Women were rewriting the book at this year's Hay Festival. Our intrepid reporter Rosa (aged 7) caught up with headliners Chelsea Clinton and JoJo Moyes
According to recent analysis, women were better represented in literature in Victorian times than they are now. Academics from the universities of Illinois and California at Berkeley used an algorithm to examine more than 100,000 works of fiction dating from 1780 to 2007. Their research shows that there has been a decline in the proportion of female novelists from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.
It’s a sorry tale, but one that might come as a surprise to those attending this year’s Hay Festival, which took place from 23 May to 4 June in the bustling Herefordshire town of Hay-on-Wye.
The world’s biggest literary event, which ended last weekend, was swarming with female power-houses from across the creative, academic and political spheres, and around the globe. Key events including Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood in conversation with journalist and literary director of the Booker Prize foundation, Gaby Wood, and the hopefully-entitled talk ‘Is 2018 the Year of Women?’ suggest a happier arc for women in books.
And it is not just adult fiction where strong, independent women are increasingly being placed centre-stage. A swathe of powerful, and extremely popular, new children’s books – from Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo’s Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted Around the World – are bringing female characters into a fresh new light. With this in mind, I brought my seven-year-old daughter Rosa – book-worm and shunner of all things princess-related – to this year’s Hay Festival to meet key female voices at this year’s event.
Chelsea Clinton, 38, lives with her husband Marc, and their children, Charlotte, 3, and Aidan, 1, in New York City. She is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, and a teacher at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She has written several children’s books, the latest of which She Persisted Around the World highlights the stories of 13 women who used their voices to stand up for something they believed in and changed the course of history in their communities. She spoke to Rosa, aged 7, about the representations of girls in literature.
Why are you at Hay?
I’m here for two reasons. I’m here to talk about a book I co-authored on global health governance, and I’m also here about two of my children’s books, She Persisted, and She Persisted Around the World, celebrating the accomplishments of girls and women, and amplifying the importance of persistence as a core value for us to become the people we want to be.
What were you like when you were 7?
When I was seven years old I loved to read a lot. I was just beginning to read chapter books and was reading a lot of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys… I also spent a lot of time with my very best friend Elizabeth. Our mothers met before we were born. I loved school and trying lots of things and I’m very grateful that my parents always supported that. If I could describe myself in one word it would be ‘curious’.
What is the most important lesson your mother has taught you?
My mother has always encouraged me and given me important advice. But the most important piece of advice came from my mother’s mother, who lived with us as she got older. She had a mantra and that is ‘life is not what happens to you but what you do with what happens’.
Our interview with Chelsea will appear in full in our October issue
JoJo Moyes is the bestselling author of Me Before You, which was adapted into a film starring Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke. A former newspaper journalist, she lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, their three children, three horses named Brian, Fred and Bill, their cat, Eric, and dog, Alfie.
Why are you at Hay?
I’m here to talk about Still Me, which is the third in a series of books about a woman called Lou Clark, which has been more successful than I could ever have dreamed of.
Who are you excited to hear talk?
I am very disappointed to miss Jilly Cooper, who I love so much. I once went to her house and had to be prised out at the end of the night because I wanted to be adopted by her.
What was your favourite book when you were growing up?
It was a book called National Velvet, which is about a skinny little girl called Velvet Brown who was a bit sickly but falls in love with a horse and decides she wants to take part in the toughest horse race so she cuts off all her hair to look like a boy, and then she wins the race. It’s not that she wants the money from winning the race but rather that she wants the feeling of winning something. I was once a skinny little girl who liked horses and when I read that book it reminds me that if you want it enough, you can achieve anything.
Who is the most important female voice for women right now?
The feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has become a rock star across Africa, essentially. She is so wise and so profound and I could listen to anything she has to say. I love the fact that women across the world respond to her words.