Review by Liz Dexter
We need to read about the achievements of women, not least because we are constantly reminded of the achievements of men, who are more confident in asserting their views, their voices and their bodies into our cultural space. Moreover, we need role models of all female identities, ethnicities, class and personality types to remind our younger generations that they are not starting from scratch, that women have gone before them, and that where they are ambitious, someone might have already blazed a trail, even if it is overgrown.
To mark 100 years since (some) women were allowed to vote in the UK, Miranda Roszkowski started a podcast, running for 100 days, celebrating the achievements of female-identifying people. I don’t think she had all 100 when she started but it snowballed and now here’s the book of the podcast (and a few more people), produced by professional writers in the main, many holding prize awards and qualifications, but not many household names. They do include Women’s Prize long-listed author Yvonne Batlle-Felton, playwright in residence at the Globe Theatre Sabrina Mahfouz and disability campaigner Isabelle Clement, I recognised Ros Ball who wrote The Gender Agenda, and there’s a foreword by Deborah Frances-White of the Guilty Feminist podcast.
The way the women were collected, via a sort of snowball sampling, means that the project ran through networks of women in similar areas, so there are quite a lot of pieces about people “finding their voice” as writers or actors: this is particularly great reading, then, for people who want to go into those fields. There are other achievements and topics, of course, from a hugely diverse cast of writers, from keeping relationships going to doing charity walks (and the odd marathon, though not as many as I’d somehow expected), to daring to move cities, learning to dive even when afraid of swimming and then experiencing the Boxing Day tsunami, overcoming infertility, becoming a political activist in later life – the list goes on!
Although the pieces are mainly life writing and memoir, a good few of them also share fictional pieces the contributors have written, with notes on their creation, which means even a hardened fiction buff will find something approachable and familiar here – there’s a lot of flash fiction, an area that seems to be particularly accessible to busy women finding a voice. There are content warnings where there need to be, as of course if you’ve got 100 pieces by varied women, some of them are going to be around abuse.
The book ends with a reflection by the editor on her worries and her own struggle to produce a piece about the achievement of the podcast, nicely rounding things off. She also apparently thought there would be more stories about bungee-jumping when she started! A book with something to inspire anyone. Oh, and all the contributors decided to donate their profits to charity, and they’re going to Rosa UK which makes grants to grassroots women’s organisations.
Liz Dexter has achieved a few things in her time and probably doesn’t shout about them enough. She blogs about reading, running and working from home at http://www.librofulltime.wordpress.com.
Miranda Roszkowski (ed.), 100 Voices: 100 Women Share their Stories of Achievement (Unbound, 2022). 978-1800181038, 415 pp., paperback.
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