Showing posts with label Britmums Live. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Britmums Live. Show all posts

Thursday 26 September 2013

To e-, or not to e-?

Not so long ago I felt like I was waging my own ebook revolution. Having published my first novel as a Kindle book on Amazon last year, I faced a dual challenge: I had to sell my novel, but I also had to make the case for reading books in a digital format. Amongst my own group of friends, I was often required to help would-be readers download a Kindle app before they could go on and purchase my book. It was a hybrid sales/computer-support role that I never envisaged for myself when I set out to write a family saga set in the second-world war.

Next week I am participating in a session at the Henley Literary Festival on ebooks and self-publishing - the prospect of which has sparked some navel-gazing. Coincidentally, I also happened upon a feature by Jonathan Franzen in The Guardian which takes a swipe at Amazon and self-publishing, in the midst of a complex argument about the perils of modernity. Here is an extract:

Book cover for Kindle novel, 'A Sister for Margot' by Emma Clark Lam
Only available as an ebook on Amazon
"Amazon wants a world in which books are either  self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of course people with the money to pay someone to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world."

Thursday 11 July 2013

Pink wellies and cigarettes

"I didn't know ladies could smoke!" my young son once exclaimed sotto voce after watching a (female) friend light up in the garden. Until that moment, he had only ever seen his grandfather smoking a pipe. His reaction made an impression on me: I realised that children form some pretty fixed ideas about gender from an early age. This was about the same time that he started objecting to wearing his sister's hand-me-down wellies.

Such startling observations are not infrequent in our household. After my sister-in-law finished her maternity leave and went back to her job in social work, my daughter remarked, "Gosh I didn't know mummies worked!" It was a galling moment. How had I managed to bring up my daughter in such ignorance? There followed a long lecture on a woman's right to work. 

A pair of pink wellington boots
Why can't boys wear them?! 
© Brookebecker | Dreamstime.com
A few weeks ago I attended a session on 'new feminism' at the Britmums Live conference. It was comforting to hear The Sunday Times journalist Eleanor Mills confessing that her own daughter had asked if a woman could lead a political party. "I feel we are stuck and in some ways we are going backwards," says Ms Mills, whose aunt, Barbara Mills, held the post of Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1990s. Ms Mills worries that her generation has become complacent about feminism and the hard-fought battles for sexual equality.

While I was researching my current novel, I came across a 1970s group of women who named themselves the Pussy Cat Club. This was a group of housewives who didn't agree with sexual equality and believed a woman's role was to serve and pamper her husband. One member told a BBC reporter: "[Women] want to be equal with the men, well it's not meant to be. They are completely different, their emotions and the way they're built." 

It was a striking (and nauseating) reminder of how far we have come since the birth of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. But, although attitudes have changed and women have learned to value themselves on par with men, there are still problems to overcome. As Kat Banyard of the UK Feminista movement puts it: "Scratch society and you expose vast inequalities."

In a recent blog, my friend Cathy Newman, presenter of Channel 4 News, reveals how she once challenged a senior executive at the Financial Times (where she worked previously) over pay. Cathy had discovered that a more junior, male reporter was being paid £10,000 more than her. The executive told her, "You don't have a mortgage or a family, what do you need the money for?" 

The nub of the problem, I believe, is women like me who choose to put their careers on hold to bring up their children. I feel passionately that choice should be enshrined in any feminist tract, but I also acknowledge that women dropping out of the workforce reduces our visibility and the pool of high achievers who reach the top.

There are no easy answers, but I do resent the government's campaigns to get new mothers back into work. Such policies devalue the choices made by stay-at-home mums and their commitment to looking after children full-time. Instead, more effort should be put into welcoming these women back into professional life once their children are older and less dependent. I know an army of mothers who would love to work flexibly during school term times, and yet this potential labour force remains overlooked and unaccommodated.

Ms Mills believes now is the "real time to rehabilitate feminism". I couldn't agree more - the fight goes on and each of us is responsible for shaping our society and weeding out prejudice. How we apply these principles to the thorny realities of life is challenging, but we can start by opening our children's minds to equality and choice. Pink wellies and cigarettes might not be the solution, but I hope my daughter and son will learn that gender should never be a barrier to anything.


Thursday 27 June 2013

Move over old boy

When I was at school, people used to talk about the old boys' network. Last week, I decided that women have finally put the old boys out to pasture. After spending two days at the Britmums Live conference in London and a night with the women's group Hub Dot on Regent's Street, it struck me that women are uniquely gifted at forming connections. Whatever the medium - parties, families, work or social media - women seem to have an instinct for nurturing the network.

Kirsty Allsopp open the Britmums Live blogging conference
Kirsty Allsopp tells Britmums
she is "neurotic" about helping out
at her sons' school
At the Hub Dot event, Nell Gifford, founder of the wildly popular Giffords Circus, told us, "The best thing women do is start families." She believes growing a "work family" and having children derive from the same "strange instinct". 

This might explain why Britmums has become a phenomenally successful community of 5,000 parent bloggers, who are predominantly mums. Susanna Scott├╝ber-blogger and co-founder, opened this year's conference by telling us it was all about the community - laughing together as well as supporting each other through illness and bereavement. 

Women blog for all sorts of reasons: some struggle with being a stay-at-home mum and are looking for an outlet; some have found the kind of popularity online that eluded them at school; others just want to reach out. Award-winning blogger Mummy Barrow, who has nearly 6,000 followers on Twitter, said the kind of tweet that elicited the biggest response was: "Who wants a cup of tea?" She clearly has the knack of bringing in followers from the cold.

At the Hub Dot, any mention of children was left discreetly in the background. "This is about celebrating female qualities and showing that business can be done in a different way," said Simona Barbieri, part of the team behind the Hub Dot. These were polished, career women looking to help each other and form connections

Guest speaker Lulu Guinness, the handbag designer, told us that when she started in the fashion business nobody helped her. "I have always maintained I wanted to help people," she said. "Many girls have worked for me and I'm very proud when they have got fab jobs somewhere else."

So whether it's volunteering at the school fair, reading a bedside story or tweeting to a thousand followers, ladies, take pride. We are the glue that holds our societies together. We don't need cigars and we don't need a London club. Go forth and network!