Madam J Mo reviews us!

And a very lovely review it is too


Bidisha reviews Greta and Boris

I was really thrilled when Bidisha requested to review Greta and Boris, Crooked Rib’s children’s book about a girl’s adventures to rescue her cat. And I am even more thrilled that she loved it!

The Light Bulb Moment: now available to buy!

Independent publisher Crooked Rib has spent the past year collecting the stories of why we are feminists from women and men across the UK.

Inspired by the Seal Press published ‘Click’, edited by Courtney Martin and J Courtney Sullivan; this anthology brings together writers, academics, grass-roots activists and professional feminists, as they share that moment of inspiration that brought them to feminism.

Some of the names you may recognise. Laurie Penny writing about Germaine Greer. Finn Mackay telling the story of how she went to peace camp. Jo Swinson campaigning for girls to wear trousers in her school. And then there are the women and men whose names you might not recognise, but who are working every day in the fight for gender equality and a better world for all.

Many of these stories are funny. Some are moving. Some tell of pain and trauma. Some are about family members or friends. All of them are inspiring and exciting.

Editor of The Light Bulb Moment, Sian Norris says:

‘After reading ‘Click’ I felt very strongly that we needed this book for the UK. We have such a rich feminist scene here. I thought it would be fascinating to hear how the women and men involved in UK feminist activism ‘found’ feminism. And I was right! These stories are so diverse and unique – I hope that people will enjoy reading them as much as I have.’

By bringing together the stories from women and men from a range of communities and generations, The Light Bulb Moment hopes to offer a snapshot of feminist activism in the UK today, and share the stories of the women and men involved.

The eye-catching cover was designed by illustrator Susie Hogarth.

For this week  only, you can buy The Light Bulb Moment at 20% discount! This offer expires on Friday 16th December (so perfect for your Christmas shopping).

Buy now:

My top 100 books

1.    The Brothers Karamazarov by Dostoyevsky
2.    The Devils by Dostoyevsky
3.    Pride and Prejudice by Austen
4.    Mansfield Park by Austen
5.    Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
6.    The Mysteries of Udolpho by Radcliffe
7.    Northanger Abbey by Austen
8.    Dangerous Liaisons by Laclos
9.    Othello by Shakespeare
10.    Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
11.    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
12.    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
13.    Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
14.    Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
15.    The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
16.    Middlemarch by George Eliot
17.    The portrait of Dorian Grey by Wilde
18.    The Importance of being Earnest by Wilde
19.    East Lynne by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
20.    Vanity Fair by Thackerey
21.    Great Expectations by Dickens
22.    Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
23.    Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
24.    Victory by Joseph Conrad
25.    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
26.    The Awakening by Kate Chopin
27.    My Antonia by Willa Cather
28.    The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
29.    The Voyage Out by Woolf
30.    Mrs Dalloway by Woolf
31.    Orlando by Woolf
32.    The Waves by Woolf
33.    The Waste Land by TS Eliot
34.    The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot
35.    The Claudine Novels by Colette
36.    Cheri by Colette
37.    The Vagabond by Colette
38.    1984 by George Orwell
39.    Dr Zhivago by Pasternak
40.    Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys
41.    After leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys
42.    Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys
43.    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
44.    Goodbye to Berlin by Isherwood
45.    Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
46.    The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas by Gertrude Stein
47.    Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
48.    The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
49.    Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Seberg
50.    Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
51.    Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
52.    A Woman by Sibilla Aleramo
53.    Manhattan when I was young by Mary Cantwell
54.    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
55.    Ariel by Sylvia Plath
56.    South Riding by Winifred Holtby
57.    The Magus by John Fowles
58.    Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
59.    Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
60.    Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
61.    House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier
62.    Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier
63.    The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier
64.    The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
65.    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
66.    The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
67.    Cat’s Eye by Margare Atwood
68.    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
69.    The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
70.    The Women’s Room by Marilyn French
71.    Wise Children by Angela Carter
72.    The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
73.    The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
74.    The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory
75.    The Devil on Horseback by Victoria Holt
76.    The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
77.    Small Changes by Marge Piercy
78.    The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
79.    The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis
80.    The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe by CS Lewis
81.    The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
82.    Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
83.    The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
84.    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
85.    Home by Marilynne Robinson
86.    Moominpapa at Sea by Tove Jannsson
87.    Beloved by Toni Morrison
88.    The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi
89.    Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami
90.    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
91.    The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
92.    Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
93.    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
94.    Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
95.    The Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield
96.    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
97.    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
98.    I know why the caged bird sings by Maya Angelou
99.    Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
100.    The Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn

Book review – why i love Philippa Gregory

I have a secret which is about to be revealed. Despite my bookshelf being crammed with Blake, Woolf, Eliot and Dostoyevsky, I absolutely love romantic historical fiction. The fatter the book and the glossier the cover the better. And most of all I love my recently discovered Philippa Gregory’s Tudor novels.

Gregory is first and foremost a really good writer. She has a deft use of language and a density of description that means she fully recreates the world of the Tudor courts she writes about, the smells, the colours, the landscapes, the houses and the costumes. Reading her novels, she puts you right there, timid behind the throne, absorbing the action. Secondly, she has a brilliant way with characterisation, particularly in my mind of her female characters. They leap out of the page, alive and strong and passionate, often angry and often sensual. They are full characters who invite your love, hate, distaste and admiration. And thirdly, her books are well researched, from the details of the colour of the gown Mary Boleyn wore at a gala, to the complex hatreds and schemings of Jane Boleyn and Thomas Howard.

David Starkey recently spoke out against the ‘feminisation’ of history, that we are all so obsessed with Henry VIII’s wives that we don’t care about his rule. As the F Word rightly pointed out, this was an absurd statement to say the least. In the main, history has been written by men, for men and about men. Although there are ever more wonderful female historians coming through and being published, the names we associate with popular history are still overwhelmingly male. This very masculinist way of writing and looking at history has often put me off a subject I love. For me, Gregory’s novels (and Alison Weir’s fiction works) have opened up a feminine and feminist angle in history, particularly Tudor history, that has enticed me to move from the novels to non-fiction history books (Alison Weir again!). They have introduced me to a history beyond the male perspective, a history of women. And although I know that the novels Gregory writes are just that, novels, her works have inspired me to discover more about the women behind the fiction.

Gregory’s most renowned novel is The Other Boleyn Girl, which tells the story of Mary Boleyn, the less-well known sister of Anne, who was mistress to Henry VIII before he fell in love with Anne and turns the whole country upside down to marry her, before turning it upside down again to murder her. (it’s not a spoiler! We all know the story!)

What comes across most strongly in The Other Boleyn Girl is the sense of powerlessness of the women in Henry’s court, and yet the independence of spirit, bravery and loyalty that they also embody. According to the fictional account, Mary is married at 12, becomes Henry’s mistress at the age of 13, having been pushed into Henry’s bed by her uncle, father and mother. She is a pawn in the political game to get the Boleyn and Howard power on the throne, and she plays her part willingly. As she says later on in a rage ‘I have always been obedient!’ She doesn’t have any choice. She is Henry’s mistress for a number of years and (in the fictional account) has a daughter and son by him, children whom she must leave in the country in order to serve Henry sexually and in court. It is the extent to which she misses her children and adores being a mother that leads to her eventually forging her own path away from the power games of her family. During the Tudor period, women could not have sex whilst pregnant, or afterwards until they had been ‘churched’, and so to keep Henry’s eye in the direction of the Boleyns, Mary’s uncle pushed Anne into his flirtation, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So far, so woman victim, Mary appears to be someone who is pushed from man to man by other men. But as she grows up and becomes a mother, you see a woman who is determined to form her own way and her own independence. She recognises that as a member of the Tudor court she is not allowed to live her own life, and as Anne’s star rises she stays by her sister’s side and supports her as she moves from favourite to wife. But eventually she stamps her feet, falls in love and has had enough. She scandalises the court by choosing her own path and creates her own happiness. She is marvellously self aware, self-determined, and a woman who is incredibly aware of her sexuality and sensual pleasure. After a youth of being pushed and pulled in every direction at the whims of an increasingly deranged and power hungry king and family, as an adult she forges her own way. In her determination to choose her own destiny, Mary Boleyn is painted as a very modern woman, a woman you can respect.

As well as the feminist portrayal of Mary, The Other Boleyn Girl viciously exposes the destructive nature of sexism and hatred of women. As we all know, Henry VIII was determined to have a son, and both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had daughters. Gregory terrifyingly portrays the absolute fear inherent in being pregnant with a daughter, and the terror the queens felt at not falling pregnant at all. It was treason to suggest the King was impotent, even though clearly his health was such that it was difficult for him to conceive. Therefore, the lack of pregnancies are blamed squarely on the women he marries. Gregory portrays a court where women were driven to desperation in the fight to have a son, where women were seen as nothing but breeding machines (the reason for a wet nurse was to minimise the period after birth when the woman was unable to conceive) or sex toys. We see Anne driven to terrible deeds to conceive a baby, knowing that her life depended on her ability to produce a son.

The novel ends with Anne’s execution, as Henry’s love for her is poisoned to hatred at the lack of a son. It is a devastating scene, where we truly realise the terrific power of the King and the affect of such a male-centric court on the lives of women. Despite Anne’s often appalling treatment of Mary, Gregory beautifully portrays the relationship between the two sisters and their brother George. We see Mary’s loyalty and love of her siblings, who, in so many ways, are marooned in a court which sees them not as fully human, but as conduits to power and breeders of sons.

What really stands out about this novel is that Gregory doesn’t patronise the reader by making the characters one dimensional – purely heroes and purely villains. In this way she almost rescues women such as Anne Boleyn from their historical legacy. We often think of Anne as either a victim or a whore. Yes, she was a victim but she was also a viciously ambitious woman, willing to tread on anyone in her path, including her sister and Katherine of Aragon. She could be brutal and single minded in the pursuit of the power that she craved. Yet, she was also a woman trapped in a plot determined to destroy her, she was a pawn in a male dominated court and the wife of a King who was becoming increasingly power crazed and paranoid. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel comes when she helplessly faces the King, holding aloft her daughter, pleading for him to love her again. Gregory refuses to make her a simple character, and whilst at moments you want to scream at her to be nicer, you can’t help but feel devastated by her downfall at the hands of such vicious, unrepentant and greedy men.

The Boleyn Inheritance picks up on many of the themes and characters of The Other Boleyn Girl, including the monstrous Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to Mary and Anne. Just as in some ways we see Anne Boleyn’s character being rescued from historical stereotype, so she does the same for Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. Rather than ‘the ugly one’ and the ‘stupid but pretty one’, we see two women who are again, at the mercy of male power, trying to forge their own paths. And whilst Anne achieves it, surviving her marriage to Henry and after his death, having the freedom to live a life away from fear, on her own terms, Catherine follows the path of her cousin to the block. Catherine’s story is heartbreaking, married to the King at 15, and executed at 17. Again, we see a story where women are persecuted for not getting pregnant (although it is clear that by this stage, Henry was most probably impotent) and subject to the whims and jealousies of a King who is deluded by power. Yet whilst in some respects, Anne and Catherine are powerless women, Gregory imbues them with a spirit and bravery that has perhaps been missing in the public’s general view of the two short lived queens. We see a woman such as Anne determined to escape a destructive home life and be a woman on her own terms, and Catherine who despite her frivolous nature is incredibly self aware about the paranoia and idiocy of the court.

But tragedy is still, clearly, inherent in her story. Gregory heartbreakingly describes Catherine’s intense sexual frustration and disgust that she can’t put into words regarding her relations with the king, and the unspeakable sadness she feels about having her youth wasted and ultimately destroyed.

As in The Other Boleyn Girl, Gregory explores the still present today sexual double standard for men and women. Anne learns to ‘pleasure the king’ to keep him in love with her, her sexuality is then used against her to brand her a whore and a traitor. Similarly, Catherine uses her sexuality, her ‘French whore tricks’ to try and get pregnant by the King, and her sexuality is obviously something he enjoys, until he chooses to see it as evidence of wantonness and treachery. And whilst Henry can have a mistress at every turn, from Mary Boleyn to Madge Shelton and many more, the idea that his wives were not virgins or the rumour that they were unfaithful puts their heads on the block. Just as these women weren’t free to love who they chose, neither were they allowed a sexuality. In this way, by choosing to pursue her love and express her sexuality, I believe Mary Boleyn is portrayed as a very modern, very feminist heroine, whilst the repression of Catherine’s desires go a long way to explaining the ways in which sexual women are seen, then as today.

Gregory’s depiction of Jane Boleyn is another stroke of mastery. She has a much bigger role in The Boleyn Inheritance than in The Other Boleyn Girl, a woman who is so damaged by jealousy and greed, and yet who we almost feel sympathy for, she again is just another pawn in male games, and perhaps the most powerless of them all, for her ambition are never her own, but those of the men around her.

I’ll finish with a word about Gregory’s latest novel, The Other Queen, about Mary Queen Of Scots. Gregory said that she avoided writing about her as she thought she was ‘an idiot’, but after discovering more about her she realised that she too had been caricatured by popular perception. Rather than a silly frivolous queen ruled by her heart, we see a woman of bravery and determination, who could have fulfilled her promise to rule Scotland. There is a terrifyingly modern moment in the book when Mary speaks to her hostess/jailer Bess of Hardwick, about her rape by Bothwell. In response to Bess asking why she didn’t accuse him in court, Mary says how could she, when men believe that woman are easily seduced and say no when they mean yes, when juries will always believe a man’s words over a woman. A truth in 1569 as much as it is now.

I hope I have given a flavour of why I believe Gregory’s books can be read from a very real feminist perspective. As well as being fast paced, well written thrilling reads, we see a writer who is very focussed on giving a female perspective on a period of history where women were seen as breeders and wives. She presents characters who are determined to form their own lives, or who are helplessly caught up as pawns in destructive games of powers. She rescues women from their historic stereotypes, presenting a female-centric view of history that allows us to see women who we so often only think of in relation to men, as real fully formed characters, flawed and brave, trying to break free.

Crooked Rib Publishing is live!

It’s exciting isn’t it?

Welcome to Crooked Rib Publishing.

Here you can find out everything you need to know about this fabulous and feminist publishing imprint, read all about our books, maybe even buy yourself (or your best friend) one of our books, as well as keep up to date with all our news, events and anything else that takes our fancy.

So, whether we’ve got a book reading coming up, or want to tell you about one of our favourite feminist reads, or your just hoping to find out a bit more about who we are and what we do, welcome!

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