Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Interview with social historian Dr. Viv Newman

Social historian Dr. Viv Newman is here today and she’s chatting with me about Tumult and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets. It covers social history of World War through the writings of women poets – including U.S. poets.

Viv has been interested in social history since primary school, when her teachers commented upon her “very many questions”.

Viv’s doctoral research on women’s poetry of the First World War uncovered a treasure trove of long-forgotten women’s poems. These widen our knowledge of women’s wartime lives, their concerns, and their contributions to the war effort and subsequent Victory.

Viv has taught women’s war poetry in both academic and non-academic settings and spoken widely at history conferences (both national and international).  She gives talks to a variety of audiences ranging from First World War devotees of organisations such as the Western Front Association as well as to Rotarians, Women’s Institutes and U3A.

Welcome, Viv. Please tell us a little bit about your current release, Tumult and Tears.
During the First World War and its immediate aftermath, hundreds of women wrote thousands of poems on multiple themes and for many different purposes. Women’s poetry was published, sold (sometimes to raise funds for charities as diverse as ‘Beef Tea for Troops’ or ‘The Blue Cross Fund for Warhorses’), read, preserved, awarded prizes and often critically acclaimed. Tumult and Tears will demonstrate how women’s war poetry, like that of their male counterparts, was largely based upon their day-to-day lives and contemporary beliefs.

Poems are placed within their wartime context. From war worker to parent; from serving daughter to grieving mother, sweetheart, wife; from writing whilst within earshot of the guns, whilst making the munitions of war, or whilst sitting in relative safety at home, these predominantly amateur, middle-class poets explore, with a few tantalising gaps, nearly every aspect of women’s wartime lives, from their newly public often uniformed roles to their sexuality.

What inspired you to write this book?
From an early age I loved the poetry relating to the Great War but always wondered why there were no women poets. About 20 odd years ago, I discovered that 25% of all published poets between 1914 and 1918 WERE women but that they had been sidelined and then ignored so basically, I decided to set the record straight!

Excerpt from Tumult and Tears:
“These poems speak to us across the century and enable us to listen to an alternative story of those fateful years. This is a story told through the quiet voices of those who, in one poet’s words, were forced to learn the bitter lesson that whilst ‘Men made the war; mere women’ had to live through its terrible consequences.” By the end of the book, we are left unable to answer the question posed by Jessie Wakefield in her poem “Whose”,

And now for me remains the shell of life;
A round of days that pass without a goal;
Dark, wakeful endless night with anguish rife,
When Fear long-chained, stalks forth and rules my soul.
Lover of mine afar or near, dear heart,
Say now; Whose is the harder part?

What exciting story are you working on next?
A totally forgotten spy whom the Germans (for whom she spied) considered their most powerful non-mechanised weapon – but she too has been forgotten by history. She was a ‘bad girl’ but a totally fascinating one. Her story will be published in October 2017 as Singer, Siren, Spy: The Undercover World of Agent RĂ©gina Diana.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Really when I began the PhD as I realized that I adored both the research and crafting the thesis itself. When one of the examiners commented that he had sat up all night reading the thesis for pleasure, I felt that maybe this was something I could actually do quite well.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I wish!

I am also an educational psychologist working for a number of British universities. I fit writing and research around this but luckily I am an insomniac so often am at my desk by 5.30 am!

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My husband would say that it is the way that I have books in what he considers total disarray all around me and can barely see where the keyboard is for books. He once tidied them up for me – he has never dared repeat this!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first female British Ambassador. However, I met my husband on my first day at university when I was barely 19 and in those pre-enlightened days, the diplomatic service would not offer jobs to married women. (Luckily, we are still together 40 years later!!)

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I am also an inveterate trekker and have trekked in Inner Mongolia and to Everest Base Camp amongst other places. I tend to (hopefully) keep other trekkers entertained with stories about my amazing WW1 women.


We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of the First World War

Nursing Through Shot and Shell: A Great War Nurse’s Story
Pen and Sword: Amazon

Tumult and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets Pen and Sword: or Amazon

Thanks, Viv!

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