Glasgow Women’s Library’s mission is to celebrate the lives and achievements of women, champion their historical, cultural and political contributions and act as a catalyst to eradicate the gender gap that contributes to widespread inequalities in Scotland. The Open the Door festival, now in its third year and held over the weekend 17th to 19th May 2019, certainly meets that mission.
This new literary festival, which takes its name from Catherine Carswells’ 1920s ground breaking novel, is not in the style of most festivals where speaker and audience are seperated by time slots, podiums and green room areas. Open the Door has a relaxed format where everyone mingles and shares.
I attended the Saturday daytime event which ran from 10.30am until 4.30pm. There were six sessions runnng in the morning from which to choose two. The sessions were: A Manifesto for Women with Elizabeth Reeder from Scottish PEN; Language as Activism with young peot laureate Momtaza Mehri; Start-up Publishing delivered by Lauren Nickodemus of Monstrous Regiment; An Equal Education led by singer songwriter Linda Jackson. And the two I attended.
My first session was Adapting for Screen with The Cry author, Helen Fitzgerald in conversation with author and journalist Lesley McDowell. This was a round table discussion where Helen explained her journey into novel and screen writing and told us many of the highs and lows of the industry. Helen, like her novels, is very funny but through the wit and candour I could feel her frustration at the process. One thing that struck me about her story was of the difficulty in finding the right people to push your novel to a production company and how in this male dominated industry it seems the only road in is through face to face conversations and bull shit – an approach that doesn’t come naturally to most women.
The next session was Unheard Voices, Untold Stories led by Lowborn author Kerry Hudson. I found this session particularly moving because many women, including myself, were given the space to discuss the barriers we felt when trying to tell our own stories. Kerry told us about her difficult life and career path. She was open, encouraging and very inspiring. I had the impression many women left the session with determination under their belts.
Lunch was held in the events space which allowed more time for networking, reconnection and a summation of the morning sessions.
The afternoon session was again two choices. The first half contained a Story Café led by GWL’s librarian Wendy Kirk and Feminist Zine-Making with comic artist Olivia Hicks.
The one I chose was Researching Historical Fiction, a workshop delivered by Lesley McDowell who has spent years delving into archives. The hour was well spent with Lesley giving us examples of doorstop novel vs small novel, real person v fictional person, and two novels written about the same person. This was an excellent way into the subject. I know that the teachings from the examples will stay with me.
The final sessions were a Creative Writing workshop guided by author Catherine Simpson whose recently published memoir, When I had a Little Sister, is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year; Drama Queens, exploring the plays of Janet Paisley led by GWL’s Donna Moore and the one I attended – Making it Count, an exploration of the gender imbalance in Scottish Literature delivered by Stirling University’s Christina Neuwirth and Prof Claire Squires.
Christina has carried out research into the subject and asked the group to guess some statistics from the world of reviews, festivals and publishing. The figures were depressingly in favour of male authors, but most depressing was the fact that all the women in the room guessed correctly. This presentation was followed by hands on exercises of analysis and feedback to the group.
I believe I would have enjoyed this format no matter who was delivering the workshops but what made it extra special for me was that I knew most of the authors and academics. It was fantastic just to reconnect with writerly pals from the days when I was just starting out on my own writing journey.
The Glasgow Women’s Library and the organising committee have been triumphant in this festival. Long may it run.