Lena Rees speaks to Miranda Roszkowski on her project 100voicesfor100years.
“I wanted to create something so big it couldn’t be ignored,” Miranda Roszkowski says of her project 100voicesfor100years.
100voicesfor100years was started to commemorate the centenary of the women’s vote, with the aim to celebrate women’s narratives. It began as a podcast, then as a website, and is now to being made into a book, currently seeking publication through Unbound.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Miranda herself for this article, and two of the contributors Emma Halliday and Kate Jefford, who both submitted their stories to the website, and will now feature in the upcoming book.
100voicesfor100years features a hundred different stories from a collection of over a hundred women writers from all over the UK, sharing their achievements and experiences. The stories are mostly non-fiction, but there is also some poetry and flash fiction, each story completely unique. The result is heartwarming, funny, emotional, uplifting, but, most of all, inspiring.
Here are stories of everyday women from all walks of life. The stories bind together to form a rich treasure trove of what it means to be a woman today; from arriving in this country at a young age, to explorations of motherhood, to the joys of making lemon curd, overcoming fear and insecurities, learning to love yourself, and, ultimately, finding hope in dark places.
Miranda chose to seek out women with creative interests then asked them to submit a story based on something they’d achieved. Some contributors are well-known writers, such as Yvonne Battle Felton, nominated for the Women’s Prize, and playwright Sabrina Mahfouz. Others are just starting out.
“I used to wear a Votes For Women badge that my boyfriend got me. People would comment occasionally ‘You know they got that, love?’ It felt almost risky wearing it! I suppose that’s what got me thinking.”
Miranda wants to show how much talent there is in the world and show that even now, 100 years on, women are still not being accorded the same attention, audience and respect as men.
In the project’s original form as a podcast and website, a story was published online every day for 100 days. “It needed to be a challenge,” Miranda says. And it was. When she started, Miranda only had thirty people lined up. Luckily, she met people along the way, through social media and events she was invited to speak at. She told everyone she met about it. “One writer I met in the London Fields Lido. Turns out she’s an award-winning writer! I was really lucky that the people who were up for it were all hugely talented. But It was a huge undertaking; getting home from work or whatever I’d had on and having to post the piece online for the next day”.
Her selection process for the pieces was simple. She didn’t say no to anyone. She just wanted to make it very clear that the piece needed to be personal, about them, and, most of all, positive.
The 100voicesfor100years book is to be published through Unbound, the only publishing company in the world to use crowdfunded campaigns to pay for the fees. Miranda first came across Unbound through Twitter, when Nikesh Shukla was funding The Good Immigrant, a 2016 award-winning book, where fifteen writers explore what it means to be an ethnic minority in Britain today. A friend of hers also had a book commissioned by them, and when she started looking for publishers, Unbound were naturally top of the list. I ask Kate, one of the major fundraisers for this project, about this approach and what its benefits are: “Big Publishing is driven by the market and tends to be safer. Independent publishers are driven more by a wish to support creativity, innovation and diversity. Unbound provides a professional, high-quality framework, a platform to fund books deemed too risky for Big Publishing. Unbound supporters are driven, not by financial profit, but by a personal connection. It’s important Unbound is there, as a social and political mechanism for change, for liberating stories that may otherwise not reach the readers they deserve”.
Miranda adds: “It’s embarrassing to think that a collection of writers of colour or women talking about their achievements is a ‘risk’, but maybe traditional publishers think these things don’t sell”.
Kate has been championing the book in an original way too. She isn’t on social media, so her approach has been different: “I drew up a list of all the people I know who could afford to buy the book – a hard copy at £25 isn’t cheap – and emailed them individually, making the message personal and following up after a pause. I was obsessive for a few weeks. So far I’ve rallied 40 pledges, around 20% of the total support so far”.
Miranda took a DIY approach early on, working on the podcast in her spare time, and finally, on the website, which she made herself. I myself have an (ongoing) daily battle with technology, a brief infatuation with running an aesthetic Tumblr blog then deleting the entire thing in the process, I can’t imagine how she managed! I asked how she maintained motivation: “As it went on, I got really tired. There were other things going on in my life and suddenly work was busy, and I was writing my novel. But I was lucky I could lean on my loved ones. In my piece for the project, I talk about how I needed to learn to ask for help. We also had a few great moments, like getting an article on The Pool (which I wrote!) I also got a huge boost from the writers who would email me spontaneously and to congratulate us on hitting a milestone. That community feeling is amazing and that’s the beauty of this new wave of feminism. Women (and I’m including trans women and non-binary here) are coming together and making change directly. People seem to be tired of waiting for permission!”
Of course, I had to ask Miranda about #Metoo and the world post-Weinstein, which brought to light what was already known, but which had never been spoken about so publicly before. “It personally empowered me as I believe it did many people because it was the first time I saw a mass woman-centred take-over on social media. I remember reading a male friend’s tweet at the time – he was stunned that so many of his friends were posting #Metoo. It didn’t surprise me at all, but it did show me that if you speak up, there are others who are going to support you, and others who’ve been through the same thing.”
Emma Halliday is a contributor Miranda met online. She submitted her story to the website entitled ‘Sunday Best’. Her story of the tragedies in her life and how she manages to overcome her fear of public speaking is something I could relate to very well. Six months ago, I couldn’t read my own writing in front of anyone, let alone start my own event and speak at it. I asked Emma how she met Miranda and heard about the project: “I met Miranda over email and haven’t as yet met her in person! A friend saw Miranda’s email looking for female storytellers for her project and forwarded it to me with a single sentence ‘Received this from a friend and thought of you!’ I took a deeper look and got excited reading Miranda’s proposal. I jumped on board and e-introduced myself – something I would never usually do!”
A year has passed since Emma shared her story on the website and I wonder how her life has moved on since: “That year surely whizzed past. This year, I’ve spent time volunteering at a school in Kenya in February and crewing at Tony Robbin’s Unleash the Power Within event. The best thing about volunteering is the type of people you meet. Not only to get a snapshot of their world but it’s a great opportunity to collaborate and add to topics I can write about.”
Miranda’s main drive with the creation of this project was to highlight the lack of representation of women in literature. We are being made more aware of how much male narrative dominates the industry. It’s interesting how, as little girls, we have less of an awareness about who’s writing the books we’re reading and that are, inadvertently, influencing us. I asked Kate, Miranda and Emma what female authors they admired growing up?
Miranda: “When I was growing up I was really into Judy Blume. “Starring Sally J Friedman as Herself” was my favourite, all about a girl who is so into her imagination it’s sometimes difficult to access reality. I can relate! But the message of that book is about learning who you are. When I wanted to be a “writer” I didn’t know any female literary fiction writers apart from Ali Smith and Katherine Mansfield. Luckily, I discovered more along the way”.
Kate: I grew up in the 70s in a working class family on a council estate in South Wales. We didn’t have books at home and I spent hours choosing them in the local library. I wasn’t concerned with who had written them until I found writers I loved and then I read everything. I read Enid Blyton, Edith Nesbit, Jane Eyre, Black Beauty, Little Women, Tom Sawyer, the Narnia books. None of these books concerned working class Welsh girls but I saw aspects of myself in all of the books I read, whether by men or women and lapped them up and learned.
The important thing is for young women to read, read, read. Working class female writers are under-represented in Big Publishing, but lots are promoted online on sites like WellReadBlackGirl. I bought my twenty-something niece a gift subscription to Pereine Press, an Indie publisher committed to producing brilliant translated books by European women”.
Emma: “Some of my favourite books growing up were written by female authors: Enid Brighton, Francine Pascal. Although the same can’t be said about the books that we had to read in school. Also very rarely a book is written with a person of colour in it, and most certainly not as a lead character.”
Kate’s piece on the website, entitled ‘A Cartwheel State Of Mind’, is a story about her childhood achievement of doing a free-handed cartwheel, and how this inspired a short story of her own, that won a prize and was her first publication. I ask about her piece on the website: “It was a special moment when my father asked if I was happy. It felt like a grand question to my 12-year-old self. I think he was probably questioning his own happiness. He must have missed my mother when he came in from work and she had already left to start her waitressing shift. I trained as a doctor, psychiatrist and psychotherapist then worked in NHS mental health services for many years. But if I’m asked about my achievements, it’s doing a free-handed cartwheel that comes to mind.”
I ask Emma and Kate if they think there are more women’s stories than before, if we are going in a better direction, or if we still have a long way to go?
Kate: This is a glass-half-empty/half-full sort of question. I think there are more women’s voices in public life and literature, but they remain under-represented, and/or under-paid, and/or diminished, patronised, ignored, glossed over, prettified, pinked up. We may be on the right path but it needs constant attention so it’s not obscured by weeds and overgrowth.
Emma: I do feel that women’s rights are progressing in the right direction and that we are starting to have more of a voice. Last year I volunteered to support the Women’s March and that was really awe inspiring. Social media has given a great platform to a diversity of women, all speaking out, living their values and sharing their truth. What I am mindful of is the echo chambers that social media creates. The danger of this is that we wrongly believe that things are better than they are. The world is still very much in the patriarchal state.
I will definitely be pledging support for this book and look forward very much to seeing this book in print. Good things are happening in the world right now, with women out there fighting the big battles and the little battles every day. And the battle to get 100voicesfor100years funded is still on going. The book is over a third way funded, but there’s still a long way to go.
This book needs you, reader, it needs all of us, to celebrate how far we have come and how far we have yet still to go.
Miranda thinks there are so many hurdles to go through in publishing but it is all about someone giving you a chance. “I suspect there are a few too many gate keepers in publishing, and some people are allowed to breeze past with just a good idea. I really hope we can get the 100 Voices book fully funded and out there. I’m running a couple of fundraising events over the next few months. I used to run a spoken word night, so I really love those loud raucous literary events where the atmosphere crackles. I can’t wait!”
After that, she’ll be getting to work on her novel again. And hopefully, we’ll be seeing much more achievements and books like 100voicesfor100years. Maybe in a hundred years time, equality in literature and publishing won’t be seen as such a risk, but as a tradition.
You can support and help fund the 100voicesfor100years publication here with an additional discount code for MIRonline readers, by simply clicking PLEDGE and using the code code MIR10 at checkout.
Follow the 100voicesfor100years project on twitter by following the handle @100voices100ye1