We are back for our second part of our Women’s History Month special! This year we are talking to women who are writing both fiction and non-fiction history, hearing about what they are working on, how they got to where they are today, and why they are passionate about their topics. Part 1 went up last week, and now we have eight more women to talk to. So without further ado, I will hand over to them, and hopefully you will find a new author to read.
I’m a medievalist who’s spent most of my career reaching out to the public, answering common questions, providing information in fun formats, and trying to dispel a lot of the myths around the Middle Ages that muddy our collective understanding. I started out by writing a little blog I called The Five-Minute Medievalist, which led to my writing professionally for Medievalists.net. I’ve now written four books, including Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction, and the forthcoming How to Live Like a Monk: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Life. While I still teach a couple of college classes, much of my time now is spent working on The Medieval Podcast, a labour of love which allows me to share knowledge with people across the globe, and running The Medieval Masterclass for Creators, an online class I started to help people who create medieval fiction find the information they need to bring the medieval world to life for their audiences. The goal in all my work is to help foster understanding and compassion, so that we see medieval people as real people, not caricatures. My hope is that if we can do that, we can extend the same empathy towards each other in the modern world.
I’m a novelist to trade and I write fiction in two periods: a 1950s crime series (Miss Marple in heels it’s been called) and the period 1820-1845. The late Georgian and early Victorian draw me like a magnet – especially the women. For most of lockdown I’ve been writing a novel about women in Enlightenment Edinburgh (where I live). A good historical novel (whether it’s crime or not) is a time machine that takes us back to where we come from. I also enjoy writing creative nonfiction. A couple of years ago I remapped Scotland according to women’s stories rather than men’s. The resulting book radicalised me – I realised just how much misogyny was built into our environment. Here in Edinburgh there are more statues to named animals than to named women. I was an equality campaigner before, but now I’m double!
I have had a varied career, largely in traditionally male-majority occupations, starting as a merchant navy deck officer when I left school in 1972. I worked in oil tankers and cargo ships and got my Certificates of Competency as a 2nd and then 1st Mate of a Foreign-going Vessel. I returned to education in my 30s, to get an engineering design degree from the University of Warwick, and then earned a PhD in concrete durability from the University of Liverpool. I have lived with my family in Glasgow since 1989, working variously as a materials lecturer in further education and as a research administrator and, until 2017, as an elected city councillor. Since about 2000 I have been interested in the history of women who worked in engineering and am now a full time independent researcher on this and also other aspects of engineering and construction history. Apart from their intrinsic interest and the desirability of ensuring that these previously hidden stories reach the daylight, my purpose is also to increase the general public’s concept of who is an engineer, thereby normalising what (incredibly for the 21st century) remains a career choice often regarded as unusual for girls. My current research is looking at women engineers in 20th century government research establishments, and the experimental ballistic work by the women in the Army.
I am a native Scot living near Bristol (UK) who writes novels and short stories. I wrote contemporary fiction until I stumbled on a slice of history I just couldn’t let go. My 2018 novel In the Blink of an Eye set out to explore the partnership of two men in Victorian Edinburgh who created the concept of photographic art. However I discovered there was another hidden member of that team, a woman whose story is only now coming to light. Women generally take centre stage in my version of events, giving lie to the idea that this was, in the main, a man’s world. The fact that these women (from a variety of backgrounds and occupations) never quite made it to centre stage, or have been glossed over by later history, makes them all the more fascinating. My work in progress, also set in the nineteenth century, imagines the life of a woman who acted as mentor and muse to many famous writers (R.L. Stevenson, Henry James and Joseph Conrad) but whose story has never been told.
Sylvia Barbara Soberton
I am a writer and researcher specialising in the history of the Tudors, with a strong emphasis on women. History and reading have been my greatest passions since childhood, and I was always interested in the lives of women across the centuries. I love the well-known female characters, such as Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I, but my goal is to bring the lesser-known women of the sixteenth-century Tudor court to the fore and write them back into the historical narrative. That’s why I came up with the idea for the Forgotten Tudor Women series in 2015. Today I’m working on the third book in this series and have ideas for many more. My books include Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens; The Forgotten Tudor Women: Anne Seymour, Jane Dudley & Elisabeth Parr; Rival Sisters: Mary & Elizabeth Tudor; Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction & Succession and others.
I’m a writer and researcher of all things Scottish, with a particular interest in exploring unnoticed women’s stories. My novel What You Call Free, published on 17 March, features two real women, Jonet Gothskirk and Helen Alexander, and is set against the harsh backdrop of lowland Scotland in 1687-8. James Robertson, award winning novelist, said ‘In this wonderful debut novel, Flora Johnston prises open a forgotten window to give a rare view onto the lives of women in one of the darkest periods in Scotland’s history.’ I came across Jonet and Helen while doing other research, and their stories lodged in my mind and refused to go away. The sackcloth gown that Jonet was forced to wear is displayed in the National Museum of Scotland, and Helen wrote a memoir which gives a rare insight into the Covenanting era from a woman’s perspective. After studying Scottish History in St Andrews I worked at the National Museum of Scotland (finding Jonet in the process!). I then had a freelance career in heritage interpretation. I’ve written several non fiction books including War Classics, which tells the story of another pioneering woman, Christina Keith, and her experiences as an academic teaching the troops in World War One.
I’m a writer of Tudor and Stuart non-fiction including titles such as Lady Katherine Knollys, The Tragic Daughters of Charles I, Catherine of Braganza, The Tudor Brandons and the forthcoming Charles II’s Favourite Mistress: Pretty, Witty Nell Gwyn. I always loved history at school but it never quite answered my questions! I wanted to know more about women’s lives and I grew up in an area rich in palaces, manor houses and gardens to visit where I could roam and find out more details. I love writing about women’s history, bringing women’s lives, loves and tragedies to a new generation of readers. Women are so often forgotten in history or used as props for the more famous men but they had their own tales to tell. Instead of being sidelined as just mistresses, whores or consorts, their lives are extremely important to delve into and give us far more personal detail about the times they were living in. Researching women’s history is not always the easiest task. Their lives are often badly documented or missing from accounts. Whereas men who took part in military campaigns, politics and the court can be found without difficulty, looking for details of women’s lives is more problematic but a challenge I enjoy.
You can find Sarah-Beth on her Twitter account.
I grew up in Manchester, England, and read English Literature at Oxford University. I have always been a lover of history. In fact, I almost studied history at Oxford instead of literature. I served as Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University and taught literature and creative writing there for nearly two decades. I have written four novels, all with historical settings or connections: The Course of All Treasons, A Murder by Any Name, The Confessions of X, and Unveiling. My Elizabethan mystery series is set in 1580s England when Queen Elizabeth the First is at the height of her powers and the realm is in great peril from a Spanish invasion. Fraught with treason, skullduggery of every kind, and religious persecution, this period is ripe for a novelist. My protagonist, Nick Holt, younger son of an earl, is a spy in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham. As part of his cover, he owns The Black Sheep Tavern in Bankside, London’s most insalubrious neighborhood, but is equally at home in Whitehall’s corridors of power. In the first novel, A Murder by Any Name, he solves the murders of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting; in the second, The Course of All Treasons, he tracks down the assassin who has been killing the Queen’s spies. I am currently writing the third novel in the series, The Witching Time, set in 1587 Oxford. I think the title gives away the subject of this one!
A huge thank you to all of our wonderful authors for speaking to us today. I know I’ve certainly loved learning about all the different types of history that are being written about, and the different ways people find themselves becoming historians! I hope you have found new people whose books you want to buy. Don’t forget to check out part 1 here, and you can find my own book, Royal Witches in all major book stores. You can also have a look at some of the blog posts I’ve written about women’s history via the tag on my blog here.
Check out my history book recommendations on Bookshop UK.