International Women’s Day - Inspirational Women

On the 8th March we’ll be celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the names of some of the female authors that have inspired us the most and paved the way for generations to explore their own voice. Two of our writers, Rebecca Perkin and Melanie Whitlock, have each selected three of their favourites. The following have been chosen because they have had an impact on us individually and throughout the world, be it through the authors’ written word, or through their personal outlook on life.

(Rebecca’s Choices)

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is an author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, critical essays, and graphic novels. She has had work published in more than forty-five countries and has received many awards and recognitions, including the Franz Kafka Prize and the Booker Prize.

Perhaps most famous for her novels The Handmaid’s Tale and the sequel The Testaments, Margaret Atwood has said she prefers to call these and many of her other works “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction”. In a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour she explained: “Somebody asked me on Twitter recently, 'How do you come up with this shit?’ My answer was, ‘It’s not me who has come up with it, it’s the human race over the past 4,000 years.’”

In 2017 a TV series of The Handmaid’s Tale was aired on the streaming service Hulu. The series has gained a mass following of both those familiar and unfamiliar with Atwood’s work. This allowed her to gain new recognition and more followers from all around the world.

For those who aren’t familiar with Atwood’s other works, some of her most loved and well-known novels include: Hag-Seed, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin (Booker Prize-winner). Her novels tend to have strong female protagonists and each have her beautifully written prose that many have come to admire.

Some might say it is the recognition and prizes Atwood has won which is what inspires them, but what I admire about Margaret Atwood is her openness to challenge - not only ideas but people themselves. Though many have commented on ‘feminism’ being a running theme through her works, Atwood has often rejected this label, stating you cannot know how the term is being used until you know what the person means when using it.

Her writing constantly raises questions on topics such as religion, equality, and the limits and ethics of science and technology which is something I strive for in my own writing. It is this way of thinking as well as her passion for the environment and the human race overall, which I think is an inspiration and greatly needed in our world.

Dame Carol Ann Duffy

Many people fear they don’t understand poetry and therefore conclude they do not like it, but Carol Ann Duffy manages to write poems that people from all walks of life can relate to. They are understandable but that’s not to say they are simple. She is clearly a master of the art form with many readers and reviewers celebrating her witty, yet sensitive representations of love and loss as well as gender and oppression.

I enjoy and admire the way in which Duffy thinks about life from other peoples’ points of view. Her collection of poems entitled The World’s Wife does just that with perspectives from women who are linked to well-known male figures such as Darwin, Freud and Pontius Pilate. The poems all include a great deal of humour which is perhaps why they are so relatable and well-liked.

Duffy has had many poetry collections published, to include Standing Female Nude, The Other Country, The World’s Wife, and Rapture. She has also written plays such as Take My Husband, and Little Women, Big Boys. Since the beginning of 21st century she has written children’s picture books and had a children’s poetry collection published, proving she can write for all ages.

Perhaps one of her biggest awards was serving as the first women poet laureate of Great Britain from 2009-2019. Other awards include the Scottish Arts Council Award, the Whitbread (now Costa) Book Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2015 she was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire.

It is suffice to say that Scottish-born Carol Ann Duffy has had many accomplishments in her life (with I’m sure more to come), proving, regardless of gender, sexuality or status you can achieve what you desire in this world.

Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier was a best-selling female author whose major influence began in the 1930’s. There are a number of female authors from that era who topped the charts and wrote books that have since become classics, but few who wrote such masterful suspense pieces and gritty female protagonists than Du Maurier.

With quiet determination, Du Maurier published her first novel, The Loving Spirit at just twenty-two-years-old. From there she went on to write many novels, short stories and plays, including Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel, and The Birds.

What I find interesting about Daphne Du Maurier is the way others describe her. She has been defined as a ‘solitary’ and ‘private’ person, as well as ‘kind and helpful in a quiet way.’

These are traits that would typically be thought to suit a romantic novelist – something Du Maurier was labelled as for a long time. In fact, this was not what her books were about at all. Her stories were often quite dark with unexpected twists – it is this juxtaposition that I love and admire about her.

Many of Du Maurier’s novels and short stories were adapted for the big screen with a number of them directed by Alfred Hitchcock – in my mind the perfect pairing for such stories. The Birds is perhaps one of Du Maurier’s most famous screen adaptations and one which I think proves how good a storyteller she was, seeing as it was a short story not a novel – something many who’ve seen the film but not read the story don’t realise.

Du Maurier was so widely admired that her stories are still read, shared and studied today in schools and universities, alongside those who still read her works just for the pleasure of them.

One of my favourite Du Maurier character quotes comes from Rebecca, one of her most studied novels: “Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.” (Rebecca, 1938)

(Melanie’s Choices)

Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is not only an icon of the literary world, but also in the movement of women’s rights. Her life and work have been under the microscope numerous times with authors, lecturers and Hollywood investigating and taking on her formidable story.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus as it was initially titled was published in 1818; famously born from a nightmare whilst enjoying a bohemian summer in Geneva with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and Claire Clairemont. Gothic horror and romantic were the initial genres attached to the title, however many scholars upon review have now credited the work with being the 'first science fiction novel’. It is well known that due to the time period, Shelley had to fight for her right to have her name appear as the author.

Originally it had been suggested by publishers that she use her husband’s name. However, with the support of her husband, documented in one of his poems, she published under her own name. A monumental moment not only in women’s history but also literature.

As well as focusing on her own writing she also helped edit and promote a lot of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s work too.

Whilst having such great achievements and accolades to her name, we must also remember that Mary Shelley’s life was not one of happiness. Though moments of euphoria were captured through her husband and Lord Byron’s work, Mary’s life was filled with grief and depression. Alongside her husband’s affairs, Mary also suffered numerous miscarriages along with the deaths of her born children.

These events led her into a deep depression that isolated her from the world; the only source of comfort being her writing. There is a lot of evidence to now suggest that these events inspired her works.

Throughout all the pain, this woman managed to continue to bring to life the words that she loved. To thrive in a man’s world. A true inspiration to us all.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, author and civil rights activist with a career spanning over 50 years. She became a writer and poet, after working numerous jobs of which included being a cook, sex worker, nightclub performer and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonisation of Africa.

There are numerous notable moments in her career which make her one of the many icons of International Women’s Day. In 1968 she was asked by Martin Luther King Jr. to organise a march.

Despite having almost no experience she wrote and co-produced Blacks, Blue and Black! A ten-part documentary series about the connection between blues music and African American heritage. And in 1969 she published her first of several autobiographies I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Whilst being at the forefront of many notable historical moments throughout her life, when she spoke of her own life she did so eloquently and informally. Throughout her autobiographies she has discussed topics of heritage, marriage and her life as a sex worker. Never hiding from the background or decisions that led to the life she led.

In a 1995 interview with Context Magazine she said: “I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, ‘I never did anything wrong. Who Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.’ They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think ‘Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.’ They then can’t forgive themselves and get on with their lives.”

Constance Hall

Constance Hall exploded across our social media platforms when a post in January 2016 from her Facebook writing blog titled ‘Parent Sex’ went viral. The post consisted of discussing the very relatable struggle to find an intimate moment with your partner, children’s mother/father in between the daily joys and woes of raising children. Since then she has accumulated a massive 1.1million fans on Facebook and 600k followers on Instagram, sharing her massively successful and often NSFW mum blog.

Her brutal, yet honest take on motherhood and marital life has been praised throughout the world and been at the forefront of her two best selling autobiographies Like A Queen and Still A Queen. Her third and latest novel is taking on fiction mixed with non-fiction.

Happily Ever... F*** That follows the character Paige and her life navigating romance and the expectations of women within relationships. Critically acclaimed and with rave reviews pouring in from the public on the funny, relatable and often heartbreaking realities we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives, it looks like the third piece from Mrs Hall is well on the way to greatness too.

What makes Constance an ideal icon for International Women’s Day is her ability to reassure, talk and help those all around the world. Just like the ladies mentioned above in this article, their reach has been greater than what they ever expected and often they’ve experienced significant hurdles across the way. Nothing has ever stopped them from sharing their work and joy across the world.

Constance recently did her first TedTalk. Having been the subject of vast amounts of online abuse, her and her family have taken a stand and publicly spoke about what needs to change within the world of social media and how bullying should be tackled by individuals and authorities full stop.

As well as this she donates a percentage of her profits from her business and books to charities overseas that see therapy and safe environments to the victims of assault and sexual abuse in Kenya.

She, and all the women mentioned in this article, are a true inspiration on this International Women’s Day.

Written by Rebecca Perkin and Melanie Whitlock

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