This weekend, I took a draft of my next novel with me to some study days, and one of the facilitators read the first page. “Wow,” she said. “I already want to read on, and find out what happens.” I felt a flush of excitement. Then I felt guilt.
It’s been a terrible couple of weeks. Atrocities across the globe brought to the attention of the world, but only because one of the bastions of Western culture and civilisation was threatened. My heart goes out to all the people struggling with death and violence, especially those in Syria. As a writer, it is hard to keep going, to keep believing in what you do, when there is so much that suggests that you should be doing something different in the world.
The thing is, writing is a contribution to society. It is a means of sharing knowledge, understanding and compassion. It is a way of shining a light into the darkness of the unknown. It is a way to entertain and give pleasure to every person who reads your work. It is a chance to stand up in the face of the bullies and say, no, I will carry on as normal. You will not change me. You will not frighten me.
Several years ago I made the decision to write a very challenging story, about a woman who converted to Islam and went to live in Saudi Arabia. Inshallah (published by http://www.honno.co.uk) was a very hard book to research, as I knew nothing about Islam or Arabic culture. It was also hard to write because it was about a woman experiencing domestic abuse. I was afraid, all the time, that I would get it wrong. That I would not be able to tell a story about a woman who found faith and a home. I was afraid that people would assume that the book painted a negative picture of Islam, when I was determined that it wouldn’t. Most of all, I was afraid that by making her husband abusive, people would think that I was misrepresenting men from that culture and faith. I wanted to show how someone could come to understand difference and realise that it is people who are violent and abusive, not cultures and not religions.
And just as people can make that decision, individually, to be violent, abusive, unspeakably destructive, so they can make the decision to enhance the world, to add to it in a positive way.
This is not a political blog post. It is a statement of intent. I am going to carry on writing. Today, as I finish working on my latest book, ready to send to my editor, I find myself reflecting on how important it is to keep writing. And how important it is, especially, for women to write, and to tell stories about women. Tell women’s stories. Women have been overlooked, made invisible, written out of history and ignored by the establishment. I have made it my life’s work to support and educate women. I have wrestled with difficult issues, including seeing the disintegration of the society I have known my whole life, the destruction of the NHS in and for which I have worked most of my adult life, and the utter arrogance of our own political ‘leaders’. I disagree with almost every political decision our government make. I used my vote, but I have something else I can use.
I can use my voice. As a writer, as an author, as an academic, I can use my voice. I both hate and love the social media I use to share my thoughts and my writing, but at this moment I am glad of it because it means I have a voice in more than one space. I can use my voice to make a difference.
My next book is not about culture. It’s about people and pain and loss and living. It’s a mystery story, of sorts. It’s about life and birth and work and people. It’s even about midwives, a little. Whoever said writing was easy was lying. It’s hard, but it is so worth it.
This is how we resist. We keep on keeping on. In whatever way we can.