Book Club, Publishing Kitt, The Bookroom, Women-kind

The Year of Reading Women, but women don’t make up most of the author percentage.

The year of reading women

2014 is the year of reading women, however the bigger percentage of authors are male! Should we really just be encouraging reading or encouraging women to fight the good fight of becoming a writer and making their dreams a reality? 

This year the Guardian wrote an article that explored the issue that “female authors are marginalised by newspapers and literary journals, and their books are given ‘girly’ covers.” Their plea was was  “Take action against this inequality by making sure the next book you read is by a woman” I think that this is fantastic. Of course it is, I’m a woman and I’m also a writer that hopes to become a published author someday and I would like to believe that my books are not just successful but read by a range of people. But, here comes the obligatory but, I’m not sure if it is enough. Of course it is a benchmark, a start place however, but is it enough? Or is it a completely different fight altogether?

Since I was about eight years old I wanted to be one of two things (or both if I could swindle it), an author or a singer and by being a singer it means that I would have wanted to write my own songs; I distinctly remember singing Norah Jones “I don’t know why” on a rainy Saturday afternoon and wishing I could be a singer, just like her. For the past 12 years I have written song lyrics, poetry and stories. I absolutely love writing. Sometimes I thank the advancement of mobile phones that have a “notes” app that I can go into when I’m on the bus or in a queue and a idea pops into my head, because I don’t have to carry round a notepad all the time. It’s great that I can do it anywhere, wherever creativity decides to drop an idea bomb and log it somewhere.

Very gradually I began writing more than I did sing and the hunger to become a writer/published author became (in the words of Stephen Fry on the Twinging’s ad) gruelling and it still is. But the one thing aside dream, hope and determination I have are people that encourage me and tell me that I can do it!I am fortunate to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues that believe in me and my talents and the ambition that I have to become something that many dream of but very often are not able to achieve.

I run a Birmingham based project called The Book Club  that encapsulates strong female characters and female voices, written by both men and women but we are guilty (however not sorry) of inviting more female authors and poets than male to our events to read, perform and excite our audience each month. The purpose of this is to encourage more people to read the word created by women and the word of the woman. This month we had Sci-Fi and Fantasy author Carmen Cupuano. Her genre of writing is one not often found in the female gender of authors which is interestingly pointed out in this article on XXFactor, asking why there aren’t more female Sci-Fi writers, so having Carmen at The Book Club was almost like hitting a gold mine, she is a rare breed of author. However, one of the things that spoke out to me when Carmen was telling us about her background what that she did not have the support of someone extremely close to her when she chose to down tools and pick up a pen and begin writing her series “The Owners”. Personally I would hope that any of my close ones would be on board if I chose to pursue a writing career later in life. Luckily, Carmen ignored the lack of support and did it anyway and if last week’s edition of The Book Club was anything to go by, we were all glad that she did.

So what am I trying to say? I have taken a very personal and opinionated route to explain this but in a very roundabout way, my point is that whilst urging people to read more books written by women is fantastic, sexism exists in every art industry, in every industry, somewhere and it does need to stop but, the bigger picture is that more male authors are being published than female, although most of the worlds readers are – FEMALE. Yes, funny isn’t it? Here come the numbers, this is part a research compiled by Vida, featured by the Guardian in 2010:

“In the US, The New York Review of Books shows a stronger bias. Among authors reviewed, 83% are men (306 compared to 59 women and 306 men), and the same statistic is true of reviewers (200 men, 39 women). The New York Times Book Review fares better, with only 60% of reviewers men (438 compared to 295 women). Of the authors with books reviewed, 65% were by men (524 compared to 283 by women).”

Number are boggling for me, but I got it and they aren’t blurred lines. It is loud and clear that men dominate the literary industry and, without sounding too frustrated, I want that to change! But it isn’t just the literary industry, the songwriters of the music industry is pretty daunting too in it’s numbers.

Last night I listened to a talk by Charlotte Church about Women in Music and I almost swallowed my own tongue when I heard this, “PRS claims that only 13 percent of writers (songwriters) registered are female” You can listen to the whole talk here and I recommend that anybody does. But what an outstandingly harrowing number and just shows what influence female writers have in the music industry. And I must question, what are the un-registered writers? Are they too afraid to make their stamp on the industry or have they been shunned? Where are they? Can we encourage them to come forward, raise their hands and say “I did this. I am great, I am talented, you don’t have to like me, but believe in me and my work.”

The work that I do inspires girls and women to write, to me it is imperative that women follow their dreams because who shouldn’t be allowed to follow their dreams? Of course as a writer my focus is on boosting writers and storytellers. Hell, women are the best storytellers – if you’ve heard women gossip then you will know that they are great at telling stories just generally. But it shouldn’t be the radical female authors such as Austen, the Brontë sisters, Maya Angelou or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that gain the most praise and attention, every female writer deserves to be up there with their work which is my The Book Club is so important for me. There are masses of girls and young women like me in the world with a dream to become an author who need support, guidance and at least just one person out there who believes in them.

Reading the work of female authors to beat the sexism in the industry is important of course it is, especially if we want them to stand out. However, what about the up and coming authors, to beat the stereotypes and prejudice for them would be fantastic, but the fact that men are published more than women supports a sexist issue, it’s not a conspiracy theory or a blame by pointing fingers, it’s just simply a fact. I believe the two plights go hand in hand and should be tackled to support one another.

So can we begin to support those up and coming female authors who are talented, who have a story to be told, who write Sci-Fi and Fantasy novels and especially the ones who have no one that believe in them? Surely if there are more female authors being published, there are more female authors to be read, heard from and loved.


Sources: Here and here.


Book Club, Events

A Night with Maya Angelou

A Night with Maya Angelou.


At a glance the night was a wonderful mix of a warming and magical ambience, beaming with a friendship of joy, honesty, knowledge and love. I cannot recall ever having to recover from a relaxing night out, so when I woke up this morning (having not touched a drop of alcohol last night) feeling as if I had drunk my own body weight of rum I needed to collect my thoughts and feelings of last night and get them down for everyone to see! Friday night we added to the new chapter to the life of Maya Angelou that opened after her passing in June – her legacy. Her legacy and lasting imprint that she has made through her lessons of kindness – her lessons were always kind, no matter how harrowing the story, her openness, the platform she has built to allow other women to raise their voices and her ability to make others feel as if they knew her personally. We opened the night with a speech from Maya Angelou – from the Glamour Women of the Year Awards in 2009 and set the night up for a whirlwind affair with an abundance of inspiration.

From her own works to pieces that were inspired by her, the night took form in a range of incredible performances that celebrated Maya’s work and her life. We opened the night with a beautiful young lady named Lauren Williams who is currently Birmingham’s Young Poet, her poem that was inspired by Maya’s poem ‘Still I Rise’, coloured the night with fresh hope – the perfect beginning to an illustrious night.

South African poet Tessa Lowe carried the night on with a deliciously wise section from Maya Angelou’s biography. Hearing a voice filled with knowledge tell a part of someone’s story that is in turn, filled with knowledge created the perfect mixture.

As the night took a turn – for the better – the guests were treated to an acoustic delight by multi-talented musician Alisha Kadir (who is also a talented poet). Who dished up with a blend of original songs and an incorporation of ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ into ‘If I Had A Boat’ by James Vincent McMorrow. Alisha set a relaxing tone with her alluring vocals and beautiful guitar chords.

After the break we were welcomed back by Nina Lewis, a poet who had just returned to the poetry scene, but you never would have thought that she had left! Her anthology of poems inspired by Maya Angelou captivated the guests. It was a pure joy to watch a creative in her element, reading her work, executed so delicately you couldn’t help but be moved.

And when we say the night had it all, it had it all. Dramatist Marlene McKenzie who is from the Shakti Women tribe but also runs a women’s theatre group, gave us a treat of reflection. She allowed us to explore our personal growth through a ten minute piece and a character that engaged and encouraged the audience to question their relationships with people who are producing negativity and self-doubt within our lives, the answers from the guests were inspiring to say the least!

Next former Birmingham Poet Laureate and a personal favourite, eloquent poet and play writer Jan Watts read two original poems, two insights to two personal lives inspired by Maya and how she had given women a platform to use their voices, Jan ended her section with a reading of Phenomenal Woman, the sparking, self-loving poem by the late Dr. Maya Angelou.

Before the night ended we asked Lauren to join us again and perform another poem, it was the the perfect end to the perfect night. A night that was shared by so many guests who all had the same thing in common, not just the love for a great woman but the experience of her, the ability to share their stories and raise their voices and this is the effect that Maya Angelou has reaped all over the world, in so many countries and in so many different women (and mens) lives.


Book Club




This post was originally meant to go out yesterday; the problem was finding the right words that encapsulated the evening, the atmosphere; the performers and the Diva herself – Juanita Jay Johnson. And even now I’m not sure I can exactly write just how magical the evening was – except I can say this as a starting point… All the thoughts that I had, everything I expected it to be was dashed away and as the night progressed I fell in love, it confirmed the reasons I do what I do and exactly why our book club is like no other.

So where do I begin?

I’ll relay my speech from the evening and work backwards from that. When it was time for me to speak I had formulated in my head an order that told everyone what it is that I do. However, during Jay’s reading I found myself not wanting to ‘sell’ myself, instead I wanted to speak about why I do what I do and what it is that makes the book club so important to me, this was what I said…

‘We are the making of everything that we love. And what we love are the things that make us smile. Not the short term but the long term. Not just on the outside but on the in.

For me, as a writer, books have always been my haven, my inspiration and my love!

When I read I feel most like myself, most wholesome and nothing else seems to matter.

And when I write – well it’s like magic. I’m locked in a zone of me-time!

So for me the idea of a book club is the extension of me, a time, a moment to share with so many different and so many beautiful women, something that is a piece of me.

And hopefully awaken something that is a piece of you.’

So what is ‘Me time?’ Well, if you want to find out then you should read The Diva Commandments – Thou Shalt Have Me Time by Juanita Jay Johnson. I cannot reveal much as I believe that any woman should have this in their bag at all times! But what I will say is that ‘Me Time’ is not getting your nails and hair done, or soaking your stresses away in a Radox bath, it is something deeper… and you can find out by buying Jay’s book. Jay is thee Diva; she invites you in with a delicious guide of her journey, even the negatives she manages to turn into positives by a simple turn of a phrase, leaving you wanting to hear and learn more. Her lessons are simply a truth that we know within ourselves but have not yet realised or choose to ignore. Myself, I have touched and awakened my inner diva, just by simply hearing Jay’s words and believing that in myself there is a diva – she has always been there, she is me, she is here and only I can channel and show her to the world. My diva makes me feel – unstoppable and proud of myself as a woman and my sister diva’s, even the ones who have not realised it in themselves yet! She is there; you just have to find her!

Find out more about Jay by clicking this link!

The evening itself was beautiful low lights, candle lit, tantalising food and champagne. (And cupcakes, if you purchased a book, which were divine!) There were laughs, there were tears; there was so much love and support in the room that it stood up all by itself, it did not need to be mentioned – everybody simply just felt it. And that is the essence of our book club. It’s not about reading a book over the month and exchanged views… (‘Oh yes, and in chapter three…’) No. It is a chance to explore and nurture ourselves as women through stories, through the stories of women just like ourselves, the stories that we have in common; that make us understand each other and appreciate the diva within us. The performances by the beautiful and talented diva’s Emma Marie Sings and Monique Thomas symbolised the beauty in having a voice and using it to expel our messages, our emotions and touching others without even touching.

We could not have wished for a better start. I would like to thank everybody that came to the launch – the performers, Jay and the staff of JoJoLapa restaurant who gave us their venue and made it a setting complimentary to our night. But mostly I would like to thank my colleague, my friend and mentor Siobhan Harper-Nunes, founder of Shakti Women. She is a woman of strength and wisdom that I have never known before and inspires me every day to shine and be the woman (sorry, diva) that I should, can and will be. She is a force, a star and the embodiment of Shakti; I count myself extremely lucky to work with her and this is just the beginning.

Last month was the month of love, this month is the month of the DIVA! Ladies, it’s about time you unleashed yours!

Watch out for photos and highlights from the night coming soon and if you would like to sign up to our book club or would like to hear more about it then send us an email – We would love to hear from you!

J x

P.S. I would like to also thank our photographer of the evening Paul Stringer who was amazing and did the event pro bono, he was bossed around a bit (what else would you expect from strong minded women?) but he survived the night unscathed. He is a talented and focused creative and you can check his website and blog out by clicking on his name – I recommend that you do!