Zetteler interview with Annie Ridout - about The Early Hour

I was interviewed by Zetteler about setting up The Early Hour

The result of an intense and increasing online “content” saturation, there’s a perpetual discussion among brilliantly vocal communities of writers and editors that questions the rapidly-changing relevance and role of online output. In a world where anyone with an internet connection can publish an uninhibited stream of consciousness and effortlessly access a global audience, the pressure to justify your narrative is higher than ever.

Annie Ridout had been working as a freelance copywriter before she fell pregnant, and suddenly found herself with an automatically-terminated contract 40 weeks into her pregnancy. Overcoming any sense of fear, Annie embraced the sudden liberation. Founding The Early Hour – a digital culture and lifestyle magazine for nocturnal parents – shortly after the birth of her child, she immediately recognised the potential of strategically-timed online content being used to connect the vast network of sleep-deprived mums and dads up at silly hours of the night tending to their children.

Having read about Annie’s journey in an article for The Guardian’s Women in Leadership, we wanted to ask the inspiring journalist, editor and mother a few questions of our own…

You can read it here.

Sunday Times - Melanie Wright article

 

I was interviewed by Melanie Wright for The Sunday Times about the ridiculous cost of childcare meaning returning to part time work was (financially) pointless, which is why I started my online culture and lifestyle magazine The Early Hour. In case you haven’t heard about The Early Hour… articles are published daily at 5am, for people who are up early in the morning.

The interview was used for a news piece by Becky Barrow, too – also in The Sunday Times. The second photo of Joni (by photographer Vicki Couchman) was hilarious…

Sunday Times new article by Becky Barrow

The Role of Reporter

This morning, whilst eating bran flakes and drinking tea, I was listening to Radio 4 between intermittent discussions with Rich. I heard them say ‘Mantel’ and ‘The Duchess of Cambridge’ and ceased conversation with Rich to give my full attention to the mention of two, seemingly antithetical, women in the limelight.

from www.harpercollins.co.uk

(image from www.harpercollins.co.uk)

from uk.lifestyle.co.uk

(image from uk.lifestyle.co.uk)

What I heard was something along the lines of:

Mantel said that Katherine was a doll, a mannequin and her only purpose is to reproduce.

I turned to Rich and launched into a tirade about cruelty, demeaning others, women pitting against women. I wondered, out loud, whether Mantel was envious of Kate’s pregnancy – she has talked openly about suffering from severe endometriosis, which rendered her infertile and caused huge weight gain. Is she jealous of Kate’s svelte figure and ability to rock out figure-hugging fashionable clothes? I wondered.

And then I decided that before I continued to berate Mantel, who I admire as an intellectual writer, I should do some more research. It began to seem strange that an intelligent woman would feel it necessary to insult another woman, purely on her looks and ‘role’.

On Twitter I found a link to a London Review of Books article (see here), which puts the fragmented comments I’d heard on R4 into context. Mantel was asked to choose a famous person and a book to give them. She chose the Duchess of Cambridge and historian Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

She discusses her choice of book, and receiver of book:

‘It’s not that I think we’re heading for a revolution. It’s rather that I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung. In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.’

It is clear from this article that Mantel was referring to the media’s portrayal of Kate as a doll/ mannequin/ mother-to-be-and-nothing-else. It is not necessarily her view. And she goes on to discuss the difficulties Marie Antoinette experienced while being defined by her attire: ‘She was a woman who couldn’t win. If she wore fine fabrics she was said to be extravagant. If she wore simple fabrics, she was accused of plotting to ruin the Lyon silk trade.’

The article continues in this vein: discussing the media, and society’s, perception of the Duchess of Cambridge. Of course, Mantel’s opinions are buried in there, too, but as part of a wider understanding. This is how I read it, anyway.

When comments are heard in the context of the conversation/ talk/ book, a decidedly different reaction may ensue. This is why impartiality is so important in reporting, as is offering the truth – rather than the more entertaining alternative.

When writing news articles, it’s tempting to side with the ‘innocent’ party and demonise the ‘wrong-doer’. But that’s not the job of the journalist. The job is to write up the story accurately, and to remain unbiased. The problem is that all humans have instincts and opinions. National papers lean politically left or right, celeb magazines decide who’s right or wrong (in the way they dress, behave), films offer the vision of one production team.

Kathryn Bigelow’s most recent hit: Zero Dark Thirty, has been criticised by some for condoning torture; being pro-military. It is Bigelow’s understanding of the search for, and execution of, Bin Laden. It is fiction based on (some) fact.

Articles, films and books can all be persuasive; sway readers/ viewers. Out of context, the comment I heard this morning made me judge Mantel unfavourably and prematurely. The role of reporter (in documentary, print and online journalism…) is to report truth, but the role of reader is to research the subject further to make sure they are seeing the whole truth, not the edited, probably somewhat – perhaps unintentionally – biased truth offered by the reporter.

Even then, it remains the prerogative of the reader to conclude, from her research, what the real truth is and to report her findings to friends, family and colleagues. But this might be delivered in a manner akin to traditional story-telling where tales are passed on and subjected, throughout the process, to alteration, disfigurement, stretching, morphing, censoring.

And so I conclude that we are all reporters, all sharing our understanding of the world and each other, and the best thing we can do is attempt to remain open-minded and base our tales on what we believe to be truth, rather than assumption.

Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar

Sylvia_plath

 

Sylvia Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar, was published 50 years ago. In celebration, the novel is Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime this week (listen here), and Andrew Wilson’s recently published Plath biography – Mad Girl’s Love Song – is being read each morning at 9.45, before Woman’s Hour (see here).

the bell jar

(There’s been criticism about Faber’s re-branding of the novel as ‘chick lit’, read Guardian article here. I get the wrath – but think the ‘chick lit’ genre as a whole needs readdressing, not the individual titles being added to it.)

I re-read The Bell Jar on Sunday, in homage, and found my understanding of it had changed since reading it during my English BA.

Until my final year of university I had never felt hugely worried about what I wanted to do with my life (I knew that I loved literature and wanted to write), women’s opportunities in the workplace or mental health issues. Finishing university and moving back to London with dreams of becoming a journalist, I realised that not only is it difficult to make money from writing but that sexism remains rife in journalism.

I left Sussex University an English graduate and began writing freelance for a local newspaper and an overseas property magazine. I also did work placements with The Times, The Independent and ITN.

During these placements, I felt like I was edging into the world I thought I wanted to be immersed in – working with well-known journalists, having articles published in national papers, my research being used for live news shows. But I also felt like an outsider – wondering if I’d ever be offered full time *paid* work, feeling anxious about whether I fitted in, and trying to ascertain whether I actually liked this working environment (particularly ITN, where I was in the windowless, airless basement – working 9am – 10pm each day).

I’m not comparing my writing to Plath’s (obviously) but I can relate to her insecurities about being a young woman, a writer and trying to crack a male-dominated writing world.

Her novel, which is largely autobiographical – based on her real life placement for a magazine in New York – documents the anxieties that she felt as a young woman, deciding what to do with her life – and choosing writing as a career but not knowing how to make this happen.

After a difficult month working at a fashion magazine, feeling lonely and desperate for – but unworthy of – male attention, and still unsure about her career path, the protagonist, Esther, returns home to find she hasn’t been accepted onto the writing course she’d planned to occupy her summer with. She is devastated; in despair, and quickly descends into anxiety and depression.

I have, for periods, felt a similar anxiety: questioning my ability, receiving job/ submission rejections, not getting onto the courses I applied for. As I’m sure all writers have. I began having panic attacks (I am going to write another post about this) and losing confidence.

I later applied for an MA, had an amazing year doing lots of writing and then moved to Somerset, where I did a placement at the Western Gazette. My articles were published daily throughout my time at the paper but after two months, when a job came up and they offered it to a young man from London (who had to move for the job, less qualified than me), I left.

That was my first real taste of overt sexism in the workplace.

I moved to Frome, continued to write, and ran an art gallery full time, before returning to London, beginning to freelance again – copywriting, journalism – and concluding that working from home, choosing my own hours, is preferable – right now – to working full time for a national/ regional paper.

It has been nearly five years since I finished my BA and I am only just settling into my decision to be a freelance writer.

I’ve read lots of women’s reviews of The Bell Jar and many of them recognise themselves in the character of Esther. We all contemplate our life paths, the impact of relationships on our work, whether we will be able to achieve our goals – but I’m hoping that, with the various waves of feminism that have arisen, and continue to rise, over the past half-century – I, and other young women writers out there, won’t wind up in an asylum, like Esther did, and will instead continue to work towards easing oppression and seeking the same opportunities that our male counterparts seek – without buckling at the barriers.