Blog: Jane

The founder and director of For Books' Sake
on empowering female writers

Hero image

Rewind the clocks back to last June and this is where I was: sitting on the gangway steps of the auditorium in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, listening to crime fiction queen Dame Denise Mina talk about punk and publishing, about how you can’t let barriers and gatekeepers get in the way of using your voice and telling your story. I was exhausted, over-emotional, close to bawling and in love with Denise’s attitude and aplomb. She concluded her lecture by telling everyone: “You’re never going to get enough affirmation, so you have to just fucking do it.” It was energising, affirming and everything I needed to hear.

I was sitting on the floor because every seat in the theatre was filled, with almost a hundred emerging women writers from across the UK. I’d been awake since 4am and it was the final day of the first ever Grrrl Con, an entire-weekend extravaganza of workshops, talks and performances aimed at revolutionising women writers’ craft, confidence and sense of community.

A collaboration between Write Like a Grrrl and For Books’ Sake, Grrrl Con 2016 was organised by a tiny volunteer team of three: Write Like a Grrrl creator Kerry Ryan; author of This Changes Things and winner of the latest Lucy Cavendish Prize for Fiction, Claire Askew; and me. We’d worked tirelessly for months on end to put Grrrl Con 2016 together, and – by that last day of last year’s event – we knew we were onto something special. We’d had amazing feedback, seen women of all backgrounds and career levels sharing support, ideas, resources and advice, and our attendees were already asking how they could book their ticket to the next one.

So next month, we’re doing it all again. This time, we’re bringing Grrrl Con to Manchester across three days and venues, with a line-up featuring literary legends like Scarlett Thomas, Patience Agbabi, Jenn Ashworth, Rosie Garland, Cheryl Martin and Leone Ross among many more. With workshops on everything from graphic novels and stage shows to activism, editing and smashing the inner critic, I couldn’t be prouder of the programme we’ve put together.

But don’t just take my word for it. Edinburgh-based author Natalie Fergie described Grrrl Con 2016 as the “highlight of last summer”. I asked her to share her experience of last year’s event:

“I met writers I have admired for years, and did workshops which pushed my boundaries (always a good thing). Every bit of the programme was useful, from learning about world-building, to getting a greater understanding of the role of agents in the publishing process. I even did an open mic event for the first time – that was quite a milestone!

“I’m going back this year – there is no way I would miss it. There is a different group of speakers, and I also hope to reconnect with writers I met last June. My debut novel has just been published (The Sewing Machine, out now from Unbound), and in no small part that’s down to the support and advice I’ve had from my Write Like a Grrrl tutor and the amazing cohort of women I met while doing the workshops.

“I’m far from being the only Grrrl Con attendee to achieve personal writing milestones; others have read their work at an International Book Festival, been published in the national press, had novels accepted, got themselves an agent and even set up their own publishing company. These are the tangibles, but I also know from talking to friends that all of us are still writing in some form, and for a small organisation to empower women in this way is quite an achievement.”

Write Like a Grrrl and For Books’ Sake both focus on supporting and championing writing by women, empowering women to tell their stories and have their voices heard. With systemic institutionalised sexism still a problem in publishing, theatre and the media (evidenced by research from VIDA, the British Theatre Consortium and others), and in the face of widespread cuts to the arts, we want to provide women writers with essential opportunities to access the tools, insights and inspiration they need to develop their writing journeys and careers. Grrrl Con 2017 will do just that – strengthening emerging and aspiring women writers’ skills, courage and confidence, and giving our attendees a renewed sense of direction and determination.

As Natalie explains: “You’ll come away with ideas, energy and a feeling of ‘I can do this.’” Just like Denise Mina said.

Find the full programme and buy tickets for Grrrl Con 2017, 16-18 June in Manchester

Interact: Responses to Blog: Jane

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.