Wait, Weep and Be Worthy?

I sacrificed my long lie BEING_HUMAN_LOGO_CMYK-310x125this Saturday to attend an exciting symposium at Glasgow Women’s Library  which was part of the Being Human Festival. Was it worth crawling out of bed a couple of hours earlier? Absolutely!

The title of the event was ‘Wait, Weep and Be Worthy? Women and the First World War’ and the programme was jam-packed with top class speakers – it was a no-brainer to sign up for this free event.


Women munition workers.

imagesReporting from France for the Saturday Evening Post in 1914, journalist Cora Harris concluded: ‘What men suffer through war is written in histories…but what women suffer is never written.’

The aim of the symposium was to explore the often neglected role of women during the First World War and its immediate aftermath.

The day kicked off with a presentation by Angela Smith on ‘The Impact of the First World War on the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage’’ followed by Martin Goodman on ‘Women as Carers in the First World War’. Both speakers were excellent and with stories and images of key figures from the period such as the Pankhurst family, Elise Inglis, Ruth Farnam and Nancy Astor they brought the issues to life.


Kate told us that it became something of a joke in the British army that when she arrived on the scene, the soldiers knew they were in trouble.

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Flora Sandes was the only British woman officially to serve as a soldier in WW1.

For me, the highlight of the day was Kate Adie, who has blazed a trail for women in journalism as Britain’s leading female war reporter.

Years ago I heard Kate speak about her media work and I knew she’d be superb and once again she had the audience hanging on her every word. She recounted her time in Serbia when she came across the story of a heroine named Flora Sandes and commended women like her for stepping out of their comfort zone to play a major part in WW1.

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When Elsie Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer them a ready-made Medical Unit staffed by qualified women, the War Office told her “Go home and sit still”. But the French government took up her offer and established her unit in Serbia.

WW1poster_web-217x310After a lovely lunch I joined a group of women for a creative writing workshop with Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh. We were asked to consider the type of women we’d heard about that morning and how their stories might inspire us to create a character who might write a letter about their experience in the war.

This exercise helped me to reflect on my next writing project and the impact of the Siege of Leningrad on women.

I wasn’t able to stay for the rest of the day’s programme but I left with a lot more knowledge of the role of women in WW1 as well as ideas to explore in my own writing.  That’s what I call a satisfying and successful Saturday!






Aye Write!

download (1)The name of Glasgow’s book festival, Aye Write!, is a clever play on words and derives from the Glaswegian phrase, “Aye, right,” a double positive which actually means a negative as in me saying,

‘I’m gonna run a marathon.’

‘Aye right!’

With one glance at my shape and size, that would be a Glaswegian’s automatic reply.

I’ve been a fan since Aye Write! started in 2005 and although it may not have the same international status (not yet anyway) as its big sister in Edinburgh, you’d find it hard to beat Aye Write! for bringing a better range of quality world-class writers to Glasgow or indeed Scotland. It also has the added bonus of being held in the landmark venue of the Mitchell Library ( I was lucky to go on a Behind the Scenes tour recently) so there’s no need to worry about your high heels sinking in a quagmire of muddy grass at outside venues.

In Planet Helen, I have unlimited time and money to attend every Aye Write! event that I fancy but unfortunately, in the real world where I’m forced to live, I have to be selective. This year, I was sneaky and guaranteed the company of my best friend Veronica by buying her tickets for her birthday.

images (1)download (4)I chose one of the events for personal reasons as my good friend, writer Karen Campbell was officially launching her latest book, This is Where I Am. This is Karen’s fifth book and as I’ve been at every other launch, there was no way I was missing this one. This new book is an exciting and brave departure from Karen’s previous series of novels and I’d recommend reading the review by Isabel Costello to find out more. I haven’t finished my copy but on what I’ve read so far, I promise that you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for a poignant account of the awkward relationship between Abdi, a Somali refugee and his mentor, newly widowed Debs when they meet once a month in a different part of Glasgow. But don’t worry that it might sound heavy on social issues, there’s plenty of the legendary Glasgow banter to make you smile too.

download (6)download (5)Karen was appearing alongside Kerry Hudson who was talking about her book, Tony Hogan Bought Me and Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. I blogged about Kerry’s event last year at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Needless to say, Kerry was just as interesting and entertaining this time too and I’d highly recommend her debut novel which tells the story of a traumatic childhood but in a funny and heart-warming read. And I’m looking forward to reading her next novel, Thirst which will be published early in 2014.

imagesdownloadWe also went to see Louise Welsh and Maggie O’Farrell to hear about their new books. I’m a massive Maggie O’Farrell fan and can’t wait to get stuck into her new book, Instructions for a Heatwave which is a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the heatwave of 1976. Maggie specialises in writing about dysfunctional families, and from the snippet she read, the Riordans sound as if they have their fair share of troubles. During the Q and A session, Maggie was witty and very inspiring about the writing process, especially when she quoted Samuel Beckett, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” With two novels written and neither of them published, this certainly struck a chord with me!

download (2)download (3)Louise’s latest, a psychological crime thriller, The Girl on the Stairs also interests me as it is set in Berlin, a city I visited a couple of years ago and found it a fascinating place. The taster she read out gave us a glimpse of the main character, Jane, a Scot living in Berlin who decides to turn detective and this has devastating results when her own past collides with the past of the building and its inhabitants.

Aye Write! was as good as ever this year with three interesting events, four top authors and two great meals out with my best pal (my love of eating out might help explain why I’m unable to run a marathon or even just run at all!).  The book festival is on until April 20th so maybe I could squeeze in another event or two…

What’s your favourite book festival? Which writers have inspired you at book events?