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Help me decide which Ways With Words talks to go to

4 Jul

4 events: 1 choice: HELP!

Help me choose, by voting for your favourite, at the end of the post.

Ways With Words is a festival of words & ideas near Totnes and this year is its 20th anniversary. There are 151 talks in 10 days. Here are the 4 that I’ve narrowed my choice down to…

1. Free Speech: The Great Middle East Revolution

Friday 8 July at 5.30pm. Dartington Hall.

I’m very interested in social media and how the internet has helped citizens across the Middle East and North Africa unite, protest and voice their dissent. With the discussion lead by the Policy Director of Google, CEO of Index on Censorship, Libyan-born novelist Hisham Matar and Tunisian blogger and activist, Sam Ben Gharbia, it sounds like a lively one!

2. Alan Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher: Talking About Fiction

Monday 11 July at 2.30pm. Dartington Hall.

Both have novels coming out & I’m desperate to get my hands on Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child (read a review of it on The Guardian), so it’d be fantastic to hear his thoughts before I dig into the book.

3. Zabia Malik: One Girl, Two Lives

Monday 11 July at 7.30pm. Dartington Hall.

Having studied women’s rights and multiculturalism at university, I’d really like to catch up on some of the current issues on this topic. Plus, Malik is a comic so her quest for identity and her memoir We Are A Muslim Please (about growing up in Bradford in the 70s and 80s) sounds both funny and poignant.

4. Jon Ronson: Who is Mad?

Tuesday 12 July at 7.30pm. Dartington Hall.

He is very of the moment, as his new book about psychopaths has been serialised in The Guardian recently and his latest investigative escapade The Psychopath Test sounds very intriguing – I’d like to know what passes for normal these days & apparently this journalist / satirist / documentary filmmaker has the answer!

If my you want to read up more in depth summaries than mine, have a look at the Ways With Words Brochure.

So, please help me choose and I’ll blog about it here this week & next!


Voting closes at 7pm 5 July 2011


Info on Ways With Words:

It’s on 8 – 18 July 2011 and hosted at Dartington Hall, near Totnes, Devon.




A taxi ride with Dea Birkett

11 May

“People tend to fill a void.”

“If you leave a silence then people will ramble & give you more to write about than your questions ever would.” Said Dea Birkett.

So that’s the form my interview took with Dea Birkett, arts & culture writer for The Guardian & Founder of Kids In Museums.

Dea Birkett

The best advice I can give you is this sound “uh?” [raising the inflection of her voice]
ShinyShoeClaire: “How do you mean, uh?”
Dea Birkett: “If you make that noise when interviewing you don’t take up much sound time, but the person you are interviewing will oblige & expand on what they’ve been saying, you can steer the interview, but the best stories come from very little involvement from the interviewers.”

Our conversation turned to talk about Dea’s current work, a Radio 4 programme called “A Good Read”, and then to her favourite book (which she couldn’t choose for the show, because it is currently out of print in Britain).

DB: “Well of course, I wasn’t allowed to choose my actual favourite book, “Return To Laughter” by Elenore Smith Bowen.” A pen name for the 50s anthropologist who spent time in Africa and wrote a frank account of her travels (but couldn’t publish under her real name for fear of professional ruin).
“She would get dressed up in her finery, step outside her tent and read Jane Austen, to remind herself of the culture and moral values she had come from.
“In the west, we believe we can dip in and out of another culture and understand it. But we can’t. And in fact to deny the morality and culture you grew up with when ‘immersing’ yourself with another culture shows a weak moral core, and you are abandoning yourself.
A “Splinter of Ice”, which is another theme in the book, is a technique which she adopts, although you may be attached, you must detach yourself to write.”

I ask Dea how she achieves this practically,“One in, one out”, is how Dea describes her approach to writing. Some knowledge along with a degree of attachment is essential, but it is also important to be detached, like having one foot in the door.

I sometimes have trouble writing about things that I am really excited about & feel passionate about, and Dea gave me some advice:
“Either imagine it from a another person’s point of view or Imagine you are another person”, then the detachment, and so the writing, will come.

Dea and I met at the Devon Museums Group Forum in South Molton, Devon. She was presenting about her Kids In Museums initiative, and you can read my account of that on my Devon Life Blog.
Dea is presenting the new radio 4 programme, “A Good Read” with actor Bill Patterson, for which she has chosen ‘Footsteps’ by Richard Holmes (she couldn’t choose ‘Return To Laugther’ because it isn’t currently in print in Britain (but you can buy it on Amazon).
Dea Birkett writes for The Guardian, her profile:

Are You a Living Doll?

26 Mar

Living Dolls

Names like Anne Koedt, Robin Lakoff, Dale Spender, and Simone de Beauvoir all evoke the hope and fervour of feminists before my generation and I think that for a time things seemed so promising. So how did it come to this?

Natasha Walter’s book, ‘Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism’, demonstrates that women who take their clothes off under the pretence of ‘free choice’ are not free to choose at all.

‘It is time to look again at how free these choices really are. After all, real, material equality still eludes us. Women still do not have political power, the economic equality or the freedom from violence that they have sought for generations. This means that women and men are still not meeting on equal terms in public life. And the mainstreaming of the sex industry reflects that inequality.’

(Natasha Walters, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, 2010: page 33)
The word ‘free’ is a merely a ploy, so that those involved can shrug off any responsibility to the girls they exploit.

Everywhere you look pornography, whether it be ‘soft porn’ or not, is forcing women to question their own sexuality. Conforming to look and behave like a doll is now normal. We are called a prude if stripping, lap dancing and being sexual provocative doesn’t ding our bell of sexual freedom. The pressure is immense.

Yesterday I went with a friend to the local Indian takeaway. We sat on the white outdoor plastic furniture and began to rifle through the piles of ‘Closer’ and other such rags sitting on the coffee table. These magazines sell because they attack women. And this makes me mad.

Because not only are women’s magazines undoing what ground was gained by some feminists, they are actually enforcing the idea that women should look and behave like Barbie dolls. And if anyone steps out of line: then the recrimination is severe.

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