not to be terrified of what others will think of me. This may be one reason why I teach, in fact, as teaching has helped me conquer that fear at least somewhat. Bellydance was a natural choice for me: I’m Lebanese-American and grew up around the dance, and I started doing it as a young adult because it was really fun and healthy exercise. I also discovered that it’s a wonderful way to improve one’s self-concept, both in terms of body image and in terms of self-confidence. As one of my teachers once explained, if you can control your body, you can control your personal space, and if you can control your personal space, you can control your life. Ultimately I had to quit performing and teaching dance because I didn’t have enough time to devote to it. I found I was spending all my creative energy on choreography rather than writing, and while dance is wonderful and exciting, it wasn’t really feeding me intellectually the way writing does. When forced to choose between the two, writing won out, but I do miss dancing. I miss it very much.
How on earth do you find time to write, work and raise children? Has having children influenced your writing?
Well, I’m incredibly fortunate in having a very supportive partner. My husband actively helps to make sure I have the time and space to write when I need it – including sending me off on Saturday mornings for writing dates with my close friend Sarah Warburton, who’s also a novelist, while he handles the kids and the house and whatever elaborate breakfast requests our little ones have dreamed up — and he’s also probably my biggest, most encouraging fan, as well as a sharp beta reader. I’m positive I couldn’t do all of these things with any sense of competency without his being a full participant in every aspect of our home and family life. I know some writers don’t get that, no matter how much they deserve it, and I know how lucky I am.
I think the biggest influence being a working-outside-the-home mother has had on me lately is to (nearly) eliminate writer’s block. When you have five projects going on and next to no time to work on any of them, you tend to get really focused when that writing time does come along! I also learned, once my first child was born, to let some things go. For example, when my children were babies, I let go of the idea that I would get teaching work done at home and consequently also let go of the idea that I wouldn’t work through lunch at school. Trade-offs, you know?
Having children really focused my writing, too, because it wasn’t any longer some neat thing I could say I did for fun while teaching paid the bills. Suddenly I began thinking about quality of life and what kind of stable future I wanted for my family and what kind of role model I wanted to be for my kids, and then writing was not just my passion but also a focused career path. It just so happens I also love teaching and have a position at a really excellent school. The trade-off there is that I’m fortunate in the place where I work my “day job,” but I don’t get to write full-time.
The truth is, there’s never enough time to do everything you want to do all at once. When I left dancing, one of my teachers told me not to worry, that dance would always be there waiting for me when I was able to come back, and that I could in fact have everything – but not all at once. Finding the work-life balance is one of the major spiritual conundrums of our day. I won’t pretend that I have anything under control on a consistent basis. But I keep trying, and I keep taking things one chunk at a time.
There are days when all of this can be stressful, certainly, but right now, we’re making it work. Right now, that’s okay.
These are too beautiful to miss, so I thought I would reblog them for you.
I particularly like the sense of line, and the carefully chosen colour palettes. If only I could get some illustrations as gorgeous as this for my novel and short story collection: I’ve been thinking for some time that it would be nice to release a version with illustrations. Somehow the lack of time gets in the way – not to mention that my own style of drawing tends rather to Dr. Suess than Errol LeCain.
You can see more of these lovely illustrations at:
As regular visitors to this corner of the blogosphere will know, I’m featuring some of the wonderful women who have been kind enough to contribute their thoughts, stories and work to ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – An Anthology of Honest Motherhood.‘ Many of you may already know Gemma, who is a regular blogger, and one of the strongest and most delightful people you will ever meet.
Gemma Wright can be found at Wine and Roses from Outer Space, and writes about living with disability and getting on with it. She is married and lives in Essex, but also shares her house with a new tarantula, called Nightshade. She says:
“I bought Nightshade to celebrate overcoming lifelong arachnophobia, and not actually as a cure (although many Tarantula owners are extremely arachnophobic when it comes to “true” spiders – fun fact of the day)! Nightshade is a Chilean Rose of the red variety, and glows like an ember when the sunlight strikes her. “
Gemma has epilepsy, and also a profoundly autistic teenage son; she was forced to send her son into foster care due to both of their conditions when he was four years old, but she and her husband see him on a regular basis.
The epilepsy (as yet uncontrolled in spite of various medications being tried) has forced Gemma out of her career as a carer to the elderly, but she still wanted to find a way to help people. She decided to use her natural talent for writing to become a blogger and advocate for both epilepsy and autism. She has been filmed by Epilepsy Action (UK) and is one of their official Media Volunteers. Their website (https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/) has lots of support available for people with epilepsy and their friends and families, and news on all the latest research.
the slap and cold clap of the boat-bobbing sea,
salt licked, with weed in its teeth.
Clear as jelly, it wobbles
on the plates of empty oyster shells.
Old ladies turn on their towel spits
and oil their hot brown crackling.
Children flap and prance,
rub sand in their eyes,
and are comforted by proud pale parents,
their suit-bare tattoos
self consciously displayed.
Ah the joy of drawing a breath free
of the stuffy cushion of the mundane!
The paper-cut rasp of salt,
sticky dribble of ice cream, damp crumple of clothes,
Feet basted with hot tar, and the persistent,
gritty embrace of sand, sand everywhere.
Until the muddle and hurry subsides like the predictable sea,
and we throw open the doors to sit mesmerised by fairy light glow,
and the chime of masts in the indigo night.
Copyright Kasia James 2013
‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is a collection of poetry, artwork, short stories, essays and interviews by women from all around the world. In putting together the Anthology, it’s been a real privilege getting to know some of these fabulous women, and today I’d like to introduce you to Judith Field, one of our contributing authors.
Judith Field was born in Liverpool and lives in London. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. After not writing anything more creative than a shopping list for about 30 years, she made a new year resolution in 2009 to start writing and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realised how unrealistic that was but, in fact, it worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for a several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper.
She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson (who inspired her first published story when he broke her laptop keyboard. Unlike in the story, a magical creature didn’t come out of the laptop and fix her life). Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications, mainly in the USA. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. Some examples can be found here:
She is also a pharmacist, freelance journalist, editor, medical writer, and indexer. She blogs at http://www.millil.blogspot.com.
Personally, I think you have to visit her blog, just to find out more about the phrase:
“My experience of sex shops is also lacking. I have only been in a sex shop once, in 1976, and I was dressed as a Womble.”
Human rights, as they are commonly termed, are not really ‘rights’ at all in the true sense of the word. No-one actually is born with a right to clean water, freedom of speech or the right to practice one’s own religion without hindrance. We grant people rights because we know that it is the correct and moral thing to do. These are all things which society has constructed, based on that society’s moral code.
In the same way, laws are only constructs, and of course they differ greatly from country to country, and between different periods of history. It is interesting to ponder, however, on how closely many of the rights and laws correlate throughout world history, which is I suspect born of some sort of inherent moral code. Where that might come from, I have no idea, but it may perhaps be an unconscious recognition of what is required to maintain a working society. Without the company of others, arguably we are not really human at all.
For example, the Vikings kept slaves, as of course did the Romans, and the colonial British in America. At the time, it was quite an acceptable practice, and although it must have violated almost every human right, one which brought no shame in polite society at the time. Slaves, aboriginal people, enemies of the state: whatever way you spin it, we have at times found it convenient to ignore that certain individuals are just as valuable as we are.
Now, however, things are quite different, and a whole host of rights are internationally (although not universally) recognized. I think that process of recognition has been driven by a different moral code, related to a greater emphasis on personal empathy.
We are all now encouraged to think about particular starving children on the other side of the globe, as individuals, for example. To consider the plight of Afghani women, uneducated and kept under lock and key by their male relatives. To be repulsed by the concept of political prisoners being tortured. In some place, empathy is being taught in schools as a life skill.
We have the power to speak up about our feelings, and the power to lobby our politicians. Organizations such as Amnesty have serious clout, and a serious number of backers. Now that most of the western world has the time and resources, free of a tyrannical class system and an urgent hand-to-mouth existence, we are turning our attention to the world outside, and it makes our hearts bleed.
Compassion for others’ suffering is only possible if you understand their lives and situation. Stories, therefore, become incredibly important. Here in Australia, our multicultural TV channel, SBS, has a theme which has the tag “Six Billion stories and counting…” Everyone has their own battles, their own loves, their own families. Every one of those people has a life too complex to convey in a sound bite.
Historically, of course, women have had even less rights, and less voice than the rest of the population. Often unable to own any property, uneducated, and weighed down with the constant demands of pregnancy and child rearing, women have not had the freedom to speak up. In many countries, this is still the case, of course. In our super-connected world, if we can allow them to speak, we give oppressed and powerless women the chance to tell their own stories, then perhaps or compassion will extend to thinking about and fighting for their rights.
It is only by listening and understanding each others stories that we can develop true compassion, and so grant people the human rights that they deserve.
Many other writers are taking part in Blog Action Day. A couple of great ones to check out:
I’m Guest Posting today over at ‘The Writer’s Shack‘ which is Riley Banks’ blog, with a bit of a grumble about Amazon. Riley makes a very pertinent comment on the post, about how non-US authors are treated. If enough people grumble, could it result in some changes to Amazon? You never know the strength of people power….