To celebrate the release of their new literary inspired novel, A Secret Sisterhood, authors Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa have written a guest post about their own ‘sisterhood’ style friendship. It is a pleasure to welcome Emma Claire Sweeney back to TWG, alongside Emily Midorikawa.
Before I share the guest post, swoon over the stunning cover of their book and read the blurb below;
Male literary friendships are the stuff of legend; think Byron and Shelley, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. But the world’s best-loved female authors are usually portrayed as isolated eccentrics. Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney seek to dispel this myth with a wealth of hidden yet startling collaborations.
A Secret Sisterhood looks at Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; how Charlotte Brontë was inspired by the daring feminist Mary Taylor; the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the underlying erotic charge that lit the friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield – a pair too often dismissed as bitter foes.
Through letters and diaries which have never been published before, this fascinating book resurrects these hitherto forgotten stories of female friendships that were sometimes illicit, scandalous and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical or inspiring; but always, until now, tantalisingly consigned to the shadows.
A Secret Sisterhood evolved from the authors’ own friendship. Their blog, Something Rhymed, charts female literary bonds and has been covered in the media and promoted by Margaret Atwood, Sheila Hancock and Kate Mosse, showing that the literary sisterhood is still alive today.
Travellers on the Same Road
Emma Claire Sweeney and Emily Midorikawa
We got to know each other sixteen years ago, during a time when we were both living carefree lives as young English teachers in rural Japan. Emily lived in a tiny apartment surrounded by car parks and convenience stores; Emma in a tatami-floored house that looked out onto rice paddies and groves of bamboo. Here, each of us secretly picked up our pens.
We soon began to take the three-hour round trip between urban flat and country home, forging our friendship in both the ice cream parlours of the neon-choked city and in bath houses hidden up dark mountain lanes.
But it took almost a year of friendship before we shared our hopes of becoming published writers. Emma had decided by then to leave her mountain village, while Emily would be remaining for another twelve months.
When we arranged to meet for a farewell dinner, we had no idea that we’d come to look back on this evening as a key moment in our friendship. We chose a garlic-themed restaurant in Emily’s local shopping mall, which had become by then an eccentric favourite of ours. Seated at a table covered in a chequered plastic cloth, we talked about news from home, plans for the future, the books we loved.
And then, over the course of the next hour, while twisting strands of spaghetti around our forks, we ‘came out’ to each other as aspiring authors. Neither of us had much to show for these aims just yet: diaries kept this past year, a few short stories. We understood next to nothing about the book industry either. Nonetheless, by the time we laid our cutlery down, we had something perhaps more precious: we knew that we had a friend with the same dream, and that by supporting each other, we could follow it together.
But we could hardly have predicted that our paths over the coming years would take such parallel routes. We got places on graduate creative writing programmes and secured agents at around the same time.
While we felt grateful that we could share these celebratory moments with a friend, we each had a niggling worry that the literary success of one of us before the other might threaten the friendship we both held so dear.
This proved a fear we would not end up having to face any time soon, since we’d spend a decade-and-a-half submitting books to publishers, and watching as the rejection slips racked up.
Remembering that long-ago meal in a Japanese shopping mall, Emily wondered whether we’d have embarked on this literary journey at all had we known how little further forward we’d have come by now. Though equally downcast, Emma reminded us both that it wasn’t the writing itself that was getting us down, but the lack of improvement in our writerly prospects.
Before the month was out, though, Emily would receive the news that she’d won a major competition for unpublished novels, and, to our delighted surprise, just days later, a publisher made an offer to bring out Emma’s novel, Owl Song at Dawn.
Our early fears had proven unfounded. What’s more, not only did we join in with our friend’s celebrations, these felt less like individual achievements and more like moments of shared triumph.
We’d long wondered whether our favourite authors of the past had enjoyed such a sense of collaboration. Wordsworth and Coleridge came to mind, Byron and Shelley, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But we struggled to name many friendships between female writers.
Did Jane Austen forge a friendship with another female writer? Was there another woman to whom George Eliot turned to for literary support?
We discovered that Jane Austen benefitted from an unlikely friendship with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; Charlotte Brontë was inspired by the daring feminist Mary Taylor; George Eliot shared her experience of stratospheric literary fame with Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of internationally bestselling anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and Virginia Woolf was spurred on to produce her best work by her rivalrous friendship with fellow modernist Katherine Mansfield.
We decided that the richness of these stories deserved to be written up in a book. And so, when publishers offered to bring out A Secret Sisterhood, we were offered the chance to celebrate a truly joint endeavor – the sort of collaboration that the two young writers who ‘came out’ to each other in that Japanese shopping mall could hardly have dared dream.
Writer friends Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney are the authors of A Secret Sisterhood: The hidden friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf. They also co-run SomethingRhymed.com, a website that celebrates female literary friendship. They have written for the likes of the Guardian, the Independent on Sunday and The Times. Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, Emma is the author of the award-winning novel Owl Song at Dawn, and they both teach at New York University London.
I have their book ready and waiting on my TBR pile for review, which I aim to read as soon as I can so that you can swoon over the front cover year again! Or, seeing as the Jpeg doesn’t do it justice in the slightest (the real deal is shiny), you can buy your very own copy right now from: Amazon UK // Waterstones // Book Depository.