Book Review: Loneliness, Class and Coming of Age – Anna Glendenning’s An Experiment in Leisure

One of the best things about writing this column has undoubtedly been the chance to discover so many incredible debut authors, beginning their journeys into the world of publishing. Last month marked the publication of Anna Glendenning’s An Experiment In Leisure, a novel that was deeply thought-provoking, relatable and at the same time, completely unique. 

The book follows Grace, a twenty-something Cambidge graduate from the northern landscape of West Yorkshire. Talented and intelligent, the narrator appears to have climbed the ranks of the social ladder by achieving her Oxbridge degree and living an independent life in London, despite her humble working-class beginnings. What we soon learn is that much like her identity, she too is in a constant state of flux – unsettled and unsure of where she belongs. 

One of the things I enjoyed most about Glendenning’s writing was her purposeful use of dialect and accent throughout. It fluctuates: in London, her northern tongue is carefully edited; in Yorkshire, she plays up to her roots. As a reader, this idea in itself provided a lot to think about, especially in the form of a novel. The publishing industry is well-known for policing dialect, dulling it down to avoid alienating certain audiences. In An Experiment In Leisure, accents reign supreme and offer unparalleled depth to the characters who hold them. 

Whether it’s class, geographical location, sexuality or identity, this novel is full of crises. While sad at times, there were moments in the text that left me laughing out loud. Grace is a character that the reader roots for as she tries to figure out her life, no matter how hard it might be for her to work it out. She notices minute details about the world around her, normal moments brought to life by Glendenning’s acute and masterful writing style. In the beginning of the book, Grace sees a therapist. Written in short, pacy lines of dialogue, we begin to understand that she is deeply lonely, often caught up in her own thoughts. This is reflected by the text itself, both chaotic and well-structured. It mirrors the experimental life the narrator seeks to lead as she hopes to become a lady of leisure, whatever that might mean. 

It was really intriguing to read a novel that captures the intersections of northern and working-class identities. While Grace moves to London following her graduation from Cambridge, she soon finds herself fleeing between both locations. Her identity is constantly in question, strained by her changing position in society. The novel questions the idea of social mobility – is there a ladder that can simply be climbed? Or is the process of moving up a little more complex? Whether the answers are discovered in the novel or not, one thing is clear. An Experiment In Leisure celebrates working-class identities and offers an alternative perspective – one that suggests we don’t have to leave our roots behind to live a joyful life. 

Heart-warming, tear-jerking and written with complete stylistic elegance, this book is a force to be reckoned with. Anna Glendenning is certainly one to watch. An Experiment In Leisure is now available, published by Chatto Windus. You can purchase it here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

Advertisement

Book Review: Vanishing Husbands, Unconventional Love and Razor-Sharp Humour – Jenn Ashworth’s Ghosted: A Love Story

When June came around, the anticipation for a new book from iconic Northern author, Jenn Ashworth, was finally relieved with the release of Ghosted: A Love Story. Published by Sceptre, it’s the latest in a string of diverse, gripping and unforgettable reads written by the Preston-born, now Lancaster-based author.

On first impressions, Ghosted may appear to be a book about the modern dating concept of ignoring someone into non-existence. While the author does touch on that idea being the origin of the title, her book subverts it, taking it to new extremes. Her husband literally vanishes without a trace, whether purposefully or not.

The premise of the story is really that simple — it’s the vivid complexity of the self, relationships and navigating those two things which makes this book so incredible. On one ordinary morning, Laurie’s husband, Mark, disappears. Leaving his phone and wallet behind, he vanishes from the face of the earth, seemingly without a trace. The story explains how Laurie tells no-one for weeks, going about her daily life as if nothing has changed at all. As far as elevator pitches go, it’s certainly a book I was very intrigued to get into.

Laurie decides that in order to establish why her husband has disappeared from the present, she must revisit the past and retrace the steps of their relationship. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Ashworth’s brilliant novel is the way she captures the complexity of love and the way we interact with others. In Ghosted, marriage is ordinary in moments, exceptional in others; dull at times and warm in glimpses. There is no black and white with Ashworth’s characters — every person and the relationships they’re entangled in are laced with excitement, intrigue and multi-layered complexity.

While diving into the depths of love and all of it’s mysteries, the author delivers the story with some of the wittiest and most humorous writing I have ever experienced. Despite the content being deeply sad and heart-wrenching at times, Ashworth’s storytelling is cackle-inducing to say the least. In one instance, the narrator refers to Penelope, the wandering Odysseus’ faithful wife as a ‘poor daft sap’. While reminding the reader that the author is definitely northern, she makes use of classical parallels in the funniest way possible. Rivalling the likes of Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Raven Leilani’s Luster, the book combines tragedy with wit in a way that makes an unsolved mystery satisfying — it was truly a delight to read.

As well as razor-sharp humour and complex relationships, Ghosted also explores class, physicality and memory, all with absolute writing excellence. There’s no doubt that this book deserves a place on everyone’s summer to-be-read pile, especially if they’re particularly interested in flawed women narrators and on the lookout for a Northern setting. Jenn Ashworth is a stellar writer and Ghosted is the perfect addition to her already-iconic list of books, all entirely unique and eccentric in their own special way.

Ghosted: A Love Story was published in early June, now available to buy here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

The Education Gap: “That’s Too Posh For You” and Other Lies

Words: Faye Kirwan

I don’t know the exact moment I became aware that my experience in school was different to the people whose parents had more money, or more connections. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to school growing up and wouldn’t change my education experience. However, coming from a working-class family and living in an area of particularly low school performance, I knew I had to work harder than those better off just to achieve the same things.

So, I did just that, and with my As and A*s I made my way to one of the top universities in the UK in the same manner as the students from higher performing schools down south did. Yet, I was seen as ‘breaking the mould’ and congratulated for achieving the unheard of – but why? Why should I be ‘grateful for these opportunities’ as though I succeeded out of luck, rather than performing at the same standard as more affluent private school kids? And whilst I was – and still am – extremely grateful that my situation allowed for me to uproot my life and move across the UK to better my education, I guess I just wondered: what’s the big deal?

Spoiler alert: the ‘big deal’ is the education gap. 

It really is no secret that for the most part, access to private education is accessible only to those of wealthier households, or for families living in well-funded areas. I found myself falling into neither of those categories and my access to opportunities definitely represented that. Before delving into the world of educational inequality, and what that truly means for young people in the North, I would like to say that I genuinely enjoyed my experience within the education system and I am thankful I am able to say that. Some of the teachers I have had the honour of knowing throughout my life have truly helped shape me into who I am today, but the point of the matter is, I’m one of the luckier ones.

It goes without saying that thousands upon thousands of children from less economically sustainable backgrounds suffer within their school life, through no fault of their own. There is an obvious lack of access to and knowledge shared about opportunities for their educational growth, and this is before the issue of school funding is even mentioned. Linking nicely into the fact that none of these issues should produce blame aimed at families, teachers, or the children themselves. Government mishandling of resources is the real enemy. 

Now I’m not one to dismiss somebody just because of their educational background, some of the loveliest people I have met at university thus far have had some form of experience in private education. But ultimately private education is not fair. And the reality for children in state schools – particularly in the North – is less about experiencing education and more about figuring out how to work the system when the system doesn’t work for them. Education is not a material asset, it should not be something that some are just able to afford whilst others can find a knock-off replacement; it is something that is fundamental in creating who we are, and I don’t believe that there should be a hierarchy of deservingness when it comes to shaping lives. 

My experience is one of privilege, because whilst it was definitely not the easiest, I still managed to utilise the things I could, to get myself to where I am today. But truthfully? I didn’t even know that the University of St Andrews even so much as existed until the year that I applied. And, upon showing my interest, I was met with the responses of “that’s too posh for you,” and “your accent will really stand out there.” So that’s exactly why I decided to apply. I figured that if my entire 15 years of education up until that point had worked against me, it was time for me to work against it. So I made it to a fancy school but was cut from a different cloth. 

It’s one thing to break the mould and ‘succeed’, but it’s another thing to have a mould that produces success. My point being, we need to make it a common occurrence that children from all socio-economic backgrounds have equal access to all forms of opportunities. Not only do I just think this is fair and right, but how people from different economic backgrounds supposed to empathise with each other if their only opportunity to mix is by knowing or by being the token scholarship kid?

I’m so lucky to have the experiences that I do, but I wish it wasn’t a case of luck. 


Faye is a 19-year-old student from Liverpool studying English at the University of St Andrews, who also writes freelance in her spare time. she particularly enjoys writing personal essays and opinion pieces on topics involving feminism and LGBTQ+ equality, whilst also drawing from her own experiences as a young, working-class woman.  

Anna Wood’s Yes Yes More More: Stories of Pleasure and Friendship

A not-so-sunny May marks the launch of the warm and eclectic short story collection by Bolton-born Anna Wood: Yes Yes More More. Published by The Indigo Press, Wood’s debut is a comical, heart-warming and introspective example of masterful short fiction — an absolute treat for readers and aspiring writers alike. 

The book’s blurb promises ‘stories that explore the radical possibilities of pleasure’, something that was immediately apparent even in the first few pages. Delving into the decades of a woman’s life, Wood gives readers a look at unexpected situations, hilarious interactions and surprising characters, all while maintaining absolute clarity and creative use of language. 

During her live book launch on Instagram, hosted by the brilliant Alice Slater, Wood shared some interesting insights about the collection and the process of writing it. Written over 10 or so years, Yes Yes More More is truly an example of how time and dedication really does produce precision — and arguably perfection too. 

I was intrigued to know how the author’s Northern identity impacted her writing of the book, and asked how place is relevant to her work, particularly in stories like Rise Up Singing which is set in her hometown of Bolton. During the Q&A session, she described Yes Yes More More as very much a ‘northern book’, despite the majority of the stories being set in London. Northerness as a feeling is certainly present throughout; there’s a certain amount of joy, honesty and raw comedy that’s evidently reminiscent of culture in the North. 

Rise Up Singing explores a day in the life of two Boltonian teenagers, Janey and the book’s protagonist, Annie Marshall. It’s set in the 90s and they’ve taken acid before their English class — the perfect inciting incident for any great story. 

The way the author captures their friendship in glittering moments of dialogue and familiar camaraderie was certainly memorable, something that can be seen throughout the collection. As well as poignantly representing friendship, the story is a whirlwind of place and setting. From lingering in Toys R Us to kissing miscellaneous men in night clubs, Wood has a very unique ability to really bring an age and a location to life. 

In Chronicle of a Baffled Spinster, the author documents a year in the life of her protagonist. Each month is captured in small moments: rejection by a man she likes; joy in the presence of music; sexy dresses and smear tests. Reading this story was like seeing life through a series of postcards, the most memorable message of all being that pleasure can be found wherever you choose to acknowledge it. If nothing else, this chronicle brimming with life was just another confirmation that Wood’s collection is pure brilliance. 

Yes Yes More More is completely unique. Finding short stories that glow with insights on life, all while causing you to laugh out loud can be quite the feat, one Anna Wood has quite clearly achieved with this masterful debut. 

Yes Yes More More was published in May by independent publisher, The Indigo Press. You can purchase it here.


Words: Beth Barker 

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

The Northern women breaking into journalism

Reading was my first love, thanks in most part to my older sister who would pass on books to me. I read everywhere and anywhere, always fully immersing myself in those worlds. This passion for reading led me to writing, resulting in notebooks filled to the brim with short stories and in-depth interviews with family members. Since then, I have always said that I wanted to write and be a journalist, and have explored all the options open to me. 

Truthfully, I didn’t know what a journalist was. I didn’t see anyone on the TV who sounded like me. There was very little Northern representation and even less information about how to break into the industry. When you don’t know anyone within the media, getting in is incredibly different.

As was the case for many people last year, my plans somewhat changed. The gap year I had planned disappeared so I needed to find something else to focus on. That’s where writing came back into the picture. Lockdown meant more organisations were offering free online workshops, giving everyone across the country the opportunity to network. From that I connected with a group of incredible women, who, like me, wanted a space for women to write about anything they wanted to and not worry about stress or deadlines. So Empoword Journalism was born. 

Throughout the past year, I never felt like my Northern roots were holding me back. The question I always asked in any workshops was “do you think it’s possible to get a job in the industry without moving to London?” and I always got a resounding yes. However, I am still seeing so many journalist jobs that are based down south with no option of remote working. 

I spoke to some of the women I have met through Empoword Journalism about how they broke into the industry and what they think needs to happen to make it easier for people in the North to break into the journalism industry. 

Mads Raine is a journalist from Hartlepool, and her love of journalism began whilst working on her student newspaper. “The North is definitely represented, but it is not well-represented,” she says. “Most of the action happens in London and if you decide to stay in the North you are cutting off a lot of opportunities.”

Adding: “Neither my school nor my college had their own paper. I didn’t have these creative outlets at my fingertips that so many of my friends had. Throughout my education –  until university that is – I was lacking in creativity and I don’t think being at a state-run school in a high-poverty area is a coincidence.”

“Most of the action happens in London and if you decide to stay in the North you are cutting off a lot of opportunities.”

Mads Raine

Mads wants people to realise that the North has so much more to offer and wants to see “more jobs and more internships brought to the North of England”.

Beth Kirkbride founded The Indiependent in 2014 as a way to give journalists from across the county the opportunity to get their work published and get constructive feedback from editors. Beth, like me, has wanted to write for as long as she could remember. She believes that even though the pandemic has shown that working remotely is possible the media is still very London-centric. 

“When it comes to applying for journalism work experience or graduate schemes being from the North has been a disadvantage,” notes Beth. “These opportunities mean uprooting my life and moving to London, which has a much higher cost of living than the North of England. This is definitely an access and diversity problem in the media industry.”

“These opportunities mean uprooting my life and moving to London, which had a much higher living cost than the North of England.”

Beth Kirkbride

Beth also wants to see more paid work experience opportunities that allow Northern journalists to gain experience without having to foot their travel and accommodation costs themselves.

Lauren Mcgaun is a student with a passion for current affairs and the world around her. She echoes both Beth and Mads belief that there needs to be better work experience for people in the North. 

“I would also welcome more work experience applications that are CV based, which consider your journalistic skills and ability (similar to the current spectator scheme), so that your location and education doesn’t act as a barrier,” she says.

Shahed Ezaydi, is a freelance journalist and Deputy Editor for Aurelia Magazine. Although Shahed has always been fascinated by writing she never saw it as the career for her because she “never really saw someone like me in that world”.  

For Shahed, being from the North has given her a “unique voice in journalism”, as she explains: “Being a Northern woman means I can offer different perspectives or add more nuance and depth to a range of discussions, from race, religion, to local issues.” She continues: “You can always tell when an article or report that’s covering a Northern issue has been written by a journalist who isn’t Northern or who hasn’t lived in the North. I find it lacks the depth and substance.”

“You can always tell when an article or report that’s covering a Northern issue has been written by a journalist who isn’t Northern or who hasn’t lives in the North. I find it lacks the depth and substance.”

Shahed Ezaydi

However, she warns that she doesn’t want to get “boxed into just writing about identity or race and religion”, because “we as journalists (and people) are more than that”.

In terms of improving Northern representation, Shahed wants to see more roles moved up North, but recognises that that isn’t always possible. “Not every company can just move, so publications should also offer their roles on a remote working basis to recognise that not everyone is in a financial position that would allow them to move to London and live there long-term.”

Bethan McConnell is originally from Newcastle but relocated to London for University. “There always seems to be jobs central to London, in both music and journalism, so I figured that I would experience more opportunities and work if I lived in London,” she explains. 

Bethan is now a music journalist and photographer and runs Safe and Sound, a music and culture publication curated by creative women.  “For me, the most important thing is stepping up arts and culture funding in low-income areas, as those classes could inspire our next generation of journalists, musicians, and authors,” she says.

“There always seems to be jobs central to London, in both music and journalism, so I figured I would experience more opportunities and work if I lived in London.”

Bethan McConnell

Adding: “From my own experience the music education I received from school was the thing that motivated me to pursue this career path and without it, I’m not sure what sort of job I would be doing now.”

Evie Muir is a  domestic abuse specialist and freelance journalist. Evie began pursuing a career as a journalist because she felt there was a gap in reporting on gender-based violence. “From a survivor’s perspective, often stories telling our experiences of abuse, exploitation or assault are anonymised,” she says.

“As both a domestic abuse practitioner and survivor, it felt like “if not me, who?” I had stories to tell – my own included – I was angry, tired, passionate and, most importantly, informed.”

Evie became a freelance journalist through an unconventional route. “I studied Sociology and Gender Studies at undergrad level and International Development and Gender Based Violence at univeristy, and have worked in the Domestic Abuse Sector and Charity Sector more broadly for over seven years. So, I entered journalism as an expert in my field and used that to my advantage.”

When writing about topics that can be potentially triggering for you, Evie advises “putting coping mechanisms in place. If this means taking sick leave then do it”. 

Evie’s advice for women entering the industry is to find a support group. “I’d like to mention too that there is such a great network of Northern journos up here who I feel a deeper connection with than I do in more nation-wide networking groups – despite having not met many of them in person!”

“See the value in Northern stories and we will tell you them. Give us a platform to share the stage and we will speak with you.”

Evie Muir

She continues: “It feels like a very nurtured community with shared values of intersectionality, inclusion and the celebration of northern women voices.”

Evie wants to see an increase in remote working opportunities and she wants publications to take a closer look at the experiences of women in the North. “See the value in Northern stories and we will tell you them. Give us a platform to share the stage and we will speak with you.”

Speaking to these women is the best reminder of why I want to be a journalist. For the North to be represented we need people to start breaking down those barriers because where you are from should never negatively impact your future.

Extra Resources: 

The Northern Natter Podcast and Newsletter 

The Peak District Newsletter, filled with job opportunities up North!

The Indiependent 

Empoword Journalism

Journo Resources – a newsletter and website filled with paid job opportunities and career advice 


Words by Orla McAndrew. Orla is a writer and journalist from Leeds and the co-founder of Empoword Journalism, a woman-led project that looks to unite and empower journalists.

On Emerging from Lockdown

Humans have a unique capacity for adaptability. This is often seen as a trait, something you either have or you don’t, an asset to put on your CV that hopefully not everyone believes themselves capable of, giving you that extra edge. If anything though, this past year has proven just how quickly we are able to become used to something and how easily we are able to adapt to a new definition of ‘normal’.

If I think about how I was feeling a year ago, I can identify that things are very different now. The early months of 2020 filled me with anxiety; I was particularly fearful of the discovery of this new form of Coronavirus in the world. I diligently read the news, falsely believing that if I had all the information then I was being provided with some kind of assurance or security. As the news broke about the effects this disease was having across world, I became more and more anxious. I saw no way that th­­e UK could be prepared for its arrival. 

I was baffled by the lack of action from authority figures, exasperated by the fact that it seemed for several years they had been trying to find any excuse to close the borders and now, when we could finally use our island status to our advantage, this was negated. So, come March when we finally entered into national lockdown – although we were thrown into a scenario that seemed entirely alien and completely dystopian – it did not take long for me to feel a great sense of relief and ultimately joy at not being asked to do anything that may pose a risk to my own, or my loved ones’ health.

April 2021 brings to the fore a very different set of feelings. The vaccine rollout is going well, although I worry about the effectiveness of something that hasn’t yet undergone long term testing. I don’t think this is unusual, and it hasn’t stopped me from getting my first jab. If there’s even the slightest chance that this will make us safer, I’m happy to oblige. News about potential blood-clots frightened me, but the risks involved with taking the contraceptive pill are far greater, yet that’s never been a national conversation, but that’s a piece for another time. 

I had quite an extreme reaction to my first vaccine, but this doesn’t appear unusual amongst young people and in the weeks following I have thankfully been fine. It was strange though, getting my first vaccine; I didn’t feel excited and in turn, that made me feel guilty. Getting my vaccination hasn’t posed a change in any of my behaviour. Those with vaccinations are still susceptible to getting the virus and passing it on to others, but hopefully the risk of its effects is minimized. I’m scared that having had the vaccine I could still pick it up and be asymptomatic, posing more of a threat to people I love.

Similarly, I’m struggling to summon any excitement for the roadmap out of lockdown. The self-critical voice in my mind is inclined to call me cynical but the rational part of me thinks its realism. We have been here before. It feels like over the last year the country has been plunged in and out of different forms of lockdown. The rules have been unclear, the use of the word guidance is vague, and I would argue that the North is one of those areas that has suffered disproportionately. 

Some have decided to make their own rules and others have diligently stuck to what has been suggested. Within all of this it hasn’t felt like decisions at a governmental level have been sensibly made. This apparent insistence to get the economy going again has consistently harmed the defence against the virus on numerous fronts. I’m reminded of one of the definitions of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For a large part of the past year this seems to be what has been happening, the same tactics over and over again with the expectation of different outcomes.

I’m to be forgiven for not being too excited about large swathes of the economy reopening on Monday. I will not be visiting a food and drink outlet to sit outside and endure a meal. I will not be clambering to get myself onto public transport in order to meet six friends outside for a long overdue catch-up. I will not be traipsing round retail outlets just because I can. I’ve never been to and do not intend to start going to a gym. I’m not even that upset about the fact I haven’t been able to get my hair cut for nine months. Lockdown has helped me to learn what it is I really need in my life and a lot of what was considered part of my ‘normal’, I don’t necessarily miss. I’ve become extremely attuned to the world we now live in. 

However, as with everyone, there are some things I ache to do. I want to see my grandparents, having not seen them for over a year, even if our regular FaceTimes do provide me with a level of entertainment I didn’t think possible. I would love to go to a gig. I miss live music and the rituals surrounding it. My boyfriend and I miss being able to go out for food – that was one of our regular treats. And I know there’s the opportunity to do that now, however the anxiety I feel is high. 

I don’t think I’m alone, but particularly for my age group (mid-twenties) I feel there’s pressure to be raring to go again, like there’s this insistence that we can’t wait to get back in pubs, see our friends and travel to the workplace. I feel the media have created a narrative where it is young people who are most likely to break lockdown rules and that we’re the age group who are the most fed up with restrictions. But if I look honestly at my own feelings, and if I listen to my peers, then this doesn’t seem to be the case. Yes, there are things we all rightly miss but actually the anxiety around getting the virus is real. And most of the time I don’t think my age group are worrying about what would happen to them should they contract it (although it seems that nobody knows just how different peoples’ bodies will react), but are more concerned with contracting it and passing it onto a loved one. 

Many people have had massive changes in circumstances due to the pandemic. A lot of young adults have found themselves back in the family home for a variety of reasons; losing work, not wanting to isolate alone, needing support, or finding that they need to offer support themselves to other family members. Many young adults are finding themselves living with people who may be more vulnerable even if they are not. 

This narrative of having a carefree attitude and just wanting to be able to get on and do what we want is simply that – a narrative. I currently live with my mother, who has an underlying health condition. The nature of her condition means her immune system can be easily compromised, however there has been little advice from the medical community on how Coronavirus may affect it. As a family we have been meticulously careful about Coronavirus for over a year now. Journeys that would usually require public transport, I have walked. I did not visit a bar or restaurant when they reopened last summer. I have done any non-essential shopping online and found innovative ways to celebrate birthdays and Christmas. We as a family have been so careful, it is nonsensical to change that now. 

I sometimes wonder if my response is still disproportionate but if there’s anything my twenties and the last year are teaching me, it’s that it doesn’t matter if anyone believes I’m overreacting, it is only important how I feel. Five years ago, I lost my uncle to seasonal flu and so my response to the pandemic has been different to what it may have been before that happened. I have a real fear of losing someone to an illness like this, as I’ve seen it happen. And I’ve seen it happen extremely quickly. I was abruptly introduced to the world of intensive care units and ventilators and last year’s reporting on the pandemic quickly started to bring up all those feelings again. 

My story isn’t unique. There will be many people who have had loved ones suffer from difficult illnesses, those who have lifelong underlying health conditions and those who have lost loved ones in traumatic and unexpected circumstances. It is okay that I feel the way that I do. I wanted to write this because I was feeling isolated. I had a conversation with the job centre on Tuesday in which I came away feeling panicked and pressured. I am genuinely fearful of the consequences of being ‘in’ the world. 

I am of the mindset that we should all just try and be that little bit more patient. The reopening of areas like hospitality on Monday is of little consequence to me when I am still unable to travel the length of time I would need to in order to visit my grandparents. It seems like extremely poor compensation. I still have friends who work in that industry (I am lucky in that I left just over a year ago) and I really feel for the levels of anxiety they’re experiencing and the confusion they feel over being asked to do certain things that aren’t expected of everyone.

I’m really fortunate in that my year of practical unemployment has happened to land at this point in everyone’s lives and I’ve been consistently grateful that I haven’t had to put myself in any compromising positions. But I know plenty of people who have. The argument that the economy must be restarted favors some members of society over others. All those employees on minimum wage, often doing the jobs that are the most high-risk, aren’t necessarily going to reap the benefits of that.

If I had it my way, I would wait until every member of the adult population had been offered their first vaccination. As a country, we’ve come such a long way from where we were last year. There has been intense loss, major sacrifices and it does now look like maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just know I’d be far more comfortable if we were given the opportunity to wait until we were firmly in that light, instead of still tentatively taking our final few steps through that unfamiliar dark. 

For everyone, it will take time to adjust to whatever it is the world wants us to do next. Some people may feel naturally inclined to return to previous behaviour and for others, like myself, that transition will be much harder. The simple act of socialising with people I love requires far more energy now than it used to. For some people, the act of being forced to return to work on Monday may be a terrifying prospect. 

I don’t know when I will feel safe meeting people in a public place like I used to, maybe it will be a case of when I’m forced to re-enter the world as I get a job then that will be when I have to face it. Maybe the choices that I currently have the privilege of making are keeping me locked in an element of fear. I don’t know. What I do know is that for me the route out of lockdown will be taken with care. I will not be throwing myself into situations I don’t feel are safe. I will be trying to push through this last part having thankfully not experienced this virus in anyone close to me. 

I also know there are things I have learned and experienced over the last year that I want to keep. I have found so much joy in the act of simply being without the pressures of what society used to consider ‘normality’. I have spent more time outdoors and more time with myself. Even in amongst all the madness and turmoil that parts of the past year have brought I have actually been the happiest I have ever been. However long it takes me to feel comfortable returning to those elements of ‘normal’ we are destined to keep, the happiness and the sense of calm I have experienced through large parts of the last year are the things I intend to prioritise. If we are being offered the chance to find different ways of living then I want to embrace that, and surely, I’m not the only one. 


Saffron Rain lives and writes in Stockport. She was born and raised around Manchester, only moving away to get her degree and subsequent MA in English Lit in Sheffield. During this time she wrote ardently on the North, particularly female writers and filmmakers. 

Her preferred form is the personal essay and she enjoys writing about topics that she connects to on a personal level. Some of these have appeared in independent publications and she shares longer pieces on her own blog. She loves to read, particularly women, and will take any opportunity to crowbar Joan Didion into a conversation. 

On Being a Woman

This is the kind of narrative that could begin with a trigger warning. I’ve never started anything with a trigger warning, and I don’t intend to now. If I were to start this with a trigger warning then, as per the rules of this warning, at birth, all women should be served with such a caution.

Last week was International Women’s Day and I hold this event close to my heart. Every year I take time to think about the women in my life who have influenced me and helped me grow into the woman I have become, and the woman I am still learning to be. I am lucky that I am not the original feminist in my family, in fact the original feminist does not hold a place in my generation, or even my mother’s generation. The original feminist in my family is a crown firmly worn by my grandmother and she is exceptional. I would go as far as to say that her mother, my great-grandmother, whom I knew until I was just shy of fourteen lay the groundwork for a line of women who were not afraid to use their voice or go after a life they felt they deserved.

For a number of years I have used this annual event to celebrate and be grateful for remarkable women, however this year I felt that all this time something was being negated. I was no longer acknowledging the sheer anger I feel on a regular basis, instead happily falling in line and choosing to focus on where women have succeeded, whereas in reality it should be a day to also highlight the fact that a woman’s ‘place’ in the world still has a long way to go.

The problem is it’s hard to be so angry all the time. As I’ve been raised a feminist I have spent much of my adolescence and into early adulthood being really, really angry. And it is tiring. I studied sociology at college and found that the feminist theory I was being taught was in no way advanced enough. I am conscious of my gender so have taken time to learn about how this affects where I stand in the world. Throughout the pandemic I have chosen to use the time to educate myself further and last year I watched a plethora of documentaries on the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alexandria Orcasio Cortez and Gloria Allred. Upon its release I devoured Mrs America, which has since taken some stick for its portrayal of the Women’s Movement, but I think as an extremely watchable drama it introduced a whole host of people to a topic they didn’t even know existed.

I staunchly researched the Equal Rights Amendment and read Gloria Steinem’s memoir, in fact over recent years I have made a pact with myself to try and read books written exclusively by women. I studied English Literature at university and we were vastly underrepresented, a tragedy I have been endeavouring to change ever since graduation. All of this new learning continued to teach me something I frankly already knew; the voices of powerful women are few and far between, movements that are female led are slow to be taken seriously and amendments pertaining to the rights of women and girls, or the protection of women and girls are near impossible to get written into law, tragedies I have been trying to come to terms with for a good half of my life. 

Being a woman, whether that be your biological gender or a choice that has been made, is akin to being a second-class citizen. And that is before you start to explore the different facets that make up this category of people; things such as race, class or disability meaning that the levels of prejudice against women vary extensively throughout society. As I wrote that first sentence the dominant part of my thinking said don’t be so dramatic and as a result I nearly deleted it. This is a problem. A survey released last week announced a very real statistic: 97% percent of women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four have been the victims of sexual harassment.

This did not surprise women and those that did seem shocked (myself included) were simply amazed that the statistic was not higher. I’d argue the figure is closer to one-hundred percent but the harassment experienced has been shrugged off, or deemed not important enough to note. I have been guilty of this for much of my adult life. I was raised to be strong in my femininity and as a result of this I’ve refused to be a victim. I think lots of women will be in this position, where harassment becomes such a norm, or so tiring that you just have to ignore it otherwise you begin to feel yourself living in a constant state of victimhood. 

I worked in hospitality for ten years and the industry is rife with sexism, harassment and assault. Being behind the bar can be akin to being trapped in some kind of pen, a pen where men feel that they can say or do whatever they like to you and are completely within their right because of the job you have. To count the amount of times I heard give us a smile, love, you’re prettier that way, would waste more time than I have to spare. (Side note here: there is an excellent Lily Tomlin quote in which she says ‘Science has proven that you feel better when you smile. Unless a man is telling you to do it, in which case, never smile.’)

I would spend many an evening asking men politely to please don’t touch me to be confronted with why or alright love, calm down in response. As a manager I had to ask bouncers to physically remove men who would not take the answer of no from female members of staff, who could not take themselves out of the situation as they literally had to be there because it was their job. One member of staff ended up having to inform the police about a male customer who had begun stalking her, only for our (male) manager to then intervene and inform her that she wouldn’t have this problem if she didn’t dress the way she did. Yes. I just wrote that down and it is entirely true. 

I could go on, but like I’ve mentioned, it’s tiring being this angry and the rage I’ve reconciled in relation to these events over many years can so easily begin to rear its ugly head. Some of this is harassment and some of this is assault. Yet when I and the other women involved were living it, it was simply our work. This is another problem. It is so relentless, so overt, so outright and so unfortunately ordinary that it just becomes life.  It is when you step back from the situation, when you no longer deal with those things every single day that you realise that that is not what normal should be. When I left the industry one of the things I was grateful for, and still mention being grateful for now over a year later, is that I no longer have to deal with men touching me without my permission. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Women across the country have been shaken by the events that have unfurled over the last ten days. Some men have asked us why and taken steps to instigate understanding and change. Other men have shouted not all men and continued to show women that our experiences, our voices and our truths are not welcome. Women aren’t stupid, we know it’s not all men. The problem is, it transpires that a lot of the time we don’t know which men fall into the ‘not all men’ category. I’m lucky in that my partner and male friends fall into the category of men who understand and this is one of my biggest privileges. For a lot of women (one in four actually) it is the men within their homes, whom they trust enough to live with, who put them in harm’s way. When 25% percent of half the population are victims of domestic abuse then attitudes and behaviours have to change on a large scale. 

‘Lad culture’ has a lot to answer for and it is these small acts, often passed off as ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘harmless banter’ that lay the foundations for abuse towards women and sadly, I do believe that a large proportion of the male population partake in these kinds of discussions or ‘jokes’. We all know the kinds of things; that lads chat where one member of the group shares some particularly derogatory porn and everyone replies with lol, that group of blokes you hear in the pub complaining that the Mrs wants them home, the school boys at the back of the bus comparing and rating the girls they share a class with, when a woman is upset and a man within earshot asks if she’s on her period, or that old man up the road sharing female-lead articles in a WhatsApp group with the opinion she’s just overreacting.

The list goes on. And on. And the further it goes on the more it legitimises the idea that women can be treated as secondary objects there for the entertainment of men. If this is what society is teaching its young boys it is unsurprising that some boys grow into men who disregard, harass, assault and, in too many cases, murder women. 

It is not fair that one half of the population live with some level of anxiety pertaining to their safety in this way. For those who argue that it is ‘not all men’ then I pose the fact that not all women are raped, not all women are murdered but in these instances all women are asked to take extra precautions to ensure that they do not become a statistic. Like the outcry in the eighties during the Peter Sutcliffe murders, why is it that again all women are asked to abide by a curfew when it is in fact men who are unable to be trusted after dark. It is unfortunate for men that their reputation be tarnished by the actions of a few but women feel the effects in a much more serious way on a regular basis. I’ve already read how the language surrounding this topic is a problem, we talk of women being raped instead of men raping women, of girls getting pregnant instead of boys impregnating girls, of women being victims instead of men victimising and abusing. The language is all passive, these are things that happen to women, there is little in the fact that the power lies with the men who engage in these acts. 

There is a reason that the Sarah Everard case has affected women so deeply. It is random. It is inexplicable. It could have been any woman. Like the Black Lives Matter protests of last year, it is the disbelief, anger and fear that comes from the realisation that today’s culture is defined by a lack of both trust and accountability. It is not an irrationality that makes series like The Fall (something I stopped watching) and Luther (something I saw through and had many sleepless nights over) so terrifying. They are a mirror to the world that women live in. 

A male friend of mine rang me on Thursday because he wanted to talk about this topic and I was really grateful. He was angry and frustrated but ultimately, we discovered what he truly felt was embarrassed and distraught that people still needed to be told how to keep women safe. As we talked I was reminded of that famous Margaret Atwood quote; ‘men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ It is at times like these that this sentiment is keenly felt by all women. It is that underlying knowledge, somewhere in the female subconscious, that this is a reality that keeps us sleeping with the lights on after we’ve watched a crime drama, keeps us on the phone as we walk back to Piccadilly in the evening after a gig, that means we think twice about going for a run after the sun’s gone down, that makes us wonder whether we take that route or the longer, busier, better lit one, that ensures we keep our headphones out when walking somewhere lonely, that means we keep our heads down when those men in that van shout something vile, that mean we cross the road when walking past a busy beer garden and then the more severe. Those instances where a woman will do what a man wants because of that fear; where a woman will agree to a date just to get someone off her back, when she’ll let him kiss her goodnight just to shut him up and (more often than people like to imagine) let him sleep with her because the consequences aren’t worth risking. 

Being a woman can be difficult and infuriating and change is vital. Sometimes we fall victim of remembering the Suffragettes and the Women’s Movement and thinking that the work is done, that it’s better than it was, that life is more equal. It is, but it’s not far enough. It is seven years still until we can celebrate the centenary of all women over the age of twenty one winning the right to vote and in those ninety three years things have progressed but not enough. When women look to our current prime minister and see a man who is the subject of many jokes pertaining to how many children he has, with how many women, how can we believe we’re going to be taken seriously. When it takes campaigns and movements to get acts such as ‘up-skirting’ criminalized how can we believe that our rights are taken seriously. When misogyny is still not a hate-crime how can we feel valued and protected. 

I think, if you’re reading this then perhaps I’m preaching to the converted. But this doesn’t matter. Throughout my life I’ve found that when I’m angry or grieving or having big feelings that I don’t quite understand, I need to hear them from someone else. I need to read or listen to an experience that provides me with the language to express myself properly. I need to be given a framework in which to discuss my experiences and my feelings.

When the Guardian shared the 97% statistic on their Instagram feed I read some of the comments. One of them was from a fifteen year old girl who said she had experienced some behaviour at the hands of a man that she didn’t like, but she didn’t think that it constituted as harassment. There were tens of replies from other women. No one judged her, no one told her to be quiet, no one told her she was right. All these women told her that if she didn’t like it then she was harassed. All these women told her that her truth was her own. All these women apologized that she had to experience that. That girl has had her experience validated. She has been provided with the language she needs to identify and speak about her gender. The more women do this, the harder we will be to ignore. 


Saffron Rain lives and writes in Stockport. She was born and raised around Manchester, only moving away to get her degree and subsequent MA in English Lit in Sheffield. During this time she wrote ardently on the North, particularly female writers and filmmakers. 

Her preferred form is the personal essay and she enjoys writing about topics that she connects to on a personal level. Some of these have appeared in independent publications and she shares longer pieces on her own blog. She loves to read, particularly women, and will take any opportunity to crowbar Joan Didion into a conversation. 

True Crime, Trauma and Hope: Girl A by Abigail Dean

Abigail Dean’s Girl A is set to be one of the biggest books of 2021, a prediction that can be concluded as completely well-deserved upon reading it.

The story is narrated by Lex Gracie, better known as the girl who escaped from the House of Horrors, a location of crime made infamous by headlines in the novel. Lex and her six siblings were victims of abuse, held hostage and starved, a fact made even more harrowing when the perpetrators are revealed to be their own parents. Now a lawyer in New York, she is faced with the death of her imprisoned mother and the house left behind in the UK, forcing her to reconnect with her siblings and come to terms with the childhood they shared. Through a carefully-crafted and weaving narrative, Lex tells the story of her escape, her suffering and the way such trauma and abuse is processed.

A key element of Girl A which makes it stand out amongst other books of similar content is Dean’s effort to avoid explicit reference to the abuse itself, a refreshing take which allowed more thoughtful reflection and at times, a more focused reading experience. In an interview with The Bookseller, Dean explained her interest in writing a book that ‘deals less with the intricate details of the terrible things that do happen, and more with how trauma is processed’.

This intention definitely came to fruition in the novel. Lex’s position as narrator allowed a reading journey reminiscent of any real crime story; outsiders can never possibly understand the experience of victimhood in its entirety. The narrator often felt cold and distant but also at times tender and intimate, marking a successful attempt by the author to demonstrate how trauma and recovery often manifests itself. This process reaches climatic heights in the novel’s powerful twist, both unexpected and completely brilliant. 

Part of Dean’s inspiration for the book originates from a true crime story traced back to the Turpin family, California. The case saw a couple charged for imprisoning their children and subjecting them to a cascade of neglect and abuse, only discovered after the escape of their seventeen year-old daughter.

The links between Girl A and the Turpin case are stark, injecting Dean into a tradition of writers using true crime to inspire fiction, some notable examples also from the North of England include David Peace’s 1980 and Pat Barker’s Blow Your House Down. Both of these authors took true crime stories and utilised them as inspiration for iconic literary fiction — Dean could well be on the path to joining them with her intensely compelling debut novel. 

If Girl A could only be summarised by one word, that word should be hope. The author builds a story full of characters who feel alive, pulsing with real feelings and experiences. Their reactions, dialogue and personalities all contribute to an overwhelming achievement in terms of characterisation, something which is often missed out on when horrendous crimes are allowed to take centre stage. The relationships in the novel were particularly absorbing, especially when childhood rivalries and loving bonds were tested between the siblings. Hope is at the forefront, despite the memories of pain, and it is definitely a testament to the strength of victims everywhere who have experienced such abuse.

As far as debut novels go, this one is an absolute accomplishment. Combining true crime, trauma and proof of hope, Girl A is as memorable as it is captivating. 

Abigail Dean is a lawyer and author, born in Manchester and raised in the Peak District. You can buy her novel now, available here.


Words: Beth Barker

Beth Barker is a writer and blogger from Blackpool, now working in Manchester. She also co-hosts Up North Books, a podcast celebrating books and writers from the North of England. 

Beth wanted to contribute a monthly review to NRTH LASS in order to shine a light on Northern women writing great books. The North is very much underrepresented in publishing and she hopes a monthly review throughout 2021 will showcase the talent Northern women have to offer.

For more book reviews and insights on publishing in the North, follow Beth on Instagram and Twitter.

“I will always be a northern lass, no matter where I live” – my northern roots

Words: Amy Bebbington

I never thought much about it growing up. My heritage. My northern roots. My accent. It was just who I was. Where I lived. Everyone spoke with similar tones with no one commenting on how I pronounced words or particular phrases.

Moving to ‘The South’ wasn’t a conscious choice. I guess it just happened. My college fashion course offered placements with the University of the West of England, so after much debate I begrudgingly moved away from my small hometown, family and friends, only for nine months. I’d be back within a year, I constantly told myself as I packed up my childhood room and traded the North West for the South West. 

Nine months soon turned into 11 years. After finishing university I wasn’t ready to return. I never permanently moved back to live, much to my mum’s horror. I loved this vibrant, artistic city that I had ended up in and felt I had to stay, if only for a few more years. I moved into a house share and started a new life, not knowing many people or how hard full-time work would be. 

It wasn’t easy at first. Without the university bubble full of different accents to protect me, I surprisingly met a lot of people who were not too keen on my northern twang. Some comments were harmless banter whereas others were a lot more cutting. Over the years, I’ve noticed a huge shift, meeting a lot more northerners along the way. People have become much more accepting, friendly even towards my accent. As more individuals move across the country, the north south divide seems to have shifted a little.

I’m lucky enough to have two homes. Our Bristol Victorian terrace with original period features that we’re slowly making our own is in the perfect spot to make the most of the city. In the summer we’re usually inundated with festivals, my favourite being when hundreds of hot air balloons fill the blue sky with colour flying right over our house. 

However much I enjoy our Bristol life, I always retreat to Runcorn after a few weeks have passed. My freelance lifestyle allows me to take my work on the two trains to stay in my second, childhood home for a week or so. To reconnect with my family and make sure my beautiful niece knows who her Auntie Amy is. I spot my mum’s red Micra parked at the station and I know I’m home. I return to Bristol always feeling refreshed and ready for city life again. 

In my heart, I will always be a northern lass, no matter where I live. As my adorable baby daughter begins to find her voice, I wonder what accent she will have. I’ll have to make sure she picks up my phrases, especially pronouncing bath, glass and grass without an ‘r.’ I’m sure my boyfriend will have something to say about that. 

How my tools as a Design Researcher have helped me handle these tumultuous times

Words: Ishika Mukherjee
Ishika Mukherjee

What a time to be living through. In the last few months we’ve seen the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, endured lockdown, witnessed the fall of major economies, mourned the tragic deaths that led to the urgent acceleration in the anti-racism movement and infinite more conflicts emerging or saturating across the globe. On a personal level, people have lost jobs, been furloughed, or have had to work remotely – each in its own way drastically changing our lives and more often than not, our priorities.

I’ve been one of the luckier ones in the fact that I’ve been able to keep my job and continued working remotely. As a design researcher, my role is to connect with and understand people – dig deep into their implicit behaviour, their needs and their pain points in order to design integrated services that empower people and the planet. To do this, I use an array of techniques, tools and skills. 

Of late, what’s been interesting to me is that a lot of these design research tools have come in quite handy, as I’ve navigated the tumultuous times we’ve been faced with. The most obvious (and yet underrated) was thoroughly checking my sources. Now, while the majority of my work is to do with actually spending time with people and learning about them first hand –  we also do a significant amount of secondary research. This includes reading through and taking insight from research that has already been done –  like market research or research papers or surveys. The decision as to how we choose what information to take in, comes from evaluating the source and understanding their accuracy. This practice came in super handy when the Coronavirus first hit and we were all left to sift through piles of unregulated information (and misinformation) regarding the virus we knew so little of. It has since kept me well-armed to cut through the noise of often exaggerating media, and focus on reliable sources like government websites, WHO and medical experts.

Another practice that has kept me sane, has been the 5 whys –  asking a sequence of whys to get to the root of our users’ needs. In design research, we use this to better understand our users so that we’re not left solving superficial problems without reaching the core of the matter. But lately this is how I’ve handled my anxiety around the uncertainty of the future as well. Every time I’ve found myself thinking of catastrophes, I’ve asked myself why I think that could happen and then followed that up with a number of why’s (or questions) to reach the crux, which is usually the fact that I don’t possess enough information that actually signals doom. 

The 5 whys have also come in useful when trying to educate myself and the people around me about anti-racism, micro-aggressions and implicit prejudice. We all have biases, and to discard them, we first have to undress them and understand where they’re coming from – hence, a sequence of whys. 

Another tool – one I almost left out because of how much of a buzzword it has become of late – is empathy. In research, the whole point of conducting user interviews, focus groups, and such, is to understand the user as they are – not as we think they are, or even as they think they are. How we do this, is by listening deeply, reading between the lines and observing people –  their body language, their pauses and the emotions that flicker across their eyes. All cues to what they’re actually feeling. Operating in this space where all our mental states are shaken up, instead of asking people the “hi, you okay?” I try to notice, ask questions like “how are you today?” Or “what’s been occupying your mind lately?” and really listen, not just listen to respond, but really listen to how people are.

There’s also going one step further and listening without judgement. As researchers, our job is to understand, not change our users’ state or behaviour – at least not immediately. So we tell the people we speak to that ‘there are no right or wrong answers’. We give them the space to be themselves even if that might not be what I want to hear. We also make sure of that by not interrupting people or countering their statements with “but why don’t you try…” or “have you considered …” or “when that happened to me, I …”. IRL this looks like having unselfish conversations –  instead of offering advice, just listening, instead of thinking about what I would have done, thinking about what they did. This has helped me connect better with my friends, colleagues and family, helped me feel less alone, and more purposeful. This has also helped me take better care of my own mental health and become less judgemental and more conscious of my own thoughts and patterns. 

Now, while I’m very thankful for the practice of design research for teaching me the tools that have played out to be so crucial in these wary times, on further introspection it struck me odd. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Wouldn’t it make more sense, if being a more human human made me a better researcher, as opposed to the fact that being a good researcher has made me a more human human? 

Which led me to ask, why is it that I had to be a researcher in order to be a better equipped human? Answer: because the tools to question, think critically, listen actively, and be empathic were not given much importance through my years of schooling. These are known as ‘soft skills’ in a world that applauds ‘hard skills’. 

Why? Because since industrialisation, we’ve aimed for maximum efficiency and productivity over everything else. 

I could ask why, but I gather you see where this is going. So I’ll ask ‘what if’? What if we make the shift to valuing our human-ness, our interpersonal connections, our deeper consciousness and ability to think critically without prejudice, more? What if we lace our education system with more ‘soft skills’? What if we change empathy from being a buzzword to being elemental?


Ishika Mukherjee is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher with a background in design research, service design, content creation, editorial writing, and architecture – and an acute interest in social innovation. She uses research from human experience and behaviour, distilled into actionable insights to aid the process of creating optimistic design that empowers humans to be more human. She likes to tell stories, drink strong coffee and read compelling fiction. And eat cake.

You can follow Ishika’s work on Instagram.