Like many women I know, there have been times when I have struggled to voice my achievements. Perhaps this is because they haven’t seemed big enough or the right sort of accomplishment.
There’s also the small fact that, historically, women’s achievements have been omitted from discussion and celebration. More than 100 years after a small number of women received the right to vote in the UK, women are still reluctant to speak up and shout about their achievements. And yet we are used to hearing from men who are often more confident in a society that celebrates the male perspective and makes space for their experiences.
But what if women gave themselves permission to celebrate the things that make them feel proud? What if we began to celebrate the voice of all women, not just those who have traditionally been amplified? And what if women allowed themselves to speak up about the things that feel important to them? What would happen then?
Enter 100 Voices, a collection of stories by female-identifying writers from around the UK on what achievement means for them and how they have found their own voices. The book features contributions from award-winning writers like Women’s Prize long-listed author Yvonne Battle-Felton, bestselling thriller writer Louise Jensen, playwright-in-residence at the Globe Theatre Sabrina Mahfouz, disability campaigner Isabelle Clement, and a foreword by Deborah Frances-White of the successful comedy podcast, Guilty Feminist.
100 Voices, edited by Miranda Roszkowski who is a writer and civil servant “currently living on a boat on Britain’s waterways”, is a truly remarkable collection, not least because of its subject matter but also because of the enormous task of collating the entries. The project started life as a podcast in 2018 to mark the centenary of the first women’s voting rights in the UK and to celebrate modern women. The book is an example of female achievement, written by women for women, who then had to navigate the task of securing funding via Unbound, a publisher that “fuses traditional ideas of patronage with contemporary crowdfunding models, providing a new platform for the most challenging and innovative of projects”. Impressively, the book received full backing and was 105 per cent funded.
Featuring memoir, poetry and fiction, 100 Voices is a 400-page record of women’s achievements. It features many diverse stories, including a 70-year-old political campaigner, a refugee eating British food for the first time, someone overcoming grief, and another dealing with failure.
The book also includes small, joyful tales like Rachel Barnett-Jones’s Lemon Curd where the author is attempting to make lemon curd for the first time (“In the morning I peek into the pot. It’s set, smooth and clear. Triumphant.”) and Elinor John’s Run, you mother, run! where she talks about taking up running (“Each time I run into the stadium I feel like an Olympic athlete, and even though footage shows me waddling like a demented duck, in my head I am elegant, powerful, invincible.”).
But the book not only acts as a tribute to women from all walks of life, but as a celebration of female creativity, strength and determination. It’s also a sort of rallying cry to all women, urging them to speak up about their own achievements, and to be proud of who they are, where they came from and where they are going.
100 Voices has been written and edited to “stand as testimony, a solid undeniable artefact of these stories” says Roszkowski in the book’s introduction. She adds: “I hope it will inspire others to create their own and shout their own stories of achievement with loud voices.”
I recommend this book not simply because of the stories included in its pages (although there are some truly inspirational achievements documented in this collection), but because there is something truly galvanising about real-life women coming together to share their achievements and experiences.
“Women have always had to band together to find the alchemy that would turn their voices into influence,” writes Deborah Frances-White in the book’s foreword, and I realise that this is exactly what I’ve been feeling while reading these stories: a delicious, rousing transformation that encourages us, like Frances-White suggests, to “put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard and surprise yourself”.
100 Voices, edited by Miranda Roszkowski, is published by Unbound and available to buy now