Book Review: ‘On This Day She’ by Jo Bell, Tania Hershman and Ailsa Holland

This is a book which will probably arouse many different emotional reactions in the reader: fascination, inspiration, astonishment, disgust, anger, depression… you name the life situation the reader is in, and that will determine his or her response to On This Day She by Jo Bell, Tania Hershman and Ailsa Holland.

Many different women, across all periods of history and many nations, continents and cultures, are represented in this book. Their lives and achievements encompass the full range of human endeavour, and the vast majority you may never have heard of, because history chose not to include them in its pages. But the cumulative effect of reading their biographies, all arranged under days of the calendar, is disturbing and uplifting by turns.

Some of these women were enormously successful and influential in their own individual spheres; others were treated with gross injustice and / or met untimely and tragic deaths. Some of them are indeed now acknowledged and recognised for their achievements – for example, the woman who invented the game of Monopoly (Lizzy Magie) but who never received either the credit or the income from her invention, which instead went to Charles Darrow.

I do believe there are signs of encouragement. In our world today, we all know about Greta, Malala, An Sang Su Chi, Nicola Sturgeon, Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel. Looking at history, we all know the names of such women as Elizabeth I, or Agatha Christie, or Florence Nightingale, or Jane Austen, or Mother Teresa. We do have a number of prominent women in the world today, whom we need to support and honour. This book reminds us that there have been many, many gifted women throughout history who have not been so honoured; in fact, far from that, they have been crushed and denigrated and marginalised. There is still a very long way to go before all members of the human race are treated equally, regardless of gender, and the many other factors which divide us.

Whilst reading this book, one of the many thoughts that came to my mind was this: JK Rowling, whom many admire, is strongly opinionated. She expresses her opinions fearlessly in the public arena, which she has every right to do. But would her opinions receive the same response if she was a man?

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This book makes you see history differently and through a new lens. Hard-hitting, discerning and sharp, the authors show us the way exceptional female movers and shakers have been rendered invisible by history. Much of this, the authors claim, is the consequence of a lazy use of “generic” language, and sentences framed to denigrate women and represent their role and purpose negatively. They give an example of this in the way in which Catherine of Aragon is summarised by history books as having “failed to provide Henry VIII with a male heir”. This can be rephrased as “Catherine and Henry had no surviving sons.” It’s still accurate, but the balance has been changed. Language needs to evolve to redress this false view of human life.

One astonishing quote in the book, from a man, explains that by ‘person’ he did not of course mean ‘woman’ – he only meant ‘man.’ This is certainly a step further from the assertion that of course the term ‘man’ is always taken by us all to mean ‘human beings.’ Personally I try to use the term ‘humankind’ as much as possible or ‘we’ or ‘human beings’. I do believe language has power; it determines our unconscious presumptions. The words we use do matter; they condition our attitude to the world, and lie behind all our prejudices and false judgements of others.

Among the entries in this books you will find archaeologists, nuclear physicists, mountaineers, peace activists, poets, novelists, artists, anti-slavery campaigners, environmentalists, human rights lawyers, anthropologists, fighter pilots, Viking warriors, nuclear scientist and many more. This book doesn’t presume that women have always been good. Tyrannical rulers are also included. The thesis of the book does not include moral judgements on that level; simply the invisibility of women in our histories.

You will find a woman who completed a course of undergraduate study at Cambridge University but were told she could not be awarded a degree because of being a woman; a female artist who created a famous self-portrait which was by default attributed to her husband; and numerous women who have been defined as ‘muses’ or ‘assistants’ to the more famous men in their lives, when they were in fact equal creators in their own right.

I highly recommend this book to all.

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Book Review: Lockdown Innit: Poems About Absurdity by MJ Mallon

During the Covid-19 pandemic I have, like many others, have been writing a Covid Diary. Early on, I knew we were entering into such an extraordinary period of history that I felt compelled to record this journey. My own Covid diary since February 2019, perhaps, should be turned into a long narrative poem like The Ancient Mariner! Certainly the virus has been like an albatross around our necks!

Fellow-author MJ Mallon has chosen to write about the lockdown in a very distinct, individual way, and she has recently published a collection of poems called Lockdown Innit: poems of absurdity.

In this collection of poems, MJ Mallon has given us a wry series of vignettes of our society during a very strange year in history; it reminded me in part of theatre of the absurd, and she carries it out with an admirable lightness of touch.  She conveys the folly, the irritability, the absurdity of people’s behaviour, along with a feeling of being lost and adrift.

The reader has a sense of having opened various windows, to see how other people have coped with lockdown. We find honest observation of life: people doing foolish things in supermarkets; quirky observations of nature that may well have gone unnoticed in other, busier times; or which may not have been there for us to see, but for the fact that wild animals too have felt the strangeness, and strayed into the urban environment. Examples given are the appearance of a swan by a dustbin.

We also find gems of delight in all this: the author’s observation of the horses like statues, and the violin player on a tightrope; and I loved the poem about the local village community library. We have a pop-up lending library at the bottom of our road. It demonstrates how human beings can react so differently to crises, and while some withdraw into themselves, doing things that seem selfish or stupid to others, we also find those who come up with inspirational ideas to make life better for those around them.

The poem about breast cancer explores the subject beautifully, showing the author’s relief set against her poignant awareness of others who are not so lucky.  Through the entire volume, there floats a sensation of oddness, simply noted and preserved in a poem.

I feel these poems are written by someone who sees life at an angle, shifted one degree by the quiet act of observation.

Highly recommended.

BLURB 

Lockdown Innit is a poetry collection of eighteen poems about life’s absurdities and frustrations during lockdown. Wherever you live in this world, this is for you. Expect humour, a dollop of banter and ridiculous rants here and there. Amongst other delights, witness the strange antics of a swan posing by a bin and two statuesque horses appearing like arc deco pieces in a field. Check out the violin player on a tightrope, or the cheeky unmentionables wafting in the lockdown breeze!

AUTHOR BIO

My alter ego is MJ – Mary Jane from Spiderman. I love superheroes!

On the 17th of November I was born, in Lion City: Singapore, (a passionate Scorpio, with the Chinese Zodiac sign a lucky rabbit.) My early childhood was spent in Hong Kong. During my teen years, my parents returned to my father’s birthplace, Edinburgh, where I spent many happy years. As a teenager, I travelled to many far-flung destinations. It’s rumoured that I now live in the Venice of Cambridge, with my six-foot hunk of a Rock God husband. My two enchanted daughters have almost flown the nest, but often return with a cheery smile to greet me.

During the day, I work in an international sixth form with students from around the world. I’m the meet and greet lady who welcomes them to their new college and issues them with late slips when they don’t get to their lessons on time!

I write YA fantasy, paranormal, horror/supernatural short stories, flash fiction and short form poetry. More recently, I have produced and compiled an anthology/compilation set during the early stages of COVID-19 entitled This Is Lockdown. Following on from this, in February 2021 I will be releasing Lockdown Innit, poems about absurdity. 

I’ve been blogging for many moons at my blog home Kyrosmagica, which means Crystal Magic. From time to time I write articles celebrating the spiritual realm, inspiration and my love of nature, crystals and all things magical, mystical, and mysterious.

My eclectic blog shares my three loves: reading, writing, and creativity. I adore reading and have written over 150 reviews on my blog: https://mjmallon.com/2015/09/28/a-z-of-my-book-reviews/

AUTHOR SOCIAL MEDIA DETAILS

Authors Website: https://mjmallon.com
Authors Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/M-J-Mallon/e/B074CGNK4L
Twitter: @Marjorie_Mallon 

#ABRSC – Authors Bloggers Rainbow Support Club on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/groups/1829166787333493/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17064826.M_J_Mallon

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/m-j-mallon 

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/mjmallonauthor/

BOOK LINKS 

Kindle Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08VW81Q53/

Kindle Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08VW81Q53/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56949934-lockdown-innit

Universal link for kindle: https://mybook.to/Lockdowninnit

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 2: The Saxon Mill and Gaveston’s Cross, Warwick

This is the second in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

The Saxon Mill, viewed from the Coventry road, Warwick. Photo credit Abigail Robinson.

Today we visit the Saxon Mill,now a well-loved pub, bar and restaurant, and formerly the mill belonging to the Guy’s Cliffe estate. And after we have explored and enjoyed all that the Saxon Mill has to offer, at this scenic and atmospheric location on the river Avon, we will then head across the road and further up towards Leek Wootton, to wonder at the curious monument of Gaveston’s Cross.

Gaveston’s Cross. Photo by permission of Warwickshire Libraries.

Here’s an extract:

The original mill belonged to the Augustinian St Mary’s Abbey in Kenilworth. The abbey owned the mill until the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It then formed part of the Guy’s Cliffe Estate, and remained so up until the Second World War during which time it was known as The Old Mill.

    In 1813, Bertie Greatheed added the picturesque balcony, which forms the scene for a present-day paranormal tale.

   James, a former member of staff, takes up the story.

  “I was employed as a grill chef at the pub when Harvester owned it. One hot summer night, whilst working on the grill in the front of house, I went to open the side door and let some air through. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white figure pass along the balcony beyond the small window. Thinking someone had come up the outside stairs, I waited for them to come through the door. No one came through. I looked out through the window to see who it was, but saw no one there. About ten to fifteen minutes later I saw another figure moving towards the door again. I poked my head out once more and still saw nothing. I told my colleagues, who said, ‘that’s Monty, the pub’s ghost. He often knocks things over, slams doors and such. He’s quite entertaining!’”

   Rebuilding work was carried out on the Mill in 1822 and it was a working mill until 1938. It was converted to a restaurant and bar in 1952.  The water-wheel, now restored, is visible to all who pass by; the mill-race can be seen through a glass panel in the floor of the pub.

   On the other side of the Avon, you may take the riverside path for a good view of  Guy’s Cliffe across the water.

   Nearby, Blacklow Hill became the scene of a notorious summary execution on 1 July 1312.  Guy de Beauchamp, earl of Warwick, had lured Piers Gaveston, King Edward II’s favourite, to Warwick Castle. Guy had long wanted to get rid of Piers, who had insulted him personally, and was exerting far too much influence over the king. Also he had flouted commands to leave England and stay out, if he valued his life.  The earl’s men dragged Piers in a cart to Blacklow Hill, where they ran him through with a sword and beheaded him. The place of his execution is now occupied by Gaveston’s Cross. [image]

   It was Bertie Greatheed himself who caused the monument to be erected on his land. Today the land is in different private ownership, and not open to the public. However, by special permission it is possible to visit Gaveston’s Cross, in the heart of the woods.

   The area where the monument stands is, according to several accounts, a centre of paranormal activity. James remembers an incident from his early teens. “Some friends and I walked up into the woods opposite the Saxon Mill to try and find Gaveston’s Cross. Being a bright summer’s day I thought nothing of the potential fear factor. We hadn’t got further than a few feet into the wood when day turned into the pitch black of night, with a cold clammy feeling to boot. Needless to say we didn’t hang around long and burst back into bright sunshine feeling rather relieved and more than a bit shaky.”

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman, pub Amberley 15 Nov 2020
Inscription on Gaveston’s Cross. Photo by permission of Warwickshire Libraries.

To find out more about the history and the curious tales surrounding these and many other locations in Shakespeare’s county, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire here.