f o r u m
Ionce received a rejection from an agent that was scribbled in the margins of my original pitch letter to her. Her biro scrawl went across the bottom of the page then veered up the side of my carefully-typed letter and upside down across the top.
WRITING NEST I cleared the spare wardrobe, and bought a small folding table and chair. I wanted a dedicated space where I could shut the door on everything, including my beloved family, and lose myself in writing. Deliberately spartan, it has no distractions. It’s only a cupboard, but it’s my own. JESSICA GRENE
BEAR NECESSITIES I write about difficult topics, such as trauma, sexual violence and mental illness, and so, when I write, I am comforted by wearing this necklace given to me by my parents. Writing can be a solitary pursuit, but the ritual of touching the chain grounds me in my body. ELSPETH WILSON
The wording was nice enough – ‘great writing, I’m sure you’ll find representation for this’ plus a note to inform me that she was ‘only handling crime novels at the moment’ – but the sense of being only worth a quick scrawl and then shoved back into an envelope, not even a proper email or sheet of headed paper, felt so insulting and still hurts whenever I think about it. ■ MARGUERITE BRACKSTONE
Do you believe in writer’s block?
◗ Yes 77.7%
◗ No 22.3%
The vast majority of you maintain that writer’s block is a real phenomenon. As always, cold hard numbers make it hard to capture nuance, so here’s what you had to say in the replies: @veldasaxby: I do believe it exists to a degree. It can be overcome. For me, a spell out in nature with my camera allows my mind to relax and start the natural thought process flow. @LouiseDouglas3: For two years I was paralysed by a complete loss of confidence. It was a sad and harsh time for me as writing is my happy place. @HelenMacWrites: Yes, but... I think a lot of my blocks have been self inflicted. I wouldn’t say this is true for everyone, but I tie myself up in knots trying to decide whether to go one way or another and then end up writing neither... Sigh. @flaming_nora: I alleviate writers block by planning and plotting (however loosely) so that I have some idea of what I’m doing, instead of sitting down to a blank screen with no idea of where to go. @mednaL13: I believe there’s a lot of value in stepping away from ‘active’ writing, and spending time doing something else that allows thoughts to settle. Sometimes it takes a long time! But I don’t call it a block. Maybe that’s just semantics. @julie_cohen: I never believed in it until I suffered it. For me, it was an extension of trauma and poor mental health and I had to develop active techniques to trick myself into overcoming it.
Margaret Monod blogs about women throughout music hall history at Into the Limelight
My blog is about women in the music hall, based on a postcard collection going back many years. I bought a collection of postcards of male intothelimelight.org impersonators in the music hall over 20 years ago, which grew into a collection of cards of women in the music hall. I shared them on Twitter and researched them which led to me starting a blog about these often forgotten women. I’m particularly interested in lesser known women who performed in the halls. They often worked in gruelling conditions, travelling up and down the country working long hours for little pay. Many were at the mercy of unscrupulous managers and music hall proprietors. Better known names do slip into the blog: women who were the best of their kind, women who made it in a man’s world and women who can’t be ignored. ■
MARGARET MONOD has worked as a teacher and a bookseller, and rounded off her career as the co-owner of a stationery shop in Brighton. She volunteers for Shoreham Wordfest and her local food bank, and has been blogging for five years. PHOTO
In Victorian and Edwardian society women were often portrayed as the weaker sex, but music hall was another world altogether and audiences flocked to see women of prodigious strength full of confidence in themselves and their right to perform. One such was the Great Athelda, born Frances Rheinlander in Manchester, who performed on the music hall stage from around 1912. She was also known as the ‘miniature Lady Hercules’ and ‘Britain’s Beautiful Daughter’.
Her act began with various poses ‘showing sinew, fibre and muscle without distortment’, which created ‘something like a sensation’ in Dewsbury. She would pose while manipulating a dumbbell. In her own advertisement in 1913 she describes her act as ‘dignified posing, without ornamentation or drapery, showing genuine muscular development void of fat or pencilling’. She saw herself as a graceful figure of beauty, muscle and concealed strength. I haven’t found reports of her height but she weighed 9st 5lb, just under 60 kilos, and was said to hold the record ‘amongst ladies’ for lifting a half-hundredweight by means of her little finger. Extract from ‘Raising the bar’, January 2018 ❐
5 FORUM / Mslexia / Mar/Apr/May 2021