10 Stories About Mothers and Daughters | Mothers Day

As it is Mother’s Day, here is a lovely article from the Guardian by Meike Ziervogel about her favourite Mother-Daughter stories. Perhaps there will be a few to add to your TBR pile… Enjoy!


Sons separate from their fathers to become men – many stories have focused on this challenge. But it’s also true that daughters have to break away from their mothers – and much less has been written on this subject.

The day after I graduated from high school, I boarded a train. I left my home town, my country, my language. For the next 10 years I believed I had truly found my own identity. It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first child, a daughter, that it dawned on me: I hadn’t even begun to separate from my mother. If I wanted to show my daughter how to become content as a woman, I had to look far more closely first at myself as a daughter before being able to become the mother – and the grownup daughter – I wanted to be.

I write to understand myself better. Each story is an exploration, a journey, a search for something I cannot express in any other way. Mother-daughter relationships have been my preoccupation over the past 20 years. So it is no surprise that my first two novellas – Magda and Clara’s Daughter – both deal with that subject.

Here are some of the books that have inspired me:

1. The Great Mother by Erich Neumann (translated from the German by Ralph Manheim)

Ever since the dawn of western civilisation, we have lived within patriarchal structures. So what has happened to the feminine in our human subconscious? The philosopher and psychologist Neumann was a student of Carl Jung. In this classic he traces the representation of the feminine from the beginning of image-making in caves via mythological storytelling to monotheistic religions. A psychologically insightful and thought-provoking read.

2. The Book of Ruth (Authorised King James Version)

Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, know how to play the game and pull strings in Old Testament times. The story presents us with a poetic reminder of how narrow traditional roles for women were – even if at first glance it might appear there was space for self-defined manoeuvre.

3. The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik (translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin)

A young woman is locked in a room by her mother. Or is she? The best book I’ve ever read on the internal struggles of a daughter to break away from the mother, and why it is so important to persevere.

4. A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir (translated from the French by Patrick O’Brian)

This is a masterpiece. De Beauvoir describes her mother’s final days and reflects on their relationship in view of the imminent death. It is written with empathy and honesty by a woman who has come to terms with a difficult mother. A wise book.

5. Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton

Anne Sexton wrote brilliant poetry. But she was also bipolar and incapable of fulfilling her role as mother. Linda Gray Sexton’s intelligent, harrowing account of her childhood made me realise that women artists and writers who descend into a dark space for their art have a duty towards their children to climb back into the light on a daily basis.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The mother of all mothers is Mrs Bennet. She has five daughters, and no higher aspiration than to find husbands for them. At the end of the book the author sighs: “I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire … [made] her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life …” I guess that wish will not be realised. A hugely entertaining read.

7. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

A medieval Italian castle, two beautiful young women held captive by their authoritarian father and, from the vault underneath the floorboards, a mysterious knocking. A fantastic mother-daughter tale complete with a handsome lover and a happy end.

8. The Devil Kissed Her: The Story of Mary Lamb by Kathy Watson

Mary Lamb, sister of Charles Lamb, friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth, co-author of the children’s classic Tales from Shakespeare, killed her mother in 1796. Watson draws a vivid picture of the woman and the times and lets us ponder: was Mary a criminal – or was her society mad?

9. The Glass Essay by Anne Carson

“My mother has a way of summing things up. / She never liked Law much / but she liked the idea of me having a man and getting on with life.” The poet Anne Carson is a master of precise simplicity. This is a poem as much concerned with the end of a love affair as the mother-daughter relationship. After all, the narrator ends up sitting yet again in her mother’s kitchen.

10. On Matricide: Myth, Psychoanalysis and the Law of the Mother by Amber Jacobs

The goddess Athena sprang forth fully armed from the head of her father, Zeus. The part of the legend far less well-known is that Zeus had swallowed the pregnant Metis, and it was she who gave birth to Athena inside Zeus. Jacobs here offers a brilliant reinterpretation of the Oresteia myth, and in doing so shows us how we can change our thinking. It’s a must-read (and you don’t have to have read the Oresteia first).

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Via: https://www.theguardian.com/books/top-10-stories-mothers-daughters

Women Write Now | International Women’s Day 2018

Women's-Day

It is International Women’s Day 2018, and to mark this great day Waterstones is celebrating women writers past and present.

This International Women’s Day, as we celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote in Britain, we bring together our selection of 100 books which represent the wealth and diversity of women’s writing throughout history. Historians, novelists, thinkers, activists, campaigners, scientists and politicians; pioneering women of the past, inspirational voices of the future.

There are some fantastic books available on their site, and if you are an avid reader like me then this is a great excuse to see what’s available and pick up a few more books.

Check out the store here even if it is just to admire the wealth of women writers available and be inspired by the many amazing things they’ve written over the years.

Happy International Women’s Day! x

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Waterstones Women Write Now Campaign: https://www.waterstones.com/campaign/international-womens-day

Claire Dyer on Research and Imagination | The Literary Sofa

Claire-Dyer.jpg

My lovely friend, Isabel Costello of The Literary Sofa, has been talking to Claire Dyer about her new book The Last Day. Here is what they had to say…


Today I am delighted to welcome the first of my Spring Spotlight guests, poet and novelist Claire Dyer. Her novel The Last Day is published by the independent Dome Press, who appear to have an eye for the magic combination of literary merit and broad appeal.  It is very much my kind of book and in my review at the end you can find out why.  But first let’s hear Claire’s thoughts on something which has always preoccupied writers and fascinated readers: the delicate balance between research and imagination in writing fiction:

I once heard that James Joyce trod the pavements of Dublin to make sure it took precisely thirteen minutes to get from point A to point B so he could represent this faithfully in his writing. Also, Wilkie Collins was known to consult astronomical charts to ensure he had a firm grasp of exactly what kind of moonlight fell on the precise night about which he was writing. In addition I also read somewhere that Audrey Niffenegger carefully researched paper making so she could write authentically about Clare’s work in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

However, authors also make stuff up, and it’s achieving a balance between research and imagination that fascinates me and is the topic I wish to explore whilst I’m here on Isabel’s Literary Sofa.

I too have embarked on many and varied types of research: I’ve done pottery lessons (for The Moment), travelled to Athens (for The Perfect Affair), interviewed carpenters, estate agents, doctors, florists, gardeners, bankers and many more to gain insights into the professions I have chosen for my characters along the way. I’ve also checked out train routes, fashions, newspaper headlines, TV listings, the music hits of the day on the internet; I’ve trawled through photographs, books, stared at Google Maps, sent detailed questionnaires to family and friends both here and in the US and have even stood on Newgale Sands in Pembrokeshire breathing in the salty air to help me prepare for the final scene in one of my books. I’ve visited the London Aquarium, Kew Gardens, the Surrey hills and plumbed deeply personal experiences of birth and death and the many stages in between.

I even visited a medium for a scene in my latest novel, The Last Day, a decision which produced a very surprising result. I went fully prepared to take notes, remain unmoved by anything she said and only think of my character, Honey, while I was there. However, half way through the session, the medium told me my mother, who had died when I was a girl, had arrived and wanted to say something to me. I can’t pretend it wasn’t a shock, one that I’m still coming to terms with, and it made me realise that sometimes the line between research and imagination can get very blurred indeed.

Yet amongst all this fact-finding, my imagination is churning away because in the foreground of all this research are my characters and their stories and it’s for them I have to get it right.

And what if I get it wrong? I remember when researching for the day at the races scene in The Perfect Affair, I looked up which horse had won which race, I studied the notes I’d made when I’d been to the races to remind myself of the small details, like how the tannoy sounds, how the horses skitter to the starting post, the press of bodies, the sweat on the animals’ flanks in the winners’ circle, and yet my scene was set in the 60s and so it was only when I pulled up some photographs on the internet that I realised two very important small details which I nearly missed. The first was that all the men in the pictures were wearing hats and the second was that the majority of the punters were smoking. And so, in my scene, I had my characters take off their hats when they arrive in the function room, which itself fills with the smoke of numerous cigarettes as the day progresses.

What if I deliberately fudge the issue? There have been times when I’ve been less than exact about road names, or the distances between places, or timelines, and also when I’ve used a little bit of artistic licence because to me such facts could be in danger of getting in the way of the all-important story. I do feel guilty about this but, on balance, I believe that it’s best for writers to try and achieve a balance between what’s made up and what’s real so that our readers (and, after all, the reader is the person for whom we are writing) can be immersed in the narrative, lose themselves in the ups and downs of our characters’ lives without worrying too much about whether the weather on the particular day in question was actually sunny or not.

And what is getting it right? Is it this immersion, this losing of oneself in the world of the novel? I think it is. And I guess I’m lucky because at least I can check my facts (if I wish to) whereas others who, for example, write fantasy novels can’t. They make up their worlds, they invent currencies, modes of transport, food, clothes and complete ways of life and I admire them greatly for doing so. I don’t think I ever could. And there are even those who like Laini Taylor blend the real with the imagined. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone which I read recently for BBC Radio Berkshire’s Radio Reads, she seamlessly melds modern-day Prague with a fantastical world of angels and monstrous creatures and gives them all hearts and consciences, hopes and fears. It is a huge achievement and one I admire immensely.

I shall continue to base my stories in this world, whether it be now or ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago and I shall do my utmost to mix fact with fiction, the exact with the inexact, research with imagination in the hope that my characters will have room to breathe and a voice with which to tell their stories.

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See the original article, including a review of Claire’s book, The Last Day, here: https://literarysofa.com/2018/03/02/guest-author-claire-dyer-on-research-and-imagination/

And check out more fantastic author interviews and book reviews on Isabel’s blog: the Literary Sofa.

10 Of The Most Powerful Female Characters In Literature

Strong-Fictional-Women

Since March is Women’s History Month, we’ve been thinking a lot about the women who have had positive and lasting impacts on our lives — and perhaps not surprisingly for a bunch of literary geeks like us, we’ve realized that many of them are fictional. For all the hullabaloo about the dearth of strong female characters in modern culture, thankfully there are some wonderfully powerful, kick-ass maidens that have inspired us with their strength, self-discovery, and incredible brilliance over the years. See our list of ten of the most powerful female characters in literature below, and then be sure to pipe up with your own suggestions — we’ve chosen the ten who resonate most deeply with us, but since there are many more than ten strong ladies in literature (thank goodness), we want to know which ones blow you away on a daily basis.

Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre

One of the earliest representations of an individualistic, passionate and complex female character, Jane Eyre knocks our socks off. Though she suffers greatly, she always relies on herself to get back on her feet — no wilting damsel in distress here. As China Miéville wrote, “Charlotte Brontë’s heroine towers over those around her, morally, intellectually and aesthetically; she’s completely admirable and compelling. Never camp, despite her Gothic surrounds, she takes a scalpel to the skin of the every day.”

Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter series

In the Harry Potter books, Hermione starts as an insufferable know-it-all, blossoms into a whip-smart beauty who doesn’t suffer fools (except Ron), and ends up as the glue that holds the whole operation together. Hermione’s steadfastness and sheer intelligence (plus the fact that she’s the only one who has ever read Hogwarts: A History) save her two best friends time and time again, and she’s the only one of the three never to wholly break down in a crisis. Intelligence often translates into strength, but only when wielded by a steady hand — and Hermione just happens to have both, and compassion to boot. That’s our kind of girl.

The Wife of Bath, The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer didn’t mean to make the Wife of Bath as big of a character as he did. Early drafts show that her role was meant to be much smaller and more one-dimensional, but somewhere along the line, Chaucer became enamored of his female creation, and eventually her prologue ended up twice as long as her tale. The Wife of Bath is lewd and lascivious — but behind all the dirty jokes, she’s making an argument for female dominance and a woman’s right to control her body, using her considerable rhetorical skill to simultaneously underscore and attack the anti-feminist traditions of the time. Not too shabby for 14th century literature.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games trilogy

Sure, Katniss annoys us no end with all her boy-related waffling and wailing, but any girl who can shoot like that deserves a place on this list. Not to mention the fact that she survived not one but two 24-person fights to the death, one of which was designed specifically to kill her. We’re just saying.

Hester Prynne, The Scarlet Letter

Though Hester Prynne, who is condemned by her Puritan neighbors for having a child out of wedlock, is sometimes seen as a victim, she manages to survive with dignity and faith throughout, which we think makes her pretty darn powerful. NPR has described her as being “among the first and most important female protagonists in American literature. She’s the embodiment of deep contradictions: bad and beautiful, holy and sinful, conventional and radical… [she] can be seen as Hawthorne’s literary contemplation of what happens when women break cultural bounds and gain personal power.”

Éowyn, The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Though Tolkien’s novels aren’t exactly known for their female protagonists, who could be more powerful than the woman who killed the Witch-king of Angmar? A shieldmaiden who is itching to defend her countrymen from the first minute we see her, Éowyn disguises herself as a man to follow her friends into battle. Bad guys should be careful making statements like “No living man can kill me” when they’re fighting ladies.

Lyra Silvertongue, His Dark Materials trilogy

Not only is she the instrumental piece in a literally cosmic war, the unruly and headstrong Lyra, who is twelve years old at the beginning of the trilogy, can do something no one else can: read the alethiometer, which tells her the truth of the present and future. She wins the hearts of those around her through her strong convictions, and earns the name “Silvertongue” after using her wits to fool the unfoolable. After all, words are the most powerful weapons of all.

Janie Crawford, Their Eyes Were Watching God

A remarkably independent woman, Janie Crawford’s strength is in her ability to keep on going, no matter what her life throws at her, and to uphold her dignity throughout. She challenges the conventions of who should love whom and what leads to a happy life, her experience leading her on a journey towards an acute self-realization.

Hua Mulan, The Ballad of Mulan

Though you may know Mulan best from the Disney film, she was originally imagined in the 6th century Chinese poem The Ballad of Mulan and has since been reinterpreted in various literary and non-literary forms. Unlike in the Disney version, which features a bumbling girl trying to be a soldier, the traditional figure is a totally bad-ass seventeen year old, already a martial arts and weapons expert — just things she picked up on the side because she was too smart to be totally happy with her life of weaving. She goes to war in place of her father, wins all over the place, and then comes home and returns to her normal life. No big deal.

Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series

The powerful female protagonist of the hour is also one of the strongest women on this list. A world class computer hacker with a photographic memory, she’s also the survivor of an abusive childhood, which makes her a fiercely anti-social heroine with a violent streak. Characterized by many as a “feminist avenging angel,” Lisbeth’s brutality is nothing to aspire to — but she sure gets the job done.

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Via http://flavorwire.com/265847/10-of-the-most-powerful-female-characters-in-literature/view-all