All the advice says ‘write what you know’ so as a women writer, writing about women, you do already have a certain heads up; a certain potential authenticity and empathy. I’m sure everyone would agree, writing is a totally immersive experience which requires curiosity, the skill to convey and a stomach for tons of plain hard work. When choosing to write about women in history, the research element becomes all consuming: nevertheless, exhilarating. Off you journey to other places, other times.
Choosing to step into the worlds of other women you bring a certain psyche, one informed by your lived experience as a woman. For example, most women faced with a walk through a park at night will think twice about taking that shortcut: you know your physical vulnerability. Having children leads you to a biological experience and emotional depths you cannot imagine. That also goes for women who cannot have children or who choose not to: think about the range of emotions and judgements they experience.
One of the most haunting books I read was the controversial Sophie’s Choice. A central element of the novel’s plot, the personally catastrophic choice referred to in the title, is said to have been inspired by a story of a Romani woman who was ordered by the Nazis to select which of her children was to be put to death. A horrendous choice! Writing about other women, in other time periods or places requires a respectful amount of research, through which you discover and understand the remarkable breadth of women’s bravery in the face of the most appalling situations.
All the while, you ask yourself, what would I have done in those situations? Yet, when you think about women’s situations globally, sadly you realise that the brutalisation of women cannot be assigned to the history books – it’s still out there. There are so many stories of women still to be told.