Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and to celebrate this we’ve picked out a selection of writing we’re really proud to publish. Whether it’s strong writing by a woman, or is about a strong female character, there’s something for everyone here – we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed choosing them!
Don’t you think it’s worth knowing that you’ve been spared? Isn’t it worth
scrutinising? The dead and dying made us this gift. They showed themselves
to the surgeon-artist, and so to us. Here is their anonymous shame and dismay:
the creeping lichens, as if the skin were a living tombstone. We can gaze at these,
then walk out into the day again, changed, saved, haunted a while.
He had realised, from the first time he had met her, that she was not the kind of woman with whom his life would be safe and cosy, and he had felt qualms. Now he saw that, in spite of her formidable competence, her political ambitions, and her self-confidence, she had weaknesses of a deep-seated kind and needed help. Christ pity her, she seemed to think he could give it.
It would have been ludicrous for him as a lover to ask her why she preferred to be with him, and yet he would have liked to ask, not because he wanted to hear praise of himself from a woman he loved or thought he loved, but because he really could not see what in him attracted her. It was easy to tell what he found attractive in her: beauty, grace, intelligence, courage, and sadness, but above all mystery. There was so much about her that he didn’t understand and perhaps never would.
She opened cupboards and drawers to find tired elastic, worn-out nylon and scruffy shoes with eroded heels. She held these things in her hand as if seeing them for the first time. Frayed wools, discoloured cottons and even her scarves, the silks for her hair which she had always chosen with care were now dull and threadbare. Since Tarig died she had not bought anything new. She had not noticed time moving past, the years eroding the clothes Tarig had seen her in, wools he had touched, colours he had given his opinion on.
Girl and Grandmother at the National Gallery
Girl helping your grandmother up the gallery steps
with her stick in one hand and her arm in yours,
to you she seems as old as the hills,
you little imagine your own hand wrinkled
or your back bent,
but you are contemporaries –
you walk this earth together.
She leads you to a painting over in the corner,
“Self-portrait of the Artist at Twenty-Three”
by David Martin (18th Century, Scottish),
shows you the trace of foxglove in his cheek,
the shadowy eyes and long fair lashes,
and no better claim have you than she
on the chiselled lips caught between glazes.
Of course everybody’s mother always and
so on . . .
loved you enough
or too smothering much.
Of course you were the Only One, your
a machine that shat out siblings, listen
was the original Frigid-
aire Icequeen clunking out
the hardstuff in nuggets, mirror-
silvers and ice-splinters that’d stick
in your heart.
Absolutely everyone’s mother
was artistic when she was young.
was a perfumed presence with pearls, remote
white shoulders when she
bent over in her ball dress
to kiss you in your crib.
Everybody’s mother slept with the butcher
for sausages to stuff you with.
mythologised herself. You got mixed up
between dragon’s teeth and blackmarket stockings.
she failed to give you
about your own sorry
sprouting body (it was a bloody shame)
but she did
sit up all night sewing sequins
on your carnival costume
so you would have a good time
and she spat
on the corner of her hanky and scraped
at your mouth with sour lace till you squirmed
so you would look smart
was your father all this time?
at the war, or
in his office, or any-
way conspicuous for his Absence, so
what if your mother did
float around above you
big as a barrage balloon
blocking out the light?
Nobody’s mother can’t not never do nothing right.
Three of the nuns were watching the television. Curled up like a dormouse, Sister Agnes had fallen asleep in a large wing chair, her spindly legs in their oversized slippers dangling an inch or two above the fawn-coloured carpet. Gentle snores emanated from her open mouth.
‘It’s the news,’ Sister Monica said, as he took the chair beside her, ‘it’s nearly over. We’re on the regional bit. Have you had a bite to eat yet?’
‘Yes, and I’ve washed up my plate…’
‘Murder, murder and more murder – in Glasgow’ Sister Frances chipped in, ‘or more murder, football, more murder and more football – in Glasgow.’
‘The police were called today…’ the newsreader began, batting her long eyelashes at her viewers, ‘to a house in the village of Cleish, Kinross-shire…’
‘My! An east coast murder?’ Sister Frances murmered, ‘by a Glaswegian no doubt.’
Adam turned round and said, looking dangerous,
‘All this money you earn, we don’t seem to be any better off. What do you do with it?’
I closed my eyes and clasped my hands as if praying. ‘I am saving up.’
‘Because,’ I said carefully, as if he was a child who did not take things in easily, ‘I am going to start a business, if you must know.’ Hastily I swung my legs out of the bed and donned an old coat which I used as a dressing gown.
‘Business?’ He sat bolt upright. I half expected his hair to stand on end.
‘Yes, business,’ I repeated, relieved that I had uttered the word.
He jumped out of bed and grabbed the front of my raincoat as if I had said something vile.
‘What the hell are you up to?’
‘Calm yourself,’ I said.‘It was to be a secret. I was going to tell you once I got the thing going. I have plans for us, great plans really, but I might have known you wouldn’t understand.’
‘You’re mad,’ he said,and threw himself back on the bed looking exhausted.
‘So that’s why I work through the week and on Sundays: to save money.’
‘What kind of business?’ he asked listlessly.
‘You’ll never believe it,’ I laughed, dressing rapidly at the same time.
Mirabelle Bevan swept into the office of McGuigan & McGuigan Debt Collection at nine on the dot. She removed her jacket and popped the gold aviator sunglasses she’d been wearing into her handbag, which she closed with a decisive click. The musky scent of expensive perfume spiced the air – the kind that only a sleek middle-aged woman could hope to carry off.
Bill Turpin arrived in her wake. Like Mirabelle, Bill was always punctual. He was a sandy-haired, reliable kind of fellow. At his heel was the black spaniel the offi ce had acquired the year before. Panther nuzzled Mirabelle’s knees, his tail wagging. Mirabelle patted him absentmindedly.
‘Glorious day, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Who’d have thought it after all the rain? It feels like a proper summer now.’
‘Nasty business on Oxford Street,’ Bill commented, picking up a list of the day’s calls from his in-tray and casting an eye down the addresses. ‘That new barber’s.’
‘Tea, Bill?’ Mirabelle offered without looking up.
‘Nah. Always puts me off , does a murder.’ His voice was matter-of-fact. An ex-copper, he was used to dealing with crime of all stripes. As a result, Bill Turpin never panicked handling the ticklish situations that he encountered at McGuigan & McGuigan. Debt collection was a tricky business but it wasn’t as bad as policing Brighton.