Here in the deepest rural south of France, a small group of writing women have decided that they have got something on their minds.
If you thought that here in the sun-blessed south of France, we sit around on sun loungers next to the pool, sip some vintage rosé and read the latest blockbusters the whole day long, you would be wrong. As a writer, I do read a lot, but I rarely sit in the sun the whole day long and occasionally, but only very occasionally, I do have an original thought or two. It usually comes to me when, in summer, I am up at the crack of dawn: mowing, hoeing, pruning and weeding my garden into a semblance of order. Once the clock strikes 10 though, I scurry inside, desperate to avoid the scorching rays of the sun. Not many original thoughts pop into my head once the temperature has reached 35°C.
In the winter, I have more time for reading. Did you think it is always sunny in the south of France? You would be wrong again. It can get bitterly cold here in the foothills of the mighty Pyrenées mountains. In the winter, I haul wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of firewood into my kitchen. I cuddle into a wrap-around armchair in front of my woodburning stove, cradle a cup of soup in my hands and stare vaguely into the middle distance, a book open on my lap.
I might grab said book and read a few pages…but what I mostly do in my ancient-but-authentically-restored house, so cool in the summer and so freezing cold in the winter, is to open my laptop. I suspect most of the other members of our writing group do the same. Whenever we have a free moment, we put into writing whatever it is that we want to share with the rest of the world, in a variety of languages, from a variety of perspectives and a variety of convictions. To many of us, “writing is really a way of thinking — not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet,” as Toni Morrison explains.
Even though I might prefer to write rather than to read, Iknow that all writers have to read to improve their writing, so I do make time for reading. I mostly read (and reread) books written by francophone writers, especially women writers, like Simone de Beauvoir, George Sand, Marjane Satrapi, Gwenaëlle Aubry, Christine de Pizan, Sophie Marceau, Annie Ernaux, Françoise Sagan, Katherine Pancol, Marie Ndiaye and Fred Vargas.
By reading these authors, I discovered that a lot of what I have to say has already been said by women who are much better writers than I am. Women like Edna O’Brien, Leila Slimani, Mary Lawson, Naomi Alderman, Elizabeth Bowen, A.L. Kennedy, Margret Atwood, Wisława Szymborska, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Penelope Lively, Doris Lessing, Ursula LeGuin, Angela Carter, Anne Tyler, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie , Irène Némirovsky, Alice Walker, Marguerite Yourcenar, Elif Shafak, Caitlin Moran, Iris Murdoch, Penelope Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Muriel Spark, Dorothy L. Sayers, Nadine Gordimer, Helen Macdonald, Anne Carson, Kate Atkinson, Anaïs Nin, Jamaica Kincaid, Svetlana Alexievich, A.S. Byatt, Barbara Kingsolver, Octavia E. Butler, Jean Rhys, Jeanette Winterson and Dubravka Ugrešić. This list was created by the members of our writing group in reply to a recent question in our Facebook group.
Still, I want to say what I have to say, in my own words, in whatever language I choose.
You may have thought that in this part of the world people speak predominantly French. Once again, you would be wrong. In local supermarkets, you will hear many different languages and not only during the summer: English, German, Dutch, Spanish etc. Even in our writing group, although our common language is English, you will hear many different accents representing as many different cultures. We all agree with Madeleine Albright who said, “It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent,” although we rarely agree with each other!
Our group, Womens’ Voices South-West France, have met several times now, and not a single one of those meetings was boring. I think it was Melinda Gates who said, “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman,” and it is certainly true of each of the women in our group. We make ourselves heard by disagreeing often. Nevertheless, we manage to work together towards a common goal because “a strong woman understands that the gifts such as logic, decisiveness, and strength are just as feminine as intuition and emotional connection,” as Nancy Rathburn insists.
Our common goal is to publish an anthology.
In the day and age we live in, more women make their voices heard than ever before — even women who live in the deepest rural south of France. We can say what we feel on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, on our blogs, our websites, in public, through art, through music, on forums, in articles etc. As Amy Jo Martin says, “Social media is the ultimate equalizer. It gives a voice and a platform to anyone willing to engage.”
We decided to have our say in a book.
We are willing to engage. We are willing to do the work needed to get this book published, we are willing to work together despite our differences, we are willing to drive for an hour to attend meetings, we are willing to face challenges head-on and find solutions to our problems, we are willing to support each other not only until we have published our book but also in the years to come. Who knows? We might even write a second, third and fourth book…
Our anthology, “I have something to say!” will be launched on International Women’s Day, the 8th of March 2020. We believe, like Michelle Obama, that “there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”
Dr Margaretha Montagu is a recycled medical doctor, a rogue writer of self-help books and passable presenter of mindfulness and meditation retreats. She lives on a small farm in the not-always sun-blessed south of France with four opinionated horses and two battle-scarred dragons. All her books are horse-inspired, subtly French- flavoured and hopefully life-enriching. To connect with Margaretha, her horses and her dragons, subscribe to her blog. New subscribers receive a copy of the 10 Steps to Instant Self-Confidence guide -straight from the horse’s mouth! as well as the Coping with Change Cheatsheet and Checklist.