The new edition of The Women Writers’ Handbook, published by Aurora Metro, features poems, stories, essays and interviews with over 30 women writers, including doyens of contemporary literature along with emerging authors. Familiar names including A.S. Byatt, Carol Ann Duffy and Philippa Gregory appear, as does Emma Woolf, writing about her great-aunt, Virginia Woolf.
20% of profits from The Women Writers’ Handbook will go directly to the campaign for a full-sized statue of Virginia Woolf in Richmond where she lived with her husband, Leonard, from 1915 to 1924. The couple lived in Hogarth House where they started their own publishing company, Hogarth Press. It will be the first statue of Virginia in the UK, which seems astonishing, given that she is one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors.
Ann Sandham, Commissioning Editor for Ladybird Children’s Book at Penguin Random House, is the guest editor of this year’s edition which has been published to celebrate Aurora Metro’s 3oth anniversary as an indie publisher. The original Women Writer’s Handbook was launched in 1990 by Cheryl Robson, and a group of women writers to develop and publish new writing. Women in Publishing were so impressed, that they awarded the publishing team the Pandora Prize, and during the next 30 years, Aurora Metro continued to be pioneers in so many different areas: publishing contemporary plays by women, risking prosecution when they staged readings and published work by LGBT writers, and founding The Virginia Prize for Fiction; a biennial competition run with the aim of developing and publishing women novelists writing in English. Now regarded as one of the leading independent publishers in the UK with a fine list of over 200 international authors including Germaine Greer, Benjamin Zephaniah, Meera Syal, Suchen Christine Lim, Jean-Claude Carriere, Nawal el Saadawi and Mihail Sebastian. Importantly, Aurora Metro also develop and publish new authors and welcome submissions from unpublished authors as well as from agents and literary consultancies.
There is so much in The Women Writers’ Handbook for writers of all abilities. Beginning with a chapter by A.S. Byatt about choices she makes as a writer, and in particular, the difficult choices she had to make when writing the Booker Prize-winning, Possession.
There’s a fascinating interview with Kit De Waal who was published for the first time at age 56 with My Name Is Leon which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award.
Philippa Gregory writes a revelatory chapter in The Women Writers’ Handbook on early women writers, including the first original woman author, writing in English and putting her name in the text was – of all people – the last wife of Henry VIII, Kathryn Parr or Kateryn Parr as she signed herself. She published Lamentations of a Sinner in 1546 or 1547, after her husband’s death She had previously published anonymously a translation of Psalms and Prayers in 1544 and Prayers and Meditations in 1545.
There’s an incredibly moving interview with Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, who was the survivor of a forced marriage. Her memoir, Shame, and Daughters of Shame are Sunday Times’ Top Ten Bestsellers, and helped forced marriage become a criminal offence in 2014.
Anne Sebba asks the question if writers really do need a room of one’s own, or not? Do they thrive in noise or silence? And how to balance the solitariness of writing with the rest of life.
Emma Woolf discusses how she re-examined letters written by her great-aunt, Virginia Woolf, to try and understand why the early years of her career were so turbulent, and what role her marriage, Bloomsbury and the First World War played in her recurrent breakdowns.
The Women Writers’ Handbook finishes with some examples of Writing Workshops from the last 3o years, and an invaluable Resource Directory, compiled by Saskia Calliste, which offers a useful list of grants, organisations and publications, in and around the literary world. Many of these organisations have been set up to aid the progression of women, underrepresented groups in the industry, throughout the UK and abroad. This book is a must for any writer.
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