It’s International Women’s Day. In honour of this special day I’ve put together this list of Women writers who I would like to celebrate, and the works that have inspired me. It’s so hard to pick and choose and so I hesitate to use the words “favourite,” but what I would say is that these are some of the women who have inspired me the most in their writing. Through their lives they have encouraged me to be stronger than I am and to write fearlessly.
Arundhati Roy, Novelist, Journalist and Activist.
The God of Small Things is one of the books I always say is my favourite books of all time. I read it when I was seventeen years old and I instantly felt like someone had written the book I had always wanted to write. It was spiritual, visual, sensual, and had a gripping plot that has sat inside my spirit since then. In all my writing I know that I am secretly striving towards that strange, beautiful transcendence that she achieves when she brings words together. She also continues to inspire me through her political writing – She is an activist full of bravery and grace, doing amazing things like interviewing Edward Snowden and returning awards. You can read her articles for the guardian, including the Snowden interview, here. But if you only read one thing by her, read The God of Small Things. It is a song worth hearing.
Sarah Waters, Novelist.
I put The Night Watch on this list because it was the first Sarah Waters novel that I read, but I have devoured every single one of her books. She is a supreme historical fiction writer. When stepping into the world she has recreated on the page you can taste and smell the air, you can see the sky, that is the vivid intensity of what she creates. She is also a writer who has embraced ‘The Lesbian writer’ label without fear. She brings the history of Queer love to the mainstream, and is an advocate for the advancement of women in writing. She has made me feel that it is okay to be whoever you are and to expect literature to reflect your desires and experiences of love. There is an interview with her here, but the best way to really hear her voice is to read her novels.
Angela Carter, Novelist
My god, could I even consider writing this list without including Angela Carter, the Queen of feminist fiction? I don’t think so. Reading The Bloody Chamber in my school days was a revelation. Reading her stories was like eating words and tasting fruit – her writing is luscious and vivacious and unforgettable. No sense is left un-tingled. I covered my class folder in Bloody Chamber quotes, choosing the richest and most haunting ones to linger on. When I write now her delicious waltz with words is what I have in my mind. Angela Carter was the first woman writer who tested my boundaries – making me question how women had been represented in all the books I had ever read up until that point. She changed my expectations of writers, and myself.
Bryony Gordon, Journalist and Writer
Bryony holds a special place in my heart. I have read her columns and articles in the Telegraph since I was a young teenager, and she was a huge contributor the the reason I started blogging. Bryony writes honestly about everything in her life; her relationships, her family, and most importantly for me, her mental health. She has become even more open as the years have progressed, sharing the highs and lows of her mental health battles with her readers. Bryony is the kind of writer who feels like a friend, and when I read an article where she confided that she had been really struggling, I didn’t hesitate before emailing her to let her know I was on her side. The great thing about Bryony is she won’t shut up – not about mental health, not about the struggles of being a mum, not about eating disorder and healthy body image, not about anything! And Thank God for that! She encourages me not be ashamed on my voice and my story. Every battle she fights and wins with her eating disorder or her depression feels like a battle I have won too. Read her work here.
Shonda Rhimes, Screenwriter
I had to put Shonda on here, especially since she is basically the goddess of broadcasting. It’s not just because I like Grey’s Anatomy (even though by ‘like’ I really mean ‘am totally obsessed by’) but it’s because of everything Shonda does when she writes. Thrilling plots, captivating characters, and cliffhangers that make you want to kill everyone who lives on your street are standard when Shonda puts pen to paper. But most importantly, she writes life as she finds it. She doesn’t white-wash it or make it straighter so it will be more acceptable to TV, and she doesn’t “diversify” it by shoving a token person of colour or a queer relationship in as an after-thought. She creates characters, whole characters, who have the breadth and strength to be all kinds of things and certainly more than just a symbol. Also, that woman is prolific. She is a dynasty of TV writing, and proves that women not only can do it, but they can do it as much as they want! Here is a great article about the legacy she is building.
Caitlin Moran Journalist, Writer, Screenwriter
Caitlin Moran is the funniest person I know. I don’t really even know her, I just read her writing. But if anyone asked, I would still say that Caitlin Moran is the funniest person I know. How to be Woman not only relieved me of a lot of my social anxieties by showing me there was someone out there who had done it all before (with possibly more embarrassing results), but it finally shut up that nagging little voice in my head that kept saying, ‘Well… maybe men just are funnier than women.’ Caitlin and her doc martins stamped on the balls of that one. She also wrote one my favourite TV shows, Raised by Wolves, which after reading How to be Woman sort of felt like I was watching certain parts of Caitlin’s childhood played out on channel 4. She’s the writer equivalent of a Bob Fosse’s Cabaret – Bawdy, delightful, endearing and hilarious. Here’s her website to keep up with her continued romp through life.
Zinnie Harris, playwright, screenwriter and all-round role model
It would have been wrong for me to finish this list without including Zinnie. She taught me at the University of St Andrews and apart from scaring me shitless with her no nonsense approach, she reawakened my dormant love of playwriting. I’m two plays down, which is two more than I ever thought possible, and still writing and it is partly due to her. She wowed me at first with her impressive resume (she wrote for Spooks!) but then won me over with her off-centre thinking. Her response to a standard scenario was always more profound and more bizarre that what I had ever considered. When I read Zinnie’s plays I feel like I am learning a new way that to write a play that I hadn’t known about before. She showed me an imagination that saw the stage as much more than a space to be filled, but a whole universe to be explored. You can watch her discussing some of her work here.
So now go! Read and watch things written by amazing women.
Happy International Women’s Day!