Strong Women of Bristol

Arnos Vale
Photo by Becky Walsh. Panel is (left to right) Jean Burnett, Lucienne Boyce, Deenagh Miller and me.
Yesterday I did a Festival of Literature panel (“Storied of Strong Women”) in a cemetery. Well, in the Anglian Chapel at a cemetery. As houses of the dead goes, Arnos Vale in Bristol is pretty spectacular. Long-time readers may remember when my friends Eugene Byrne and Simon Gurr created an illustrated guide to the site.

The chapel is a fabulous venue, as you can see from Becky’s picture above. It has a crypt too. One day I want to do a book launch there. Has to be the right book, obviously.

I thought the panel went very well. Becky knows how to run this sort of thing, the panelists all had interesting and different contributions to make, and the audience chipped in with some good questions.

Obviously I plugged books. I talked about Fight Like A Girl, and about Juliet McKenna being able to beat up most men I know. It turns out that Jean Burnett is an even bigger Amelia Edwards fan than me. Deenagh Miller had some fairly horrifying personal stories to tell, as well as some amazing art. Lucienne made some impassioned pleas about not adopting violence to fight the Patriarchy. And Becky had some interesting things to say about neuroscience and the different effects of testosterone and estrogen on the brain.

The most interesting question I got asked was about what I thought had made the biggest difference to women’s lives over the course of history. My answer was the invention of the contraceptive pill. Women can no have children only when and if they want. Our role in the world is no longer simply to make babies as quickly as possible. That’s a change that has happened in my lifetime, and human society is still working through the consequences. It is also a change that, as William Gibson would note, is unevenly distributed. Given a few more generations, if we manage to avoid doing anything stupid in that time, the effects will be much more pronounced.

Becky also asked me about my view of the future of gender. As I always do in such circumstances, I talked about Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder trilogy.

My thanks to Helen for organizing the event and to the Arnos Vale people for giving us the venue and making us so welcome.

I spent the afternoon in a historical fiction writing workshop being run by Lucienne and Mike Manson. It was very interesting, and I met Tamsin from the Popelei Theatre Company who I hope will be appearing on my radio show in December.