OK, I didn’t actually vote with my feet and leave the event with Sally Nicholls and Sheena Wilkinson on Saturday. It felt far too important and interesting, but as with the suffragettes, I had a fight on my hands to be allowed to sit where I needed to sit. Seems we haven’t won yet.
A group of suffragettes set the tone, starting the event by singing, which made it easier to imagine what it might have been like, at the time. And having a chair, Manon Bradley, from the Women’s Equality Party, was a nice move. The room was pretty full, but as someone asked, ‘where are the boys? Is our work not done yet?’ I’m guessing it’s down to the parents whether they think to take their sons to a suffragette book event. Or not. They certainly took their daughters. As did I.
Sally started off with a reading from Things a Bright Girl Can Do; the part where they march in Hampstead. Sheena followed with her Star by Star, about Stella who ends up moving to relatives in Ireland when her mother dies from the Spanish flu. The excerpt from a dinner table discussion about women voting, made me really want to read the book.
Both Sally and Sheena had been offered the opportunity of writing their books, and both of them managed to resist the idea for maybe ten seconds before caving in. Sally had already written on the subject in her War Girls short story, about the women who could never marry, while Sheena was inspired by a fantastic history teacher at school.
Sheena loves research. She read the newspapers for details, one example of which was so gruesome I’ve chosen to forget it already. They both seem to like their heroines angry. Sally particularly enjoyed the language, making Evelyn angry, and Sheena’s Stella fights for what she wants.
Sally prefers to write directly, saving the editing until later. She doesn’t write chronologically, so has several scenes on the go. Sheena admires Sylvia Pankhurst, and spoke about an Irish heroine and fine writer [whose name I didn’t catch…].
And I’d say the girls who came, went away feeling empowered. The best for me, though, were the personal memories relating to the suffragette movement, shared by some of the older women in the audience.