Category Archives: Spreadsheets and Moxie

Are Women People?

Are Women People?
Are Women People?

I had to post something about Alice Duer Miller today – this is republished from an article that first appeared in Vulpes Libris.

An appreciation of Alice Duer Miller

Article by Sarah Salway

Father, what is a legislature?
A representative body elected by the people of the state.
Are women people?
No, my son. Criminals, lunatics and women are not people.
(A.D.M, 1915)

My first novel, Something Beginning With, begins with the dedication: ‘To Alice, with respect’. It always makes me happy when people ask who Alice is because I get to talk about the inspiration of much of my writing, the American writer Alice Duer Miller.

She’s one of those writers whose words are so alive that it doesn’t matter that she died some twenty years before I was born. I still find myself picking up one of her poems or books and wanting to reply. The first book of hers I read was lying on a shelf in a holiday house we rented the summer of the eclipse. Forsaking all others is a novel in verse first published in 1930, and although the dusty cover did not look promising, inside was a different matter. It uses a playful, almost modern structure in its use of fragmentation and different forms for the different voices to tell the story of an illicit affair and the resulting heartbreak for all parties. When I finished it, I knew I had found the challenge I wanted for my MA project – a series of linked short stories that created a much bigger picture than the whole, just as Alice Duer Miller had achieved with her poems.

But one of my stories grew until it transformed itself into a novel, as I’m sure no story belonging to Alice Duer Miller would have dared to do. As one of the only two women (along with Dorothy Parker) who belonged to the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s and 30s, she was known equally for both her sharp tongue and love of fun. ‘They’re not exactly ill bred, and they’re not exactly well bred,’ she apparently said about some acquaintances. ‘They are the sort of people who keep a parrot.’

This quirky humour seeps into her writing, and is particularly visible in her suffrage poems. From 1914-1917, she had a weekly column called ‘Are Women People?’ in the left wing New York Tribune. She took the arguments used against women’s suffrage and turned them round until they made no sense at all. Her poems and short pieces are extremely funny, and I like to imagine, completely infuriated the people she poked fun at.

Some were persona poems. ‘Representation’ begins with an epitaph quoting Vice-President Marshall’s comment: ‘My wife is against suffrage, and that settles me’, and continues:

My wife dislikes the income tax,
And so I cannot pay it;
She thinks that golf all interest lacks,
So now I never play it…

Bullet points, mimicking the official language of the anti-suffrage movement, were another form that worked well for her. Her list poems, which include ‘Why we oppose pockets for women’ and ‘Why children should not go to school’, are as biting as any modern satirical journalism. And in her reversals of gender stereotypes, she spoofed the male legislators with versions of their own arguments:

Why we Oppose Votes for Men

1. Because man’s place is in the armory.

2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.

3. Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.

4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums.

5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them particularly unfit for the task of government.

Ouch for that last point. Every week, Alice proved that she could make her point cuttingly when she wanted, and she wasn’t afraid of anyone. When one man publicly stated that some teenage girls who had ‘gone astray’ enjoyed sex with the men who exploited them, she wrote a sonnet which led to even his family rebelling against him. Through the Tribune, Alice was reaching a weekly audience of over 100,000, and her poems became popular rallying calls. Their mixture of regular form, rhythm and humour must have made them enjoyable to have heard read at suffrage rallies. I can imagine this one, in particular, going down well – it’s a wonderful parody of Kipling’s ‘If’ (probably no one present then needed reminding of his last line – And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!):

Many Men to Any Woman

If you have beauty, charm, refinement, and tact,
If you can prove that should I set you free,
You would not contemplate the smallest act
That might annoy or interfere with me.
If you can show that women will abide
by the best standards of their womanhood-
(And I must be the person to decide
What in a woman is the highest good);
If you display efficiency supreme
In philanthropic work devoid of pay;
If you can show a clearly thought- out scheme
For bringing the millennium in a day:
Why then, dear lady, at some time remote,
I might consider giving you the vote.

For Alice Duer Miller, the causes of feminism and the suffrage movement were always personal. Although she’d been born into a wealthy New York family and had a formal debut into society, her father lost all his money in a bank crisis. When she took up her place studying mathematics and astronomy at Barnard College in 1895, she had to overcome both a lack of funding and social disapproval. In fact, Mrs Astor visited her mother to disapprove the minute she heard the news, and exclaimed: ‘What a pity, that lovely girl going to college’.

She paid her way through college by writing short stories and poems, but the subject she was studying, mathematics, remained her true love. She writes about creeping out of parties to escape to Columbia University’s Observatory where she worked through the night still dressed in her ball gown. How painful it must have been then when she had to finally obey the rules of the time and give up her college research when she got married. Perhaps it’s not surprising that when she went back to address the students at Barnard many years later, she told them: ‘Never take your college education for granted. People whom you have never known broke their hearts that you might have it.’

After her marriage, she went with her husband to live in Costa Rica and started her full-time writing career, coming back to live in America in 1903 and rising to prominence in 1915 when her novel, Come out of the Kitchen, became a best-seller. She was always an active feminist; as well as writing her column, she was Chair of the Committee on resolutions of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, founder and first President of the Women’s City Club of New York (a vehicle for affecting public policy in NYC), lifetime member of Heterodoxy (a feminist group in Greenwich Village), and Trustee of Barnard College.

The second collection of her newspaper columns was called, more encouragingly, Women are People. But her writing career was much wider than journalism. She wrote more than twenty novels, while finding time to attend baseball matches regularly with Ethel Barrymore (who she said could shout beautifully). In the 1920’s she was wooed by Sam Goldwyn to move to Hollywood to write for first of all silent films and then ‘the talkies’. During this time, she worked with Jerome Kern, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and lived next door to Cecil Beaton.

She was ‘full of the devil’ and ‘a cross between Jane Austen and Henry James,’ according to her contemporary reviewers, but maybe she was just too funny, too interested in domestic relationships, to be taken seriously enough to have a place in the literary canon. Or maybe she was too successful. The White Cliffs (1940), her novel in verse about the love between an American woman and a British soldier, sold over 700,000 copies world wide, was made into a Hollywood film, and inspired one bookseller to hang up a large notice in his shop: ‘Do not be put off from buying this book by the fact it is in verse.’ However, despite having her name as Associate Editor of The New Yorker, one reviewer of the time admitted that it was ‘difficult for her contemporaries to believe that she is an important artist.’

What Alice Duer Miller’s reaction was to any of this isn’t recorded, but I doubt she spent much time worrying about what people thought of her. Because she wasn’t the type to whine or publicly complain, few people realised that at the time she was writing her pieces for the suffrage moment, she had been financially supporting her husband and their household through her writing for more than ten years, something he admits in his memoir of their marriage, All Our Lives.

She was a great believer in writing to find out what she thought. Her favourite fairytale, apparently, was Cinderella. She called it the ultimate success story, and re-writing it was one of the demands she insisted on when she moved to Hollywood, to the apparent surprise of Sam Goldwyn who had thought that, as a suffragist, she would want to write something more ‘worthy’. However Alice believed that Cinderella had all the elements – her beloved mathematical mix – of the perfect story, not least because at the end, the heroine had triumphed not just over adversity, but over convention.

Triumphing over both difficulties and convention was something she knew all about. ‘Everyone who’s worth anything begins life again somewhere between thirty-five and fifty,’ she wrote, ‘begins it destitute in some important respect.’

Alice Duer Miller died in New York in 1942.

More books… #100Women100Books

More books… #100Women100Books
More books… #100Women100Books

Following on from this post collating the recommendations we’ve been getting through the #100Women100Books project, perhaps ONE HUNDRED books aren’t quite enough for you. So I’m going to keep putting up the choices we’ve been getting through our website, As I hope you know, we are still collecting book recommendations – please visit the website and add yours….

From: Jacqueline Kington
Book: Long time no see by Hannah Lowe
Why I chose this book: It just touched me very deeply. She is a wonderful writer…
From: Rachel Seeland Scott
Book: Only Every Yours by Louise O’Neill
Why I chose this book: I chose this book because of its controversial theme and captivating writing, which evokes vivid imagery. To me, it was fascinating, as it took everything girls did to each other in secret and turned it into a social normality which was encouraged as: ‘there is always room for improvement’. The writer also encourages us to review our ethical code, since the girls are made and not born, which is shown by their lower case names and treatment by the human males of this dystopian society.
From: Ali Jones
Book: Tale for a Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Why I chose this book: I love the clever way this book creates a gripping narrative woven with Zen wisdom.
From: Alison Belfield
Book: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Why I chose this book: This is the first book by Margaret Atwood I read. It was so brilliant that I went on to read all her others; my world is a better place for having her books in it.
From: Helen Jamieson
Book: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Why I chose this book: Because she could see into the mind of a tortured man. I think it is a great love story, powerful, sad and tragic and beautifully written. Heathcliffe is one of fictions greatest.
From: Jane Rogers
Book: THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK by Doris Lessing
Why I chose this book: This is the most honest novel about relationships between men and women that I have ever read. It changed the way I thought about political involvement, feminism, and writing, and is as timely now as when it was published in 1962.

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Get your reading recommendations here…. more books added to the #100women100books library

Following yesterday’s post about our #100women100books library, I’m very pleased to list here some of the recommendations we’ve been getting via our website… ENJOY! And remember, we’ll be giving daily updates of our library on our Facebook page before revealing our whole library on 20th July when I’m off to the Compton Verney‘s Womens Library for our second writing residency there. Below’s a detail from one of the Compton Verney paintings!

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed.

Book title: Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): When I first read this book as a teenager I felt like I had discovered another planet. The Binewski family were so vivid, so fascinating and so real even when I read it again 20 years later. Just incredible.
Chosen by: Cait Morgan


Book title: Good Behaviour

Author: Molly Keane

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): A novel from 1981 by the sharp and witty Irish writer Molly Keane – very funny, and also utterly agonising on family life, as well as wild socialising, and all its ‘glamour and malice’. A keenly intuitive and observant lover of people, food, creatures, mischief and life.
Chosen by: Katherine Pierpoint


Book title: Life After Life

Author: Kate Atkinson

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Everyone’s life is the result of chance happenings and ‘roads not taken’ (after Robert Frost). This book brilliantly explores these many possibilities in the life of a woman called Ursula whose life spans much of the twentieth century.
Chosen by: Clare Dudman



Book title: Olive Kitteridge

Author: Elizabeth Strout

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s a beautifully written, wonderfully insightful book that follows the life of central character Olive Kitteridge from adulthood through to old age. Olive is a woman as women are, not as she ought to be: she is flawed and fascinating and magnificently human.
Chosen by: A J Ashworth



Book title: To Kill a Mockinbird

Author: Harper Lee

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I first read the book at 12 years of age when I was at my most ‘priggish’ about what was right or wrong. My moral compass has matured but still consider it most famous quote to ‘walk in another man’s shoes’ as a good guide. I wanted to be Scout

Chosen by: Cas Holmes


Book title: The Road Home

Author: Rose Tremain

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I loved the way she turns predudice on its head, gifting us a wonderful character and illuminating his situation from the off.

Chosen by Zoe King



Book title: Devil’s Cub

Author: Georgette Heyer

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Any of he comedies are beautifully crafted and represent the Regency era and the English upper class at its worst and best. She started the regency genre -underrated -writing for her money for her ungrateful family ( I think) she churned them out and surely she is worth a mention somewhere on the list.

Chosen by: Hazel Stewart



Book title: Himself

Author: Jess Kidd

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This is a rollicking read, with rich language and amazing characterisation of both the living and the dead. It made me laugh and sometimes cry and I loved it.

Chosen by: Cath Barton



Book title: Voyage in the Dark

Author: Jean Rhys

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because Jean Rhys wrote about difficult subjects in a time that didn’t want to hear about it, including sexism, discrimination, and that one harrowing illegal abortion scene in Voyage in the Dark. She was incredibly intelligent and she used her own harrowing and bleak experiences as inspiration for her passionate, stylistic and hugely under-appreciated novels.

Chosen by: Holly Anderson



Book title: The Key (And The Name Of The Key Is Willingness)

Author: Cheri Huber

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It is quite simply the best book on spiritual practice I’ve ever read; brief, clear, down-to-earth (if that doesn’t sound too incongruous for a spiritual book) – and requires no faith in anything unseen, only willingness face what is.

Chosen by: Tim Pieraccini


Book title: The Weather in the Streets

Author: Rosamond Lehmann

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): I read this book (published in 1936) many years ago but it still resonates. It’s about double standards, women’s vulnerability in general and the suffering of a woman after a backstreet abortion.

Chosen by: Patricia Borlenghi


Book title: The Left Hand of Darkness

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): It’s science fiction, it’s queer and it’s about friendship … and such good storytelling. And it is journey … so many topics I dearly love.


Chosen by: Alice Puck


Book title: God of Small Things

Author: Arundhati Roy

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): Because it helped me understand the power and magic of words


Chosen by: Vipasha



Book title: The Red Tent

Author: Anita Diamant

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): No other book has stayed with me like this book. The strong sense of sisterhood mixed with the horror of what happens to the main character, Dinah, is both beautiful and haunting. It made me really appreciate the female friendships I have and realise how I couldn’t survive without the strong, intelligent and courageous women in my life.

Chosen by: Hester Mackay



Book title: Joan Makes History

Author: Kate Grenville

Why I chose this book (1-2 sentences): This writes women into history, eg when Captain Cook discovers Australia, the woman in the McCubbin painting, The Pioneers, and many more. Intertwined with the story of an ordinary family, with our own moments of history eg moving out of home for the first time,first day of school etc.
Beautifully constructed as usual Kate Grenville.


Chosen by: Joan Ryan

Looking for something new to read?

Looking for something new to read?

Well, look no further… and not just one book but I’ve got ONE HUNDRED BOOKS, all written by women, and chosen by women, for you.

#100Women100Books is the result of one of the most lovely months Viccy Adams and I have just had, asking 100 of our friends and family to give us the one book they would recommend to put in our virtual women’s library for 2017.

JUST ONE BOOK!!! That was the cry we had most often, but then we got the books – a varied, exciting, yummy selection, all with the reason they had been picked. Some were funny, some were serious, some had made the chooser thing again, others had been favourites since they were children. Nearly everyone demanded a conversation – OH MY GOD, I REMEMBER THIS ONE or an immediate search to find out more, and yes, more than few purchases!

So why did we do this?

The picture above is one of the shelves of books in Compton Verney‘s 19th Century Women’s Library, where Viccy and I had a residency in January, and I’ll be going back to next month. All fine and good, you might say, but these aren’t real books – but rather false spines and were there just to give the impression of a well read woman, maybe? So Viccy and I decided to create our own virtual library of the books women should be reading today.

You’ll be able to read the whole list in July on our website, Spreadsheets and Moxie (and read more about the project there) but in the meantime if you like our page on Facebook (here) we are putting up two of three of the choices EVERY DAY – and with the reasons why they have been picked. Here are some of the ones so far to show just how varied the choices are…

Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, The Oxytocin Factor, Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love and Healing
“This book is a wonderful introduction to the ‘feel good’ hormone, oxytocin, released within just 40 seconds of giving someone nurturing touch such as big hug. Research by the Touch Research Institute in Miami shows that oxytocin can lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce the level of stress hormones and bring a sense of calm…. so the book is essential reading for every woman.” Mary Atkinson

Toni Morrison, Beloved
“It’s a book about slavery narrated from a woman’s perspective and definitely one of the most powerfully affecting novels I have ever read. I still remember when and where I read it for the first time, twenty years after the event.” Louise Page

Jung Chang, Wild Swans
“It follows three generations of woman who grew up in China. I read it when I was traveling in Asia at 19 with an awful boyfriend who I promptly dumped as soon as I got back to Heathrow: the book was my saviour. It brought me so much strength to read about what these women had had to live through. I don’t think I’ve ever been so absorbed in a book since. It has been totally unforgettable and stayed with me all these years. It still sits in my bookshelf covered in yellowing and crispy sellotape; one of these days I’ll read it again.” Helen Bishop

Charlotte Brontë, Villette
“Because of her insistence on her right to love and be loved despite not being a beautiful princess.” Amy Caldwell-Nichols

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
“I’ve chosen it because it is a bold, thoughtful and courageous collection of essays. It explores writing/poetry/the arts as forms of knowledge that are feminine and offer a contrast to patriarchal-academic constructs of knowledge. She urges the feminist reader to explore and embrace differences of race, class, age, sexuality, physical ability, etc. within their understanding of feminism, as they can impact women’s experiences of oppression differently.” Juliana Mensah

So follow us on this journey, and remember to come back on 19th July when the whole list will be published! In the meantime, you can add your own selection to the library via our website – here. We’ve been reading and enjoying those choices too – although with a certain amount of trepidation because our to be read piles are getting higher and higher….


What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

What one piece of advice would you give a woman writer, artist or musician starting her career?

It was good to step away from the world last week and have a day’s discussion and writing workshop with four of the South East Associate Artists involved in the Spreadsheets & Moxie research project Viccy Adams and I are currently running, with the support of Arts Council England.

We covered everything – from role models for writers, to unprofessionalism, to the differences between qualities, strengths and skills, to best ways to communicate. Our day ended with an impromptu quick fire round table of the one piece of advice we might give a woman* starting out on a career in the creative arts. Here’s what I scribbled down from the discussion…

Qualities for a writing career

Some of the qualities we identified for sustainable arts and writing careers

Take yourself seriously and don’t be derailed by other people’s jealousy and/or fear.

Work on one project at a time. 

Work on six projects at a time

Find somebody who will be really supportive of you.

Try to keep a different mind and experiment with different medium

Ditch the idea that it is necessary to suffer as a writer or an artist.

Never dismiss something just because you find it easy. If you’re enjoying your work, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is, or you are, shallow. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

And lastly: TURN UP!


So, what might be the one piece of advice you’d offer someone? 


(* I think all of these are applicable to men too, but it’s interesting. MIght there be some circumstances where we would offer different advice?)

With grateful thanks to our lovely South East Associate Artists – Clare Best, Catherine Smith, Ellen Montelius, Kay Syrad, and Vanessa Gebbie, for continuing and welcome challenges and inspiration! We will be in Newcastle next week for a similar day with our NE Associate Artists… notebooks ahoy! 


Calling all artists, writers, dancers, musicians, poets, creative people ….

Calling all artists, writers, dancers, musicians, poets, creative people ….

Please could you spare us fifteen minutes to fill in a survey? This year, Viccy Adams and I are working on a research and development project (with the support of Arts Council England and some other lovely partners) to look  at ways of better supporting sustainable creative practices in a changing world.

You can find out a little more about the project, Spreadsheets and Moxie, here or here  – and we are now at the stage of gathering the views and experiences of people who define themselves as creative arts practitioners (in any field) at a professional level.

Our Creative Professionalism online survey takes about 15 minutes to complete and is completely anonymous. We hope you might even find it interesting to do! We have certainly learnt a lot from the replies we’ve had so far, and from our work on the project already. Just make yourself a coffee and click below…

Start the survey

Please note, although the main focus of our research is for women writers, this survey is for everyone. We are looking for as many answers as we can, so we’d be really grateful if you could share this link with any colleagues/networks you think are relevant: we’re keen to reach as diverse an audience of creative professionals (writers, artists, dancers, musicians, actors, photographers, etc.) as possible.


The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie

The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie


I’m so pleased to bring you this guest post by one of Spreadsheet and Moxie‘s Associate Artists, the very wonderful Vanessa Gebbie. Sharing this sort of information – not just WHAT people are doing but HOW they have done it – is exactly what Viccy and I hope to do with our project, and I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning. It’s a privilege to have this honest account of how an arts project was set up, the things learnt and all the tips to pass on to others. And it’s a great project too, on at HURSTPIERPOINT until 30th September. Details are at the end of the piece, but for now, over to Vanessa (nb all the photos here were taken by Vanessa and show the work on display at the exhibition)… 



Last Friday, a disparate group of people met at a church in West Sussex. Armed with wood, wire, glass, slate and board, they worked all day, assembling the products of creative work that had taken months.


By 6 pm all was ready for the opening of Reflections, the response of four women artists to the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The church is Holy Trinity Church, in the village of Hurstpierpoint. Designed by Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament, it is a glorious, high and airy space with beautiful stained glass windows.


So, in a beautiful edifice of stone and glass, four women created something else of beauty. But it was not all plain sailing!

It started just before Christmas 2015 with a poet (me) and Elizabeth Lamont, a maker of painted glass art – discovering a mutual love of stained glass, over a pizza. Before the bill came, we were airing thoughts of collaborating on a ‘something’ in which her glass artworks would respond to my poems.


With a slightly clearer idea of what the ‘something’ was, an approach was made to Hurstpierpoint Festival to see if it might be something they would like to host… and it was agreed that the ‘something’ could be shown in the church for the duration of the festival.


But what was the ‘something’? Elizabeth Lamont has experience of working with the National Trust, and she had brilliant ideas. Visits to consummately experienced exhibition designers helped to firm up the ‘something’ into a brilliant, professional plan. But brilliant professional plans, with help from brilliant designers, cost money. A call to the Arts Council indicated it was something they might look favourably on – so, cue much excitement as everything was costed within an inch of our lives, and I was delegated to negotiate the Arts Council Grant Application systems. At this stage we were three – poet, glass artist and Jane Willis, a photographer. Who also happened to be Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint.







The Grantium portal is not your friend until you learn to negotiate the twists and turns and requirements of the system… and we were on the brink of a holiday. In deepest Extremadura, Spain – where the internet is not known for its speed or reliability. Or, in many places, even its existence. The Grantium portal requires six working days to validate you before you can so much as begin to enter your information, so Extremadura it had to be, with dropped connections, wobbly connections, and worse – no connections. I did not know what information the Arts Council would be asking for as each page opened on the portal – and did not have a list of necessary info, all ticked off and to hand – even if the laptop stayed connected.





It took three weeks, but it got done. I heard back from the Arts Council very fast – Application Declined.

We had, thankfully, already considered what we’d do if this happened. We had already decided that it would not stop us, so we’d rethink.




Bless Hurstpierpoint Festival Committee, who decided to still give us the contribution they had promised to help the application along. Bless a friend or two, who did the same. Bless whoever suggested inviting another woman artist to join us – Helen Mary Skelton, a stonecutter, whose work is legendary. Patients at The Dene special hospital were also invited to contribute. I led a poetry workshop there, but the patients’  resulting work was too raw and personal for them to want on show. So instead, they created two stunning wall hangings along the themes of the exhibition – and it is  moving in the extreme to see them.




The exhibition opened last weekend. It is different and, dare I say it – in many ways better than it would have been had we stuck to the original plan. Without funding, apart from a relatively tiny amount, we had to go back to the drawing board in many cases, and the need for increased creativity in response to the drawback has served us well. The inclusion of stonecutting has added a new beauty – a strength and solidity to the exhibition, which was already beautiful. Instead of looking at techinically clever acetate prints, visitors are actually seeing the original glass art in all Elizabeth’s exhibits, set on lightboxes. It is glorious.



Standing in the midst of all this gorgeous work at the opening last Friday, and watching visitors, glass of wine in hand, oohing and ahhing at the exhibits, I felt unashamedly tearful. It has been an extraordinary journey, and a privilege to work with Elizabeth Lamont (glass artist)   Rev Jane Willis (photographer) and Helen Mary Skelton (stone cutter). I will miss them when this is over.








Spreadsheets and Moxie… an after retreat report with ten lessons

Spreadsheets and Moxie… an after retreat report with ten lessons

Note: Spreadsheets and Moxie is a year long R&D project, funded by Arts Council England, in which Viccy Adams and I work in tandem, with partner organisations and ten very talented Associate Artists, to take a rounded approach to professionalism in the Creative Arts, with a particular focus on leadership for women writers. Find out more here. 


SO what did we learn. Viccy has written a full account on her website, so here’s my report in the form of ten lessons….

  1.  To trust the power of my own sub-conscious to find answers through just writing.
  2.  To always keep checking in on what *needs* to be done – v – what *could* be done – what I think *should* be done.
  3.  The usefulness of standardised templates to get the information out and down. And then it can be shaped.
  4.  To always go the extra 10%. What more could I do for the project, for every project?
  5.  We are so lucky to have words as our material – this came from an exercise on Professionalism, what does it mean, what could it mean, where does it come from, what other words are hiding in it that can be pulled out for answers….
  6.  I’m not good with too much talking – so my preferred way of working is to apply theories to something concrete.
  7.  This was a 4am in the morning very personal revelation – I don’t just have to be a writer on the page. I write things in parks, on postcards, I can write things everywhere, in fact I have already…. of course I have but I hadn’t put two and two together before. SO EXCITING!
  8.  The power of stories always to get across information. We need lots of case studies here – how other women have worked in the arts, but also in business, in charities. Men too…    Fancy telling us your case study? Get in touch –
  9.  We (well OK, I) need to make sure I take responsibility for the projects I’m involved in and put my name to them more strongly. A mixture of process and product here.
  10.  That the focus for both Viccy and I has always to be our writing. And just how easy it is to forget this in other people’s needs. Why is this? Maybe because we have something            concrete in front of us when we’re asked to do something, and that can be easier than the uncertainties all writers have to face when we sit down with our own pages.

A big thank you to Arvon, lovely Arvon, for providing the Clockhouse at the Hurst as a centre for us to work in. And to centre director, Natasha Carlish for an inspiring conversation about her experiences and what advice she has given film-makers – eg the three things you need: PASSION (the most powerful part), VISION (a strategic plan), PEOPLE (champions/mentors), and also a dose of humour and the ability to fail again and again….


And also to our ten Associate Artists: Clare Best, Vanessa Gebbie, Kris Johnson, Helen Limon, Lisa Matthews,Juliana Mensah, Ellen Montelius, Susannah Pickering-Ronnie, Catherine Smith and Kay Syrad. Thanks to them and the questions they gave us, we are now ready for the next stage of the project.


Half-time Report – Spreadsheets and Moxie….

Half-time Report – Spreadsheets and Moxie….

We all went out to listen to the owls on Wednesday night. They weren’t doing the wise old ‘toowhitawoo’ children’s song, but howling to each other from across the trees. ‘You can tell why people thought they brought bad news,’ one of our fellow writers said. Chilling.

But luckily, no bad news on our project’s progress. We are keeping daily to-do lists on the walls outside our rooms – one half is for intentions, the other for …


And hurrah, so far we are balanced.

Moxie to-do listsIMG_2032 IMG_2035

Trust me, it makes sense. We’ve both been working on our own writing every morning, and working on Spreadsheet and Moxie in the afternoons. Things are moving on – we have been using a variety of freewriting exercises, lists, exploring current research, case studies, and playing devil’s advocate rather a lot to come to some conclusions. I’ll post up some examples of how we’ve gone about it later, we’ve been making conscious decisions to approach each question as writers, rather than academics or corporate researchers. You can catch up with some of what we’ve done through our live broadcasts via Periscope – just click HERE! This is a new thing for us (as you can probably tell) so all constructive criticism is welcome – I don’t need to be told my teeth are large or I wave my hands round a lot because funnily enough, I know that. Sensitive much? To be honest seeing myself on camera like this is an ORDEAL! However, suggestions of what you would like to know that we’re not telling you would be very useful, for example.

But .. moving on, if you want to join in more, take our survey, or are just curious, we have now got a newsletter mailing list. For that, click HERE.

But for now, here are some pics from our week…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Spreadsheets and Moxie…. Introducing my (our) new project

Spreadsheets and Moxie…. Introducing my (our) new project



I’m so excited to let you know that Viccy Adams and I* recently received Arts Council funding for a new R&D project, Spreadsheets and Moxie. There’s a short mission statement for it above.

This has been a long time in the planning, thinking, dreaming stages, so – HURRAH – we can now finally put it into motion. Over the next year, we’ll be collaborating with fellow writers and arts professionals across Britain, reading talking reading reading as much as we can, getting things wrong, getting things right, and working on new and existing models of what skills are needed to create, run and lead arts projects, and the best ways of getting those skills.


The idea behind it came from an initial conversation about how many people working in the arts field tend to be largely self-taught on certain aspects of running projects. So while we may be very good at facilitating groups, perhaps we have never actually been shown how to do spreadsheets, budgets and evaluations OR we could be whizzes with funding applications but not that confident on the creative side. Or or or… But hey, we are nothing if not versatile and somehow we manage to get by, but what if we could do it better – and with more confidence and enjoyment? Hence the title, Spreadsheets AND Moxie. Our belief is a good project needs both skills, plus a good deal of sparkle, courage and ‘just plain guts’. And that’s just for starters.



We’ve been lucky enough to recruit eight brilliant skills-sharers – step forward Clare Best, Vanessa Gebbie, Kris Johnson, Helen Limon, Lisa Matthews, Juliana Mensah, Ellen Montelius, Susannah Ronnie (née Pickering), Catherine Smith and Kay Syrad – who have already provided us with questions for our first research trip to Arvon’s The Hurst next week. Here are just some:

  • What does leadership mean?

  • Where might we be (professionally) if we were men?

  • What kind or styles of artistic collaboration seem to be more conducive to ‘creativity’ and why?

  • How do we stop being people-pleasers and develop a tougher exterior – to say ‘No’ to projects that aren’t right for us and not to worry about causing offence/never being asked to work again.

  • How to have  a ‘presence’ if socially shy and allergic to current social media platforms? Could this be in the form of occasional blogging on subjects/writers by which/whom we are genuinely fascinated?

  • How do we charge properly for what we do?

  • Where can we find new audiences for our work?



Sound familiar? I know I was nodding along to nearly all of them.

So the project is off to a stimulating start, even if we come back with more questions than answers. Of course, we are going to come back with more questions…. who am I kidding! However we have resources…


We’ll be sending out a survey later on in the year, so if you would like to be involved please do let me know and I’ll add you to the list – men are welcome at that stage too, but we’re keeping the main emphasis of our research to women professional writers. Also if you have any thoughts, things we should be reading, suggestions for people, places, ideas to follow up, I’d love to hear those too. We are at the initial stage of not even joining up the dots but working out what they might be… see my new Spreadsheets and Moxie file…


We’ve decided not to do a separate website, social media presence etc for the project, but will be blogging individually on our own websites. This will include not just our progress but our reading lists, our findings and any gems we pick up along the way.  This project is all about sharing knowledge and skills. If you’d like to join us on the journey, please follow this blog – just type in your email in the box on the right! Or email us on More soon…



(*ps I’d originally called this blogpost Voxie and Soxie = Double Moxie, but now I’m saving that for t-shirts for Viccy and I…. Do put in your orders if you’d like one too)