Ash, by Alys Einion

This week I am pleased that my next novel, Ash,  has been nominated for the Guardian Not-the-Booker Literary Prize. Being on the Longlist is a real honour, so thank you to the person who nominated me.

Ash has been a labour of love. It is a continuation of the story of Amanda, the central character in my first novel Inshallah ( and shows what happened to Amanda once she returns to the UK from Saudi Arabia with her five children. It is as gritting and realistic, perhaps as uncompromising, as my first book. I was inspired to write about some the struggles of parenting, particularly single parenting, but more importantly, about some of the challenges of being a young woman in our society. So the book is two narratives interwoven to build one overall story. Ash’s story is told in first person, present-tense, and is a shocking insight into how she struggles with self concept, with her place in the world, and with how the world makes her feel about herself. She is a very intelligent, creative but challenged young woman and I hope that readers will relate to some of her feelings.  Her relationship with her own physical self is … difficult.

Amanda’s story, mostly told as a retrospective, explores the way life has bruised and battered her as much as her previous relationship did, but also shows how her sons grew from boys into men, and explores her relationships with others. In this book, unlike the previous, her relationships with women are more explicitly defined.  Her process of becoming, of reclaiming her sense of self, is slow, as her energies are mostly spent on her children, but we see how this at times difficult character carves a small place for herself in the world.

Something has happened to Ash, but the reader does not know what. Amanda questions what has brought about this cataclysm in her life. Was it losing their home at Blossom House, a community of women that was their first real haven after returning home? Was it Ash’s relationship with her mother? Was it growing up with her mother’s constant fear and insecurity? What about Ash’s relationships with her four older brothers? What has happened to them? What happens to us when we feel we belong nowhere?

It is a book about womanhood, from two ends of the spectrum, and about life and poverty and growth and creativity. It is about the ways that women are with each other, and about the constant search for belonging in this difficult and dangerous world. It is about the way that we are made to feel about our bodies, about our status, about our value. And it is a story, as always, that will make you question some of your assumptions about certain things in life.

We often talk about disaffected youth, about inexplicable choices, about declining behaviours. But do we question why people act the way they do? Do we ask what impact the world has on young people? Do we wonder what needs to change to make a better world? And do we really know what is influencing the people we are about?

This is a book of questions, and some answers, and if it makes the reader think, and reflect, then I have achieved my purpose.

Ash takes you on a journey of intimate reality, inside the minds of women. I hope that you get as much from reading it as I have from writing it.


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Inspiring Women and a Wider World

Inspiring Women and a Wider World
Today I am honoured to attend the @Chwarae Teg #Womenspire18 awards, as a finalist in the Leadership category. It has surprised me and made me feel so proud to be recognised in this way by an organisation whose work I so strongly admire and respect. All of my life I have had dreams and desires – to be a novelist (tick), to be a midwife (tick), to be an academic (tick). Somehow, I have found the drive and energy needed to achieve a lot. But most of all, I wanted to become the kind of woman I always admired, to be like the women who inspired me. Can it be that I have achieved that too? It seems hard to believe, but if I take the advice that I give my students, colleagues and loved ones, I must own my own achievements and celebrate my values and abilities, and I am inspired to write this blog post not because I want to grow my ego any further, but because I want to share what it means to be inspired by women, and to inspire others.
A couple of weeks ago, facilitating a class with my amazing, hard-working and inspirational students on the HE Cert in Maternity Care, I talked about the women who inspired me. One of these was Caroline Squire, who was a lecturer when I was a student midwife, and whose passionate feminism made her an instant role model for me. She called us all ‘colleagues’ and refused to play into the hierarchy that is so often found, both in healthcare practice and in academia. She was (and is) a social critic, an advocate for women’s equality and women’s empowerment in childbearing and in midwifery, and it was she who planted the idea of becoming an academic firmly in my mind. I wanted to be like her. She understood the systems within which women work and become mothers, and she inspired us all to commit to true values of empowerment and activism. A few years later, after my first (failed) attempt at a PhD, where the biggest obstacle in my way, sadly, was that very same system, she contacted me and asked me to contribute to an academic book, The Social Context of Birth, now in its third edition. I was delighted (and terrified) and have continued to contribute my critical insight and, most recently, my research, to this book. Caroline was a fantastic editor and guide through the publishing process and the book remains the best text on understanding the social forces affecting birthing.
As I spoke with the class, as usual, I let my passion and my feelings spill out into my words, and made them visible and palpable. I have always believed that if I bring my authentic self to my work, sooner or later this will make a difference to somebody. And one of the students said, as I finished my explanation, “but Alys, that is what you are to us.” I was speechless for a moment, and overwhelmed. And frankly, overjoyed. I felt that, of all my achievements, this was the pinnacle.
To find out that I inspire others is amazing, especially when it is something I am driven to do because of my desire to give every woman the chance to become what they want to become. I conceived of and started the HE Certificate in Maternity Care at Swansea University to provide an entry into the specialist knowledge of maternity care and reproduction for anyone. There are no entry criteria, and the programme has gone from strength to strength. We started with just 16 students, and this year, we are offering 60 places. The programme is now led by another inspirational colleague, Nicky Court, who has taken her leadership to new heights. The programme will be now offered on two sites – Carmarthen and Swansea – and from this September, those who complete the programme will have the option of stepping onto the second year of the BSc in Health and Social Care. Many more people will now access not only greater knowledge about women, families, pregnancy, birth and parenthood, but will be able to enjoy and be empowered by a University education.
Also a few short weeks ago, I saw a student putting a book into her bag, and realised it was my novel, Inshallah, published by Honno Press ( Shyly, I exclaimed at the fact that she was reading my book, and was delighted that she was enjoying it. This leads me on to more inspirational women who have affected my life. My PhD Supervisors, Tiffany Atkinson and Louise Holmwood-Marshall at Aberystwyth University both recognised my drive and my ideas and gave me both roots and wings. They grounded me in the research and writing process, and enabled me to write what would become my first novel. This was such a powerful and challenging time in my life. I was working full time, first at University of the West of England, and then at Swansea, and also working part time at the Open University to pay for my PhD fees, whilst also bringing up a child in an uncertain financial climate.
Completing the PhD was a great achievement. Then I submitted the novel to Honno Press, and Caroline Oakley, Editor, changed my life. Direct, to-the-point and thoroughly inspirational, she told me exactly what was wrong with my work and what needed to happen. It was as if cogs and wheels in my brain began to turn for the first time, and suddenly I understood novels more than ever. A year later I was delighted to accept a publishing contract. Since then, Caroline and her team at Honno have continued to support, inspire, guide and drive me. My second novel, Ash, will be published this year. To me, the most powerful part of being published – which is my longest-held life ambition – is that I am published by an amazing, feminist independent press, and get to be in the company of other vital, creative and radical women writers. Ever since I first encountered Honno I knew I wanted to be published by them and now, I get to inspire others by sharing my words and changing the world just a tiny bit.
Three years ago, I stumbled across a call for papers for an edited collection by another feminist press., led by Andrea O’Reilly, who publish inspirational and radically diverse texts on motherhood and mothering, fathering, sexuality….. Having contributed to several volumes edited by amazing colleagues, I found myself with a book proposal accepted, and was lucky enough to find a Canadian Co-Editor, Jen Rinaldi, to help me bring together the work of powerful writers and artists in the book ‘Bearing the Weight of the World: Exploring Maternal Embodiment’ which will be published by Demeter Press later this year. Again, what a pleasure to be published by and with activists and critical thinkers who are rewriting the landscape of knowledge to promote better insight and equality! It seems like a dream, now, to be part of such work.
Some years ago I also had the opportunity to work with the amazing team at the Practising Midwife Journal –– and to curate the Research Series for the Journal. This has exposed me to a much wider field of activists in the arena of women’s health and also led to a blog opportunity with the Cochrane Collaboration. The world has opened up wider and wider for me as the work I do leads me to realise just how many inspirational people there are out there, paving the way.
There are hundreds of other women and people of all genders who inspire me. There was the midwife who held the space for me and grounded me when I had my first child, who made me want to be a midwife. There are the writers and artists and speakers who have opened my mind and heart, such as Maya Angelou, Margaret Attwood, Scarlett Thomas, Sarah Waters, Anne McCaffrey, Ina May Gaskin, Jenny Hall, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, Starhawk, Katherine V Forrest, Val McDermid, Barbara Erskine, Joanne Harris, Manda Scott, Susan Hill, Emma Donoghue, A.S Byatt, Alice Hoffman, Julie Felix, Sheila Kitzinger, Sheena Byrom, Hannah Dahlen, Frank Duffy, Carolyn Hillyer … the list goes on and on.
Then there are the women and men I work with, inspirational leaders themselves – Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, Chantal Patel, Sarah Norris, Susanne Darra, Cath Elms, Professor Martin Stringer… and all of my colleagues, dedicated and driven to be the best they can be. There are organisations, such as Stonewall, whose work inspires me to keep on keeping on. Then there are my friends and family, trailblazers in their own ways – my wonderful, amazing sister, Carole Ann Mortimer, who works to support women in direst need and helps them to recover from the impact of domestic abuse, my son, Aran Henley-Einion, who is a gifted musician and unequivocally his own person, my dear friends Linda Reagan and Maeve Reagan, Jay McNeill, Lee Gale, and many, many others, friends of all genders who advocate for gender equality in every dimension, and who live their convictions so powerfully.
These are the people who inspire me. These and so many, many others have changed my life for the better. There are the hundreds and thousands of authors and activists, there are the students whose lives I am lucky enough to touch, just briefly, there are the clients in my hypnobirthing classes who inspire me to continue advocating for women’s rights, there are the colleagues in the Staff LGBT+ network and the people on campus who might feel that their individuality is not only recognised, but celebrated at Swansea University, an employer which not only allows me to be myself, but rewards me for my diversity and my uniqueness. It is no surprise to me that Swansea University is a finalist for the Employer Award at tonight’s Womenspire awards.
If I can make a difference, just a small difference, in this great, wide world, then I will have achieved everything I set out to do. If I can give one other person new insight, new knowledge, or a signpost to their own inner strength, then I have accomplished more than I ever could have imagined.
All my life, people have said to me, ‘you will never’. You will never get a degree, never get married, never be successful or have a good job. To all of the nay-sayers, I only have this to say.
Watch me.
The Wider World Awaits.
Good luck to all the finalists at the Awards tonight.

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The Reawakening

Being a writer is about so much more than simply putting words on paper in the right order. After a year of turbulence, and three years of near-hibernation, during which I have retreated into a range of forms of escape, I can honestly say that the tide has turned and the writer in me is awake.

Last month I finished and submitted the final draft of my next novel, Ash, which is to be published by Honno Press this year. It was a challenge, as it meant taking the stories of my much-beloved characters in Inshallah in new directions and looking deeply into more of the ways in which women’s lives are played out in this imperfect world. This meant more research into difficult areas, and more soul-searching about the ways in which I engage with the issues I wanted to explore. It seems that a writer is more than a wordsmith. She is a commentator on culture, on experience, on society, and I became more aware of this as I took the deep journey into a new underworld, a new landscape that was paradoxically and achingly familiar.

To awake to oneself is a powerful process, and is often painful. It was only as I finished Ash, that I realised that Amanda, the main character in Inshallah, was simply telling the story of her own awakening, and sharing the symbolism of her own becoming. And through this I was able to see that we are all, as women, on a similar journey, one which challenges us to awake from the sleep of complacency, and to shrug off the anodyne effects of quick-fixes in our lives. There are multiple routes of escape available to us, and it seems to me there is no shame in taking time to switch off, but a writer needs to be awake, to be conscious, to be aware of the impact of what she writes and to understand why she is writing it.

This has become more pertinent to me over the last two months, as I have been notified that I am a finalist for the Chwarae Teg Leadership award (  an incredible honour and a complete surprise. I have become suddenly and powerfully conscious of the impact and influence I must have in the lives of others, and fully aware of the responsibility of having such an influence. I have always loved hearing feedback from my readers, always felt honoured and humbled if my work affects them, engages them, or uplifts them. It is a part of everything else that I do, working with incredible women on various stages of their own life-journeys. But writing, creating, is a solitary and often isolating experience, and to bring your work out into the world means letting go of what you believe the story to be, and setting it free to exist independently in the minds and lives of the readers. I can only hope, as I experience my own reawakening to self, to the writer I am, which, as is the case for many women, is just one fragment of the whole self, that I can continue to create and to share my work in ways that bring some new awareness into the lives of others.

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The Year of the Woman

We surround ourselves with the objects, the symbols that represent the life we want. We privileged women, who work hard but do not always have to fear for the next meal or walk miles for clean water, we women who pursue our dreams and goals in our various ways, we have dressed our lives the way we dress a room, the way we dress ourselves. We note the symbols of the status, the identity we have chosen for ourselves, and we acquire those in order to acquire the identity they represent. We study, assimilating one set of codes which suggests a particular aspect of social identity, and follow that with an occupational trajectory that is too often delimited by social codes. The main features of our lives, however, are performed, they are displayed, demonstrated – how can we be successful if others do not witness and validate our success? I have watched women from all walks of life and their intersection with the world, with each other, and I have to conclude that we are all warriors, perhaps without knowing it, working towards some invisible summit of life. And I have to conclude, here in my 48th year, in 2018, the year of the woman as ‘they’ are already calling it, that it has always been women who have inspired me the most, women who have demonstrated true strength, integrity, love, vision, determination, capability. There are some men also, and some people of varying gender identity who also inspire me, but in this age of the shedding of many of the labels that have both defined and divided us, I believe it is more important than ever to celebrate and yes, to defend, my identity as a woman.
So this year, I am writing this blog about the people who have inspired me, and in particular, the women whose voices, words, actions and lives have pushed me to a better understanding of the true value of my own life, of my own achievements and accomplishments. These accomplishments are a manifestation of my strength, a sign and a beacon for others to use to guide them in their self-quest of becoming, of being, of freedom. I am no more or less special than any of you, just woman who has survived, has learned to thrive, has come to a day of sunlight and self-love knowing that this is it.
There is only today. Only today to do the things that we love, the things that matter to us. Only today to read the books, travel, meet with people, take chances and speak our truth. Only today to be the women we were meant to be, say the things we always wanted to say. Maybe no one is listening, maybe no one cares. It doesn’t matter. I am listening. I care. It matters enough to me to write these words down, to share them, to send them out into the cybersphere for anyone to find, maybe now, maybe some time in the unknown future. But these are for today. Today I get up and I live, savouring all that has brought me to this point, all that I am and all that I can do.

Today is all that matters. The rest is still unwritten.



Today is all that matters. The rest is still unwritten.

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2016 = Losing and Gaining

This has been a difficult year, particularly for those of us who keep watching our icons depart this earth. It reminds us of time passing. We lose people, days, weeks, months, we wonder at the years passing and how can it be that we are that old already? We feel the bite of time’s cold grip, and fight to resist the forces of ageing that remind us that yes,  Bowie was already famous when we were born, and yes, maybe we haven’t achieved everything we thought we would.

What have I lost this year?

Mostly, illusions. This has been a year where I finally understood that the stories I have been telling myself are time-limited, and I simply don’t have any time left.

I’ve lost any illusion I had about the world being a place where justice, good sense and common decency will prevail, as I watch two political systems sink under the weight of ignorance, arrogance and capitalist supremacy.

I have completed my contract as an external examiner for a great institution.

I have lost a few people too, not irrevocably, but as part of the inevitable attrition of life moving on.

I’ve almost lost a part of my body (surgery pending….)


What have I gained?

A realisation that life is way too precious to waste a minute.

Why do we waste time on things that don’t matter, and yearn for more time to do the things that really do matter?

A renewed love of writing. I have published so many academic things this year, and found that I love what I do. But I still love to write fiction, and I have completed two novels this year (just squeezing the second one in the last few days of 2016). I completed my midwifery memoir which leaves me feeling both excited and terrified.

I have gained a closer relationship with my sister and niece, who have become my upstairs neighbours.

I have gained a new insight into the rare and precious gift that is womanhood, motherhood and midwifery, and I am more determined than ever that every woman should have the chance to know and understand her body and the forces that act on it throughout her lifetime.

And I’ve both lost and gained my confidence.

The most important thing I have lost?

The need for approval or acceptance from anyone else.

And what have I gained?

Peace of mind.

So that’s how I start 2017….. peacefully. Renewed. Determined. Ready for the next chapter.



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When I am free

I can hardly believe how many months have passed since I last posted. Post-Brexit, post political disaster cum standing joke, and post chaos of teaching. Yes, it’s been an eventful few months. I have been too busy writing to write, it seems.

There is an elusive state I have been chasing for some time, that point in my life when I am free. Free to write, free to think, to imagine, to dream. Free to sit in the garden and dream, breathing in the summer air. Free to rise in the morning and follow my mind’s path through the day, unfettered by the constraints of the home or the demands of work. Free to simply be.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy my day job. I love it. I love the buzz of busy times, the energy of teaching, the feedback from students. I love the challenge of the workload, the planning, the juggling of priorities. I love taxing my brain with new challenges, such as managing a programme, fostering the development of students, supporting colleagues, and writing academic work. This spring and summer I have completed another five chapters for edited collections, and have continued publishing in The Practising Midwife. I have been studying complementary therapies, an amazing course for midwives, and discovering how difficult it is being a student again.

But I have been waiting and wondering when that elusive day will come, the day that I am free to write. Book number two has been hovering in the background for far too long, a weighty, waiting pressure that builds the more time passes. A recent editorial meeting did not help with that pressure, as I realised just how much work was needed to turn the story into a book. More writing, more editing, that skilled crafting of plot and character, building pace and depth. There never seems enough time to do it all.

When I am free, I keep thinking, I will do this. When I am free, I will do that. But the fact is, the day will never come when I am more free than I am today.

Let me describe my current situation. My garden is overgrown, although a couple of days of blessed sunshine at least has allowed me to mow the lawns. My beautiful flat is a mess, and if these walls could talk, the would be begging for some cleaning spray and a jay cloth. Spiders have taken over almost every possible corner. Something unnameable is growing on the bathroom rug. Clothes, which until a few days ago were simply piled on every surface in the bedroom, have been hung up unironed. My desk is piled with the detritus of end of course thank you gifts, notebooks, magazines and bits and bobs from the garden as it is the first surface available when I walk through the garden door. My bed is unmade. The floors need sweeping and vacuuming. I can’t remember the last time I dusted.

But in front of me is a folder, with some yellow pads inside, and a printout of the novel. The last two days I have been writing. Reading, yes, watching the odd film, washing up  and cooking, but, most importantly, writing. I hit the wall, initially. I was looking at a load of notes and panicking.  Then it came to me. Every day starts with a decision. We decide what to do first, and what to do next. And that means, regardless of the other demands on my time, it is okay, sometimes, to just write.

Everything starts with the first step.

And then another, and then another.

I’m going to need a new yellow pad soon, I’ve managed to write so much, and yes, there is more to do, but I can see my way over the wall now. It’s all about priorities, about making writing as important as everything else in life.

I know where I am going and there is no one to see or care if I am surrounded by mess, or if I haven’t done the dishes, or polished the cat. It will all get sorted eventually.

When I am free.



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Words, Tea and Synchronicity

It’s Saturday, a day which conjures up rest, relaxation, and for many people, socialising. Finding my plans for the evening scuppered, my first thought is housework (overdue hovering, a desk that needs tidying, etc). But my second thought, as always, is writing. This is the story of a writer, on a Saturday night, suddenly cast adrift again with the luxury of time and space and inspiration, who finds a strange kind of synchronicity in her work. It’s one of those times when, despite the insistent mundanity of the everyday, the siren call of the woman’s lot, ghost voices of mother, sisters and past lovers saying that a real woman has a clean home, and only a slattern would leave the hovering and the dust and take up writing, despite all of that, this woman sits down to write. Sun and crisp evening air spilling in through the open door to the garden, light on the crumbs and dirt on the rug. Shadows shift to show the clumped cat hair in the dark corner, the disordered cushions, the tea-stained mug bearing mute witness to the passing of the day. And there, here in fact, on the worn, dusty-rose-pink chaise longue with its multi-coloured throws, a woman writes. The emptiness of sudden free time is filled immediately with waiting words. Did I say waiting? Yes, they have been waiting, words formed up into orderly queues pushing at the doors of the mind, desperate to rush through. Words crowded around like shoppers who have camped out overnight for the early sales, eager and frantic. Slower words, hesitant and deliberate, plodding along with the certainty that at some point they will, inevitably, reach their destination and become real, like the puppet in the story.

Bland words, blanched words, pale like plants kept alive without sunlight, the ignored words of too many weeks and months and years. This is the writer’s lot, I think, the reordering of not enough time to write, so that these words wait in the wings and like albino spiders, become transparent and elongated in abysmal caves of the mind. Some words are sanctioned and given life, the words demanded by paid word, while others must languish until that elusive moment of ‘free time’ allows them space and egress.  And then, suddenly, the cross-over between selves, strange synchronicity, a place between words, where the creative (in this case, a novel exploring relationships between women, and in particular, the manifestations of control) and the academic (a chapter on lesbian fusion in relationships for an edited collection on women’s relationships) makes me realise that life is about synchronicity. Stories are about synchronicity. The research I do for the chapter inspires my understanding and makes the novel’s words flow; reflecting on the personal and engaging the imagination allows a more seductive shaping of the academic work. A life lived simultaneously in multiple dimensions must engender synchronicity, or else there is only chaos.

But where is the story, you say? Where are the plot, the characters, the obstacles and the inevitable resolution? It’s all there, I answer. All there to be seen. The plot comes from me, the author, and the million and one women’s lives before and after and happening now, from the Vindication of the Rights of Women to A Room of One’s own, all those words that waited in the wings and were never heard, or seen, or talked about. All those women whose stories were never read. And the women whose stories were read. And the ones like me who, despite every convenience of the modern world, find themselves alone on a Saturday night contemplating the housework because that is what women do, when I should be walking the beach, notebook in hand, uncaring, making the words, and only the words, my highest priority, because they have and always will be my first love. Instead, there are these words, and the tea-stained cup, and the two projects sitting hand in hand like twins separated at birth who turn to each other and smile, saying, I know you. A woman who writes is her truest self when she acknowledges where the words come from.

Words, tea, synchronicity. Me.


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