So back to the Oxford Literary Festival for one last time to hear some of The History Girls talk about their new anthology of historical short stories Daughters of Time. The History Girls is a collective blog that was the brainchild of Mary Hoffman, and now has 28 women writers of historical fiction (both adult and children’s/teen) and non-fiction regularly contributing, (they have an assigned day per month each).
The talk was in a small room off the main quad of Christchurch College – a very ‘keep off the grass’ type place, policed by wardens (formerly known as ‘Bulldogs’) in bowler hats. As always, I was early, and was directed to their little cafe but had a little wander through to the back gate instead, and stuck my head into the Cathedral – it’s a whole other ‘Bridesheady’ world still.
Back to the talk. The four authors at the table were Mary Hoffman, Penny Dolan, Celia Rees and Leslie Wilson. Although I’ve only read the excellent novel Witch Child by Celia Rees, I’ve had books for teens by Hoffman and Wilson on my shelves for some while. Penny Dolan writes for a younger audience. Mary introduced the foursome, and then two more of the History Girls in the room – Sue Perkiss and Katherine Langrish. Between them, I think they knew around half of the audience – maybe more!
Daughters of Time is an anthology of thirteen short stories together with background articles by the individual story authors about important women in English history, and goes from Boudicca to Greenham Common. Each story features a young woman, whether as the main character or an added character and the collection is aimed at older children upwards. Indeed, I hadn’t heard of some of the women featured, so it will be an education for me too to read.
Penny Dolan chose Mary Wollstonecraft – the author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft led a fascinating life and sounds a formidable woman. Dolan’s story is from the PoV of a girl who met her during her travels.
Celia Rees, was stuck on who to choose until a conversation with her daughter led her to choose Emily Wilding Davison – the suffragette who fell under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. The story starts at Victoria station where Davison buys a return ticket to Epsom, and befriends a young woman behind her in the ticket queue. Davison was a radical suffragette – the question is did she intend to use the return part or not? One interesting fact about her was that on the night of the 1911 census, she contrived to lock herself in a broom cupboard in the Houses of Parliament so she could put it down on the census – apparently Tony Benn arranged for a plaque to be put in the broom cupboard to celebrate this). All the authors urged us to always use our votes.
Leslie Wilson chose the Greenham Common women – she was one of them. Although she didn’t camp out with them, she lived nearby and helped out and got to know a group of women well. She proudly wore her badges. She remembers getting the call to go out at 2am on the night the cruise missiles arrived. Her story is told from the PoV of a teenager who runs away to join the women. Leslie was, and is proud of what they did – she even confessed that she has a police record herself from the time, but this grass roots movement did make an important difference – Leslie was almost moved to tears thinking of how close we came to nuclear war during those days.
Back to Mary Hoffman – whose own story is about Lady Jane Grey, the sixteen year old girl who became Queen for just 9 days. Mary was proud to say she has a family connection through her grandson, as her grandson’s father is a descendant of Catherine Gray, Jane’s younger sister.
There was just time for the other two History Girls in the audience to briefly introduce their chosen own daughters of time in the anthology. Katherine Langrish (who blogs at the excellent Seven Miles of Steel Thistles has written about Lady Julian of Norwich – the first woman known to have written a book in English, and Sue Perkiss – Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians and King Alfred’s eldest child.
The History Girls obviously all get on wonderfully together, and it was lovely to hear some of them talk. All six signed books at the end which was lovely – each signing on the title page of their own story in the volume. Celia Rees added ‘Vote!’ to her inscription. The History Girls is a wonderful blog – do go and visit it.
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Daughters of Timeedited by Mary Hoffman published March 1st by Templar Books, paperback