In 2018 writer Miranda Roszkowski curated a podcast to mark the centenary of the first womens’ vote, which brought together 100 diverse and inspiring stories from 100 female identifying writers from around the UK. You may remember us talking about the 100 Voices for 100 Years project in our #IWD2018 feature here, when the brilliant Croydon Cycle Theatre duo Amy Foster and Vanessa Hammick hosted a #Vote100 season including a cycle rally where some of Miranda’s ‘100 voices’ authors spoke. Although Miranda doesn’t hail from our borough (she actually lives on a boat somewhere on Britain’s waterways) there are a fair few Croydon-linked stories in the 100 Voices project, including ones from Amy and Vanessa, and erm, Angela and myself.
You’re probably wondering why I am talking about this now? Well this year Miranda is working hard to turn the podcast into a book. With contributions by award-winning writers like Yvonne Battle-Felton and Sabrina Mahfouz and a foreword by Deborah Frances-White of the Guilty Feminist, plus all the Croydon-linked folk, this will be a book you’ll want on your shelves.
Now nearly 75% funded, we caught up with Miranda, who invited Amy and Vanessa to join her, to chat more about turning 100 Voices into print, and there is an exclusive Croydonist offer to boot.
Croydonist: First up, how did the three of you meet?
Amy: I am the link! Vanessa and I did drama together at school, and then I went on to study French and Drama at Birmingham Uni where I met Miranda. So we’ve all always taken an interest in each other’s projects, and as we’ve got older we’ve found our interests started to overlap even more. As 2018 (the 100 year anniversary of the first women getting the vote in the UK) rolled around, Miranda launched 100 Voices and we invited her to talk about it at our Suffragette event at the David Lean cinema.
That’s how Miranda met a fair few of the writers who are now in 100 Voices – it was a fantastic evening – being in the same room as so many inspiring women was exactly the right launch the project needed!
Croydonist: How did the idea of the podcast first come about, and how tricky was it making your idea into a reality?
Miranda: The year before this all started, I was given a Votes for Women badge which I wore ALL the time. Some people used to ask what the point was, but to me it’s so important to remember that it wasn’t so long ago women couldn’t own property, couldn’t vote and weren’t counted. One day someone asked me what I’d be doing to mark the centenary. I hadn’t really thought about it! But when 2018 came around I felt that I absolutely had to do something, and it needed to be about women now, as well as a collaboration. I had the idea in the swimming pool, and as I talk about in my piece for 100 Voices, I wrote this email to basically everyone I knew – men and women, to ask for contributors or contacts. Once that was done I had to do it. Then I had to learn how to build a website (I used Squarespace which was ace but there are loads) and how to make a podcast. The biggest challenge was finding people – I didn’t know 100 writers at the time, let alone women who were happy to come forward when I was setting them quite a personal task. I knew I wanted to ask writers – because I really believe that the stories we hear influence how we see the world. We need to hear from voices that aren’t so well promoted, haven’t had the chances to share their experiences. The media, literature, politics is all dominated by men, and that’s changing, but so slowly. We hope to be a little booster.
Croydonist: Why do you feel it is important to have the 100 Voices stories in print?
Vanessa: Female writers are still under-represented in publishing, and when Miranda finished collecting all of these stories for the podcast, the collection was so impressive and diverse, she knew it had to be published.
Miranda: The writers have created a collection of stories that you wouldn’t normally hear, and having them in print, in a physical form, means they can’t be taken for granted. I am still a big fan of printed works, the smell, the feel of the pages. It becomes a thing of itself. Many of the writers are established and have successful books, but for some of them – especially those who don’t always tell stories through the printed word, so the playwrights, actors, spoken word artists, this will be the first time they’re printed. Plus we’ve added some new writers to our band like Yvonne Battle-Felton, who was longlisted for the Women’s Prize in 2019 for her novel Remembered, and Deborah Frances White of the Guilty Feminist will write us a foreward if we make it – and I for one REALLY want to read that!
Amy: Printing the stories creates a beautiful collection for people to read again and again, and hopefully it will take these stories forward into the future so a really diverse selection of women’s experiences are preserved; not just a select few.
Croydonist: This is probably a very difficult question but whose story most resonates with you?
Amy: There are so many magical stories in the book and I’ve really enjoyed hearing them performed again by the writers at the ‘Live’ events Miranda has been hosting on Instagram. It’s really emotional hearing them and I think the honesty in them all needs to be really celebrated, so finding one that particularly resonates seems unfair, when they’re all victories of storytelling.
Miranda: I fully agree – it’s impossible to pick. They genuinely all resonate with me. And I was so privileged to be the first person to have heard the recording when the writer sent it to me, so each time I listen again, at an event or just on the website, I’m taken back to that first moment. It was like being told a very beautiful secret. Which I then shared with the world! But if you listen to them, or when you read them in the book, I hope you’ll get the same feeling.
Croydonist: Out of the 100 voices represented there are quite a few Croydon-linked folk. Could you expand on a couple of these stories to whet our readers’ appetites?
Amy: There are a few stories from women with a strong link to Croydon and it came about through the event we mentioned earlier, where Miranda invited the entire audience to submit a story for the podcast. I remember her saying that she felt like if she had asked for stories of failure, instead of stories of success, she’d have been inundated and how so many people she’d reached out to had tried to pass the invitation on to their friends. It made us all really think about why, as women, it was hard for us to talk about something we felt we’d achieved and were proud of.
It feels really magical now to know that so many women who heard Miranda speak are now in the book. An example is Isabelle Clement, director of the inclusive cycling charity Wheels for Wellbeing had given a speech that evening about growing up with a disability in an able-bodied family and ‘coming out’ as a disability rights campaigner.
Another Croydon connection was writer and TV producer Ros Ball, who appeared at another Croydon Cycle Theatre event and it seems Miranda was destined to meet as they’d also been introduced totally separately by a friend from work. Ros shares a really heartwarming story that reflects on the parallel lives of Ros and her “Aunty” who lived 100 years ago, and how things have, and haven’t changed.
Croydonist: 2020 will definitely be a year that goes down in history. It’s interesting that the statues of Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst are mentioned in the 100 Voices promo [above]. In light of the recent debates on statues surrounding the Black Lives Matter campaign, how important do you think it is for our society that our statues are changed to reflect our population more equally rather than statues vastly being white men (some with quite frankly horrendous acts under their belts)?
Vanessa: I think it will be such a big indicator of change if we see a really noticeable shift in the different types of people that we choose to commemorate with statues. Personally, I think it is really good that people are questioning the statues around them, and engaging with them so viscerally; questioning who they are, why they are there and who they could be replaced with. What I find particularly interesting about our statues is how many of them were put up in the Victorian era. We talk about statues as being a part of history, but many monuments are a result of a Victorian construction of history that was creating a vision of the empire. I think it is healthy for us to have art on our streets that is a conversation about who can represent and lead Britain today.
Amy: Yes, and again it comes back to storytelling. Whose stories are being told? But also, who is telling them? The InVISIBLE Women campaign is doing amazing work to fundraise for more statues of women in public spaces to help us learn their stories of achievement, but it’s just as important to make sure that there is diversity amongst the artists creating these works.
Croydonist: Can you share with us one or two stories from the black female writers represented in 100 voices that particularly resonate with current times?
Miranda: We’ve been so lucky to have writers in our collection who have been really generous in talking about their experiences, especially in light of the murder of George Floyd. Lucy Thatcher’s poem Little Black Girl sums it up so well, talking about the vital importance of teaching our children to dream, but also of our history (and I think as white people we need to learn it much better). She talks about sharing stories, commemorating names – everything we believe in at 100 Voices. I was thrilled to speak to Lucy a couple of weeks after George Floyd’s killing, and she was so eloquent, and also positive. Her poem is available to listen to below.
Natalie Twum-Barima who will be one of the new writers featured in the collection wrote us a poem for Black History Month last year, pays tribute to the families of Windrush, which you can hear here.
And Jessica Hayles tells us a wonderfully uplifting piece about how her Nanny B, who came to the UK from Jamaica, has been a huge influence on her life. Listen here.
Croydonist: This year Covid-19 has changed the landscape of our society. How do you think women have been particularly impacted?
Vanessa: There’s no doubt that most of my female friends with children have had a really difficult and demanding time, and it’s dreadful to speculate on the situations for people in vulnerable groups, or those exposed to abuse. We also can’t ignore the harder impact on Black, Asian and ethnic minorities. The pandemic emphasises all social inequalities and it makes sense that this is fuelling a desire for deeper social change. I really appreciate the efforts of anyone who is personally contributing and trying to make sure it isn’t always the same people having to work extra hard to keep things afloat. The closure of schools, charities, day centres etc really makes you appreciate how much we need to support each other, and how much responsibility for caring and unpaid labour falls on women.
Croydonist: How have Croydon Cycle Theatre been involved in sponsoring the 100 Voices book?
Miranda: Amy and Vanessa have been SUCH brilliant collaborators, not only offering their own stories and connections but as such vocal supporters of the project. They always send me energising emails when I need it most (they have a sixth sense). And Croydon Cycle Theatre has part-funded 10 copies of the book for a discount price of £15 for people who are on lower incomes. If you’d like a CCT copy email firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy and Vanessa: Over 100 women have contributed the most incredible and original personal stories to this book. It’s such a beautiful publication, and over the last couple of years one of the best things has been meeting all of the women who contributed at various events. We’ve already seen it inspire a few of the writers to get their own books published, and we can’t stop imagining how validating and encouraging it will be for the authors to have their work printed and available in bookshops. It has been a herculean task for Miranda to get this project so far – but the benefit to everyone involved is so profound. We can’t believe she has managed to get it to 73% funding, it’s such great news and when it gets funded it will be cause for huge celebration for everyone involved. The book is a real cross section of our times, and it also makes a terrific gift!
Croydonist: Croydon has some rather marvellous literary connections past and present from the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Neil Gaiman to Sue Perkins, Elizabeth Sheppard, John Grindrod and even Henry James – who is your favourite Croydon-linked writer?
Vanessa: This is an exciting list! It would definitely be Neil Gaiman for me, with a special nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! But growing up in Croydon in the 90s was really inspiring – not least because of the Warehouse Theatre. They supported so much new writing, and being a playwright felt like an accessible thing thanks to their presence, which is pretty incredible.
Amy: Jill Murphy for me with ‘Five Minutes Peace’ holding a special place in my heart!
Miranda: All of the Croydon-linked writers in 100 Voices of course!
Croydonist: Miranda, you’re a writer by profession – when you’re not involved in ensuring womens’ stories are heard, what can we find you writing?
Miranda: Ha! 100 Voices is taking up most of my free time at the moment but now we are nearly at 75% funded it is a thorough pleasure to think that I’ll be printed along with you, Angela, Amy, Vanessa and a whole load of amazing writers. When that’s done I’ll get back to my novel – which is a gothic mystery set in a sleepy village in Italy with a secret past.. (dramatic music)…
Croydonist: At the time of our interview your book is 73% funded with 373 supporters – How can our readers help get 100 Voices into print?
Miranda: Momentum is really building for the book now which is great to see, and we would love it if your readers could help us. We’ve got 10% off for the Croydonist readers, just go to the website, pick your reward and order, entering the code CROYDON10 at the checkout*. You’ll get your name in the book, be doing a great deed, and nabbing a bargain!
Huge thanks to Miranda, Amy and Vanessa for chatting with us.
All images courtesy of 100 Voices.
*The discount code CROYDON10 for 10% off 100 Voices expires on 31st August 2020
Posted by Julia