For Speaking Volumes’ tenth anniversary in 2021, we commissioned forty authors to contribute to our anthology Not Quite Right for Us, which included poetry, fiction, essays, play extracts and memoir. Here, thirteen of them, all older women from a wide range of backgrounds, share some writing tips to help you on your way.
Francesca Beard is an internationally acclaimed poet and spoken word artist who makes interactive and transformational work, often in collaboration. She’s written commissions for institutions such as The Barbican, The Tower of London and The Royal Court Theatre. As a facilitator, she’s worked with institutions such as BBC Radio 3, The Young Vic and All Change to create ambitious, public facing, participatory shows by and with communities. She has been artist in residence at The Banff Centre, Canada and The Mixed Reality Lab, Nottingham University. Her solo shows, such as Chinese Whispers, How to Survive A Post-Truth Apocalypse and Confabulation, were made in conversation with scientists and researchers, supported by Arts Council England. She comes from Malaysia and lives in London. www.francescabeard.com
Michelle Cahill is an Australian writer of Indian origin. Born in Kenya, she has lived in the UK and Australia. Her short stories Letter to Pessoa won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for New Writing and was shortlisted in the Steele Rudd Queensland Literary Awards. Her honours include the Hilary Mantel International Short Story Prize and ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize shortlist. She was a Fellow at Kingston Writing School, a Visiting Scholar in Creative Writing at UNC, Charlotte, USA, and a Fellow at Hawthornden Castle. Her poetry collection Vishvarupa has been released as a second edition with UWAP. Her essays have appeared in the Sydney Review of Books, Southerly, Westerly and The Weekend Australian. She edits Mascara Literary Review.
Aminatta Forna is a novelist, memoirist and essayist. Her novels are The Hired Man, The Memory of Love, Ancestor Stones and Happiness. In 2002 she published a memoir of her dissident father and Sierra Leone, The Devil that Danced on the Water. Her newest book of essays, The Window Seat, was published by Grove Press in 2021. She is the winner of a Windham Campbell Award from Yale University and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and has been a finalist for the Neustadt Prize, the Orange Prize, the Samuel Johnson Prize and the IMPAC Award. Aminatta was made an OBE in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours list. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and Director of the Lannan Center at Georgetown University.
Catherine Johnson lives in Hastings, she has written over twenty books for young readers, her most recent are To Liberty, published by Bloomsbury and Queen of Freedom, published by Pushkin. Other books include Freedom which won the Little Rebels Prize 2019 and was selected as the IBBY Book of the Year in 2020; Sawbones, which won the Young Quills prize for Historical fiction; and The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, which was nominated for the YA Prize. She also writes for film and television; her work includes Bullet Boy and an adaptation of Miranda Kaufman’s The Black Tudors for Silverprint Pictures.
Nazneen Khan-Østrem is a journalist, editor and writer. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, she was raised in the UK and Norway. She has a Masters in International Relations from London School of Economics. Her book, London: Immigrant City, written in Norwegian, came out to rave reviews in Norway in 2020. It was published in English translation in June 2021 by Robinson, an imprint of Little, Brown.
Cheryl Martin, co-Artistic Director of Manchester’s Black Gold Arts Festival, has worked as a poet, playwright and director. She was a former Associate Director at Contact Theatre and Director-in-Residence at Edinburgh’s Traverse. A Manchester Evening News Theatre Award winner as both writer (for the musical Heart and Soul, Oldham Coliseum Theatre) and director (of Iron by Rona Munro, Contact), Cheryl also co-produced and directed an Edinburgh Fringe First winner for the Traverse, entitled The World Is Too Much. Cheryl’s first solo stage show Alaska featured at 2016’s A Nation’s Theatre, and 2019’s Summerhall Edinburgh Fringe and Wellcome Festival of Minds and Bodies in London. Her new solo show One Woman won an Unlimited Wellcome Collection Partnership Award; it will premiere in 2021 at Manchester’s HOME, going on to a national tour including the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre. Cheryl was part of the 2019-2020 British Council Australia INTERSECT programme. She was born in the USA but has lived in the UK for several decades.
Raman Mundair is an Indian-born writer, artist, playwright and filmmaker. She identifies as a Queer, disabled, working-class British Asian intersectional feminist and is an activist based in Shetland and Glasgow. She is the award-winning author of Lovers, Liars, Conjurers and Thieves, A Choreographer’s Cartography and The Algebra of Freedom and is the editor of Incoming: Some Shetland Voices. Her short film Trowie Buckie was shortlisted for Sharp Shorts 2020. Raman has been invited to participate in the BBC Writersroom – Drama Writers’ Programme 2020.
Leone Ross was born in England and grew up in Jamaica. Her first novel, All the Blood Is Red, was long-listed for the Orange Prize, and her second, Orange Laughter, was chosen as a BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Watershed Fiction favourite. Her short fiction has been widely anthologised and her 2017 short story collection Come Let Us Sing Anyway was nominated for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Saboteur Awards and the OCM Bocas Prize. The Guardian has praised her ‘searing empathy’ and the Times Literary Supplement called her ‘a pointilliste, a master of detail…’. Ross has taught creative writing for twenty years, at University College Dublin, Cardiff University and Roehampton University in London. Ross worked as journalist throughout the 1990s. Her third novel, This One Sky Day, was published to great acclaim in 2021. She lives near London.
Olive Senior is the prize-winning author of eighteen books of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature. Her many awards include an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies, the Gold Medal of the Institute of Jamaica, Canada’s Writers Trust Matt Cohen Award for Lifetime Achievement, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her work has been widely anthologized and translated and is taught internationally. Her poetry book Gardening in the Tropics was on the CAPE syllabus for Caribbean schools and has been translated into several languages, most recently Arabic. She lives in Toronto but returns frequently to her Jamaican birthplace, which remains central to her work. Her book of Pandemic Poems which shared on social media during ‘the summer of Covid 19’ was published in 2020 and her collected poems, Hurricane Watch, came out in 2022. Olive Senior is the current Poet Laureate of Jamaica.
Gaele Sobott is a writer based in Sydney, Australia who has also lived in the UK, Botswana and France. Her published works include Colour Me Blue, a collection of short stories, and My Longest Round, a creative biography of boxer Wally Carr. Her most recent short stories appear in literary magazines such as New Contrast, Meanjin, Prometheus Dreaming, Hecate, Verity La and the anthology, Botswana Women Write. She is founder of Outlandish Arts, a disabled-led arts company. Gaele’s poetry films have been widely acclaimed and won prizes at various international film festivals over the last two years.
Bangladeshi-born Shagufta Sharmeen Tania initially trained as an architect. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in the Bengali-speaking areas of both Bangladesh and India. Now based in London, to date she has authored two novels, a compilation of novellas and four short story collections. She also translated Susan Fletcher’s Whitbread award-winning novel Eve Green from English to Bengali. Her work has appeared in Wasafiri, Asia Literary Review and the City Press. Currently, she is working on a novel set during the initial years of war-torn Bangladesh, and a fictionalised biography of a celebrated musicologist of Tagore songs. Shagufta was the recipient of the 2018 Bangla Academy Syed Waliullah Award for her contribution to Bengali Literature. She was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2022.
Selina Tusitala Marsh (ONZM, FRSNZ) is the former Commonwealth Poet, New Zealand Poet Laureate and acclaimed performer and author. In 2019 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to poetry, literature and the Pacific community. In 2020 Selina was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. An Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Auckland, Selina teaches Maori and Pacific Literature and Creative Writing. Selina has performed poetry for primary schoolers and presidents (Obama), queers and Queens (HRH Elizabeth II). She has published three critically acclaimed collections of poetry, Fast Talking PI (2009), Dark Sparring (2013) and Tightrope (2017). Her graphic memoir, Mophead (2019), won the Margaret Mahy Supreme Book in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and the PANZ Best Book Design for 2020.
Rafeef Ziadah is a Palestinian spoken word artist, academic and human rights activist based in London, UK who grew up in Canada. Her performance of poems like ‘We Teach Life, Sir’ and ‘Shades of Anger’ went viral within days of release. Her live readings offer a moving blend of poetry and music. Since releasing her first album, Rafeef has headlined many performance venues across several countries with powerful readings on war, exile, gender and racism. Rafeef’s latest album Three Generations offers a moving and powerful remembrance of Palestine, Al-Nakba, exile, defiance and survival. It is a beautiful testament to the human spirit, to ‘love and joy against skies of steel’.