Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

Cross-posted from: Obscure & Unnecessary Drama
Originally published: 29.04.16

Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 10.03.55Goodreads Rating : 3.75/5

Review:  The first time I ever heard Annie Zaidi speak dates back to my post grad days when she has a special session with us filled with her page-3-kinda-like-ermygod stories. As expected, massive eye rolling happened. Fast forward 3 years later, I see her again, this time with Mandy Ord at JLF 2015. More eye-rolling and subtle scoffing, until she and Mandy spoke about alternate endings to iconic tales in our culture, such as the love saga of Salim and Anarkali. I was like a dog who picked up a new scent. That one story and the epic cliffhanger was sufficient enough to itch my mind and click ‘add to cart’ on Amazon.


Read more Eat The Sky, Drink The Ocean – a review

White is for Witching- Helen Oyeyemi

Cross-posted from: Les Reveries De Rowena
Originally published: 29.12.16

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 “I am here, reading with you. I am reading this over your shoulder. I make your home home, I’m the Braille on your wallpaper that only your fingers can read–I tell you where you are. Don’t turn to look at me. I am only tangible when you don’t look.”- The house in Helen Oyeyemi’s “White is For Witching”


Read more White is for Witching- Helen Oyeyemi

Top Posts of 2016

Erasure: The New Normal for Lesbians by @VABVOX

Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile and the failure to recognise the obvious: misogyny by Young Crone

Is the term FGM cissexist? by Kalwinder Sandhu

Unspoken Grief: The Death of a Daughter by @VABVOX

Maria Miller’s Report Puts Feminists In An Impossible Position by @cwknews

Consent Is Sexy And Sexy Is Mandatory

The Snowflake Awards: A Review of White Feminism™ in Pop Culture by @GoddessKerriLyn

The Science Museum and the Brain Sex game by Young Crone

‘There Seems To Be Some Queer Mistake’: The Film of Anne of Green Gables by @LucyAllenFWR

Your Silence Will Not Protect You: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

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A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is now available:

Paperback

Kindle

CreateSpace

 

A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing is a collection of essays, poetry, and short stories written by women. The proceeds of this book will be used to support this platform covering the costs of hosting and website maintenance and development.


Read more A Room of Our Own: An Anthology of Feminist & Womanist Writing

What we’re reading this week (19.11)

Internet politics: a feminist guide to navigating online power by Zara Rahman at openDemocracy

In feminist activism, it goes without saying that the personal is political. Our technical decisions, however, are subject to far less scrutiny but their effects have equally far-reaching consequences upon our activism.

Few would deny that control and power are feminist issues. But what about digital control or online power?  …

White Skin, Black Masks: On the “Decolonial Desire” of Vasco Araújo by Efua Bea  via @WritersofColour

… I watch this all play out before me and begin to understand the title of this exhibition – decolonial desire. Even in a space of “decoloniality”, the insatiable hunger of whiteness for the exoticisation, objectification and devouring of the black body persists, pervades, penetrates. Women of colour in the space start to recover from their shock and round on the artist who is laughing, comfortable, excited; others shake their heads quietly and sadly before they fold in on themselves and leave. White audiences exclaim how beautiful, how interesting, and stimulating the work is, or else exclaim in performative horror. I wonder if underneath his self-assuredness Araújo is aware that he has, in this room, recreated the human zoos he is trying to critique. I wonder if he would care. …

Chair of BAME prize slams UK publishers after lack of submissions by Sian Cain
Read more What we’re reading this week (19.11)

Alex’s Dream

Cross-posted from: Generation Why
Originally published: 16.10.16

2016 Friday 12th of august 15:43

Dad said this morning I wasn’t allowed to bring my diary to the church but I didn’t listen. He says my dream job writing isn’t proper whatever that means. So when dad took my diary he put it in his desk drawer that he puts everything he doesn’t want me touching in. He thinks I can’t get in because he locks it but then he just puts the key on his desk. My dad isn’t very smart; all he does is watch TV and “teach”, He supposed to be a teacher but all he does is hire this guy to pretend to be him. Everyone tells me I shouldn’t complain cause he’s rich and has a big house, but they don’t know him like I do. Only 2 people in the entire world know him like I do, my best friend and my mum. My mum is dead now but she understood me when I complained. She said he was a nice man when he met him but as he grew older his heart got smaller. It got even worse when mum was diagnosed with cancer. It was weeks and weeks of back and fourth to the hospital. Soon mum lost her hair and then she died n the 28th of july. That’s why I’m here its mum’s funeral. 


Read more Alex’s Dream

The Naming of Elena Ferrante

Cross-posted from: Everyday Victim Blaming

The identity of Elena Ferrante is a secret well-guarded by her publisher. At the request of Ferrante. Ferrante has made it clear on multiple occasions that she does not want her art confused with her real life. This may not seem something that our campaign would necessarily concern ourselves with but there are multiple reasons why women deserve anonymity and even more reasons why breaching their anonymity puts women at risk of male violence.

As many of the writers we’ve linked to below demonstrate, authors owe their audiences nothing more than what they write – and even then audiences are not entitled to new material. What concerns us, and is referenced by some of the authors below, is the refusal to recognise the reason why a woman would want to keep her real life private. As with Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy, there is a complete refusal to recognise the reality of male violence against women and girls. Claudio Gatti, the journalist (and his publisher) who believes he’s entitled  to know the real name of a woman despite her refusal demonstrates a total disregard of women’s safety.

Ferrante’s decision to remain anonymous may simply because she values her privacy – something that all women are entitled to. It may be as a way of protecting herself from online harassment and abuse that many women writers experience. It is also entirely possible that her anonymity is a way of protecting herself from male violence – both historical and potential. Ferrante has every right to do so and Gatti, and others before him, simply do not have the legal or moral right to doxx Ferrante just because they don’t like successful women writers (and there is more than a whiff of misogyny here). 
Read more The Naming of Elena Ferrante

Passing Moments by @carregonnen

Cross-posted from: Carregonnen
Originally published: 18.02.16

Just a passing moment

A breath of air on my face

reminds me of something I can’t quite recall

and the moment has passed

Looking out of the window a cup of tea in my hand

a quick flurry of snow and then gone

Catching someone’s eyes as I pass them in the street

a connection a recognition a nearly smile

A wren in the garden I thought was a brown leaf

left over from winter blowing across the path

On a dark grey clouded day

a break shows me enough blue sky

The cold smoky familiar smell of a November night

crowds my head with memories

then gone for now

The sweet moist smell of cut grass

Leaves in autumn

Raindrop Racing down the window on a wet afternoon

An old song pulls me back

Glancing in the mirror above the sink I see my mother’s face

My daughter looks at one of her children and I see her father

A passing moment of a memory allows despair to wrap me up

and I try to let it pass

How much of life is made of passing moments

All the emotions in a brief encounter or thought

The lives of my children

My life

The earth is millions of years old

I am a passing moment

 

Carregonnen – I do life writing in poetry and prose about child abuse and mental health – politically I am a radical feminist.

Thistledown of History by @RoseAnnaStar

Cross-posted from: I am because you are
Originally published: 30.08.16

A Ripple from the StormA Ripple from the Storm by Doris Lessing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third book in Martha Quest’s story is best read after the foregoing instalments. Here there is a shift in subject matter; previously Martha’s political activities were not a dominant part of her life, and she engaged in them alongside other preoccupations. Here all the action is political activity, and the personal lives of the characters are subsumed in it rather than the reverse. The energies and characters of Martha and everyone else is enmeshed in a political epic taking place at all scales, from international to intimate.

While Lessing sometimes seems to ridicule the machinations and dogma of political groups or criticise them scathingly, she effectively demonstrates that every level of existence has a political dimension, which is often overlooked by the particular ideological framings at work among the participants. Greek activist Athen’s attempts to communicate the all-embracing political framework of Marxism to ingenue Maisie, whose sympathethic indolence might be meant to represent an easily influenced reader, involve humanising politics, softening ideology into an integrated (even living) body of varyingly flexible ethical positions. This humanistic approach is the opposite of ideologue Anton’s rigid and dogmatic intellectualism. I remembered reading about dry stone walls and why they are stronger than bricks and mortar: the stones flex with the moving earth, and each tiny shift wedges them more tightly together. Anton’s Marxism is accordingly much more robust than Anton’s. 
Read more Thistledown of History by @RoseAnnaStar

Whisky in a Storm by @sianushka

Cross-posted from: sian and crooked rib
Originally published: 16.04.16

The taxi dropped David at the end of a long gravel drive. It was still light – midsummer – and the sky was heavy. It had not been a good summer. The sun had struggled all month to break through the barriers of clouds.

‘Just down there,’ the taxi driver said, pointing, as David paid the £20 fare. ‘It’s a ten minute walk. Full of potholes,’ he grumbled. ‘Wreck my tyres to take you all the way down.’

David nodded. After seven hours on the train and twenty minutes in the cab he could do with the walk.  Stretch his legs.

He stopped, and turned back to the driver who was pulling away.

‘Sorry,’ David said. ‘Have you got a card? In case I need you to pick me up?’ He didn’t know what welcome awaited him at the end of the driveway. He should’ve contacted Leonie first, let her know he had thought about it, let her know he was coming. What an idiot, he thought. She might not even be here.
Read more Whisky in a Storm by @sianushka

A Lady & Her Husband – Amber Reeves by Madam J Mo

Cross-posted from: Madam J Mo
Originally published: 19.06.16

There are few greater literary treats than the bi-annual publication of a few new books from the wonderful Persephone Books in London. And this re-issue of the 1914 novel A Lady And Her Husband by Amber Reeves is, of course, no disappointment.

Amber Reeves had a fascinating life story, not least of all because she was the muse for the character Ann Veronica in HG Wells’ 1909 suffragette novel of the same name. (I wrote about Ann Veronica here back in February 2012.) Reeves and Wells had had an affair in which both seemed to inspire the other in equal measure, and many say that A Lady And Her Husband is Reeves’ response to Ann Veronica. Having read both, it is interesting to be able to compare them. 
Read more A Lady & Her Husband – Amber Reeves by Madam J Mo

I was born by @cateleven

Cross-posted from: The Feminist Poet
Originally published: 30.05.16

I was born this knot of nerves
Of great heat and flux
I swelled and ebbed
An abundant churning sea
And I soaked up all the hard truths
And I carried the layers
Of frowns and smiles
On my skin
All those words spat
Sat just below the surface
All those hands that touched me
Slept deeper
Behind my ribs
Waiting for a pause
For the tide to be out
When I was grown
When I was greyer
And my edges softer
And the skin a little laxed
When those hands would be remembered
With a ferocity
That would tear the skin from my bones
I would turn and turn
Over and over
Looking for a different space
Another place in the bed
Where it could not be felt
Where those words could not be heard
And the only place
The only free spot
The only calomine for my ever-burn
Was the constant motion
Of a sea swim-a rising tide
Or a long hill and valley run
Never sitting still
Never finishing

Creative work might not make big bucks, but we must value it. by @sianushka

Cross-posted from: Sian and Crooked Rib
Originally published: 31.05.16
So says the Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University in Belfast, in response to how they are managing budget cuts by amalgamating courses such as anthropology and sociology into wider subjects of study, so that instead of 21-year-olds passionate about their specialism, we have instead: 
 
Now, I’m not saying that supporting 21-year-olds to understand the job market and how they can take their place within it is a bad thing. I could have probably done with some of that. 
 
But what I am saying is that when you have the head of a university basically denigrating the joy and wonder that humanities research can offer an undergraduate student, encouraging them to take on post-grad study, potentially becoming a world specialist in their field and inspiring others behind them – well, something has gone very, very wrong in the way we think about the value of education and specifically university education.  


Read more Creative work might not make big bucks, but we must value it. by @sianushka

Does Kindness Kill Vision?

Cross-posted from: Halo Lit Mag
Originally published: 18.04.16

Here at Halo Towers (yes, we have an actual castle), we’ve been talking a lot about kindness recently. We figured it was worth sharing some of those thoughts on here, so they’re down in writing and you know what to expect from us if you ever submit your work to Halo.

NEWSFLASH: Creative writing is hard. NEWSFLASH 2: Submitting your writing is even harder because you’re making yourself vulnerable—you’ve not only produced something that you think is good, you’re sending it to someone else in the hope that they’ll think that it’s good as well. You’re asking to be judged, by a stranger, on something you’ve put your heart into. It takes guts.

I decided to found Halo – which is a literary mag just for women’s short fiction – because I wanted women writers to have an opportunity to be heard. But, women are notoriously reluctant to submit their work anywhere – often, we’re basically convinced we suck. In order to encourage women to come forward, I knew there needed to be a level of kindness and openness in our interactions and online content.


Read more Does Kindness Kill Vision?

Beautiful Broken Things – A review by Sara Barnard (@sianushka)

Cross-posted from: Sian and Crooked Rib
Originally published: 10.01.16

UnknownI’ve never really read YA, not even when I was a YA myself. Except A Little Love Song by Michelle Magorian, proving there is always an exception to any rule.

So it was a real treat for my first proper YA experience to be the fantastic Beautiful Broken Things by my very clever friend Sara Barnard, published by Macmillan.

There’s the disclosure: Sara is a friend of mine but I would be writing the following glowing review whether I knew her or not. Because this book merits it.

The novel is told in the voice of Caddy, a teenager living in Brighton. Like most teens, she’s concerned with schoolwork, exams, parents and, of course, boys. But, in a refreshing twist from a lot of fiction aimed at teenage girls, boys are not the primary pre-occupation of this book. Female friendship is.

Caddy’s best friend is Rosie. Although they don’t attend the same school, the pair are inseparable – doing everything together and calling or texting each other every evening to update on the day’s events. However, when the beautiful, cool and mysterious Suzanne starts at Rosie’s school, Caddy is worried that their close bond is under threat.


Read more Beautiful Broken Things – A review by Sara Barnard (@sianushka)

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 08.11.15

salt-creekIn 1855 the well-to-do Finch family falls on hard times and is forced live and farm in the Coorong, on the remote southeast coast of South Australia.  Cue struggles with the landscape and clashes with the local Ngarrindjeri people.  But first-time novelist Lucy Treloar subverts the typical white Australian pioneer story in interesting and complex ways.  Nothing in this fascinating and beautifully written story turns out as expected.

Papa Finch is an entrepreneur always eyeing off the next big opportunity but the family’s ramshackle homestead on the Coorong is a blow to everyone’s pride.  His four teenage boys are forced to forfeit their education to work on the run.  Mama, grieving for two younger children who died just before the family left Adelaide, is not quite herself and the responsibility for running the household falls to the eldest daughter, fifteen year old Hettie.
Read more Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Who’s Afraid of the Dark

Cross-posted from: Abigail Rieley
Originally published: 29.10.15

A suitably blasted heath - or rainy cemetary

I’ve always loved reading ghost stories at this time of year. Nothing else seems to hit quite the same spot the wind is roaring like a lost soul outside and the rain is battering against the windows in truly biblical fashion. As the nights draw in there’s always that primeval part of us that draws closer to the fire but is mindful of the fury outside. This is something that writers have always understood and those writing before homes were lit with the flick of a switch understood it by far the best. My favourite ghost stories always seem to date from the mid-19th to early 20th century, when the gothic imagination was at its height. I grew up reading M.R. James and E.F. Benson, first discovered in the volumes that made up part of my dad’s Everyman Library – hundreds of uniform cloth covered books with matching paper jackets that lived in special glass fronted bookcases in the dining room.
Read more Who’s Afraid of the Dark

Ali Smith, Public Library and what libraries mean to me

Cross-posted from: Sian and Crooked Rib
Originally published: 23.11.15

I’m lucky enough to be reviewing Ali Smith’s new short story collection, Public Library, for Open Democracy 50:50. So watch this space, I’ll post the link once it’s filed and live.

However, the process of reading and reviewing the book made me think about my own relationship with libraries. And so I thought I would post here something I wrote earlier in the year for Bristol 24/7 because as far as I can tell, they deleted all the articles I wrote for them…

So, here you go:

The Power of Libraries
Read more Ali Smith, Public Library and what libraries mean to me

Mannequin

Cross-posted from: She Means Well But ...
Originally published: 17.07.15

Barbara Millicent Roberts wriggled her toes into her high heels, smoothed her pencil skirt over her slim hips and leaned into the hallway mirror to reapply her lipstick. Squinting at her reflection, she smoothed an arched eyebrow and gave a self-satisfied smile.

“Not bad for an old gal,” she murmured in a sassy but still respectable mid-Western drawl.

Though she’d never confess her age or give in to the demands for comfort her body made as the years went by, she couldn’t help thinking back to her New York debut as a teen model back in 1959. What a knock-out she’d been, with her bouffant hair, chevron striped bathing suite and high heeled mules for poolside elegance. She still was, she noted with pride. No sensible shoes or baggy trouser suits for her, thank you very much.
Read more Mannequin

Norah Lofts and why you should read her by @KatharineEdgar

(Cross-posted from Katharine Edgar)

I had a massive Norah Lofts binge over Christmas. Lofts is a deeply unfashionable writer who people in the know keep saying should be rediscovered. Alison Weir has been plugging away at it, and, brilliantly, was instrumental in getting some Lofts books back into print, while the availability of ebooks and the possibility of finding out-of-print books on ABE or Amazon means that there’s never been a better time to discover her.

Lofts was born in Norfolk, in 1904. She came from a farming family, something which had a lasting influence on her writing, as you will see, but worked as a history teacher before she turned to writing full time. Over a long and busy career she wrote more than 60 books, mostly historical, but with a good handful of excellent psychological thrillers too (the Hammer horror film The Witches was based on one). The Oxford Book of Historical Stories calls her ‘one of the undisputed queens of historical romance.’

I first came across Norah Lofts at thirteen, when I was making my first forays into historical re-enactment and was advised by the organiser to read Lofts for her incomparable grasp of historical detail, and because many of her books are set in Suffolk, where the Tudor house we were re-creating, was. Her ability to handle historical detail, work it effortlessly into a story and endow it with great emotional charge, is certainly second to none. I came to Lofts for the research. But I stayed for the storytelling. How’s this for an opening?

‘At the age of seven I was a skillful pickpocket. I could also sew neatly, write a tolerable hand, make a curtsey and a correct introduction, dance a little and play simple tunes on the harpsichord.’

It’s the start of ‘Felicity Hatton’s Tale,’ the first story in the third book of her fabulous Old Vine trilogy. Lofts had a particular liking for taking a house and tracing its residents through history. Other people have done this with towns (notably Edward Rutherfurd, in SarumLondon and others) but no-one has done it as convincingly as Lofts.

The house at Old Vine is built by Martin Reed, a runaway serf at the turn of the fifteenth century, who takes his own destiny into his hands after his lord refuses him permission to marry the girl he loves. The rest of the first book, The Town House, takes place over Martin’s lifetime. But the fabulous thing Lofts does is to shift viewpoint with each chapter, to the old woman who comes to look after him, then his daughter-in-law, Anne, daughter of an impoverished knightly family who marries beneath her, then his grand-daughter Maud, then his secretary. They’re all such different people, in motivation, life-experience and style of thinking, and the fresh perspectives allow us to see the characters we have come to know intimately, as other people see them. Thus we see them change and grow old – young, hopeful, Martin keeping stoically on, Anne who we first knew as a teenager becoming bitter, alcoholic and cruel.

The second book in the trilogy takes us through the sixteenth and seventeenth century, and the third book from Georgian times to the modern day, when the house is no longer lived in by Martin’s descendants. Throughout the series there are incredible stories, and, I should add, incredible TEENAGE stories. Ethelreda Benedict, forced out of the island home she shared with her father when it was flooded by the draining of the Fens. Felicity Hatton, who has to survive in Georgian London after her father’s gambling addiction has beggared her family. And (perhaps my favourite), the dreadful Anne, who calculates that marrying the woolmaster’s son and living in a town house with glass windows might be a come-down for her family but it will lead to a far more comfortable life for herself than staying in her parents’ isolated hall forever unable to afford the dowry for a respectable match.

Like Alison Weir, I rate the House trilogy the most highly, but the prolific Lofts produced many more books worth reading. Broadly speaking, her historical fiction falls into two categories – historical biography, and Suffolk books. The historical biography is not confined to England – there is a splendid book, Crown of Aloes, about Isabella of Spain – and includes one of the most sensitive fictions written about Anne Boleyn, The Concubine.

The Suffolk books, which include the House trilogy, all take place in or around a fictional town called Baildon, which is similar to (though not identical with) Bury St Edmunds. One of the joys of being a hardcore Norah Lofts fan is the way places and families recur across the books, so the fictional world becomes deeper and richer than anything that could be achieved in one book alone. We know which family has a streak of gambling addiction, which breeds the best horses, which local in is best and who built the Assembly rooms. One particular strength of Lofts as a writer, in a genre which can often focus on the rarefied and privileged lives of the wealthy, is that she is as interested in the lives of the ordinary people as those of kings or queens. Even her Anne Boleyn book is told from the viewpoint of a serving maid. Lofts’ farming background comes into this in a big way, writing as she is about a rural country through centuries when most people were closely tied to the land. Martin Reed first meets Anne Blanchfleur when he is visiting his sheep, and her mother lets him heat his tar pot on their fire. Lofts understand the economics of farming: what it means to have a farm of a certain size, or to carry out the work yourself (as another knight’s child, Henry Tallboys, does in the Knight’s Acre trilogy).

There is another sense, too, in which Norah Lofts’ books are realistic, and it is one of the things I like most about her work. Despite her designation as ‘historical romance’, which would conjure up images of happy endings, for Lofts the world is a brutal, unfair place. Good deeds go unrewarded, and, often to a very disturbing extent, bad ones unpunished. Murders are regularly concealed, and criminals live on benefiting from their crimes. This lack of idealising makes her world feel very real. When I used to borrow Norah Lofts books from my local library, their spines would be stickered, seemingly at random, with either a black castle to designate ‘historical fiction’ or a pink heart with a crown on top for historical romance. I wonder how many readers picked them up expecting to be transported to a delicious tale of swooning damsels, only to find they had been sucked into a gritty story of murder and medieval farming practices. Sometimes there is supernatural, and there is often evil – the Gad’s Hall books involve Victorian girls and devil worship – but the down-to-earth nature of her style adds to the plausibility and creepiness, as, for example, in the one I have just finished, The Devil’s Own (also called The Witches, Catch As Catch Can and The Little Wax Doll), published under the name of Peter Curtis, in which the prim heroine is horrified by the sight of the unattractive bodies of her middle-aged neighbours as they dance naked at the Halloween meeting of their coven.

So, where to start with Norah Lofts? To begin with, she did write two books specifically for teenagers, both based on characters from the Old Vine trilogy, Rupert Hatton’s Tale and Maude Reed’s Tale. I would recommend these to younger readers, but really these date to a time before Young Adult fiction had reached the no holds barred place it is in today. Older teens will be perfectly comfortable reading her adult books (and their parents/teachers should be happy with most of them too – if delicate you might want to give the Peter Curtis ones a miss, and The Claw should probably have an advisory sticker but mostly there’s nothing more shocking than you will find in Jacqueline Wilson). The Old Vine books are a good place to start, as is Bless This House, which uses the same ‘house through history’ technique but in a single volume. The first Knight’s Acre book is eventful, and interest in the characters will probably carry you through the second two, even if they are a bit heavy on the farming. Of the biographical books, I have already mentioned The Concubine, and The King’s Pleasure is a sympathetic portrait of Katherine of Aragon, and Crown of Aloes a fascinating book about Isabella of Spain. For those who like their history earlier, The Lute Player is about Richard the Lionheart, or, earlier still, Esther fictionalises an Old Testament book. Lofts is equally comfortable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and The Lost Queen is a moving book about George III’s younger sister. Goodreads has plentiful reviews, and there is a thriving group there for the hardest of hardcore fans – a group which, I suspect, is destined to grow and grow as a new generation of readers discover the Queen Of Historical Romance. Or rather, Of Gritty, Dark, Agricultural Histfic With Lots And Lots Of Murders….

 

Katharine Edgar: is a Yorkshire-based feminist who writes young adult fiction, including the forthcoming Five Wounds. She blogs about her historical fiction writing: Tudor history, women’s history, crafts and writing.