Number one bestselling author Wendy Holden was a journalist on the Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday, Harper’s Bazaar and Tatler before becoming an author. Wendy has written ten consecutive Sunday Times top-ten bestsellers. Here, Wendy answers our ‘what it means to be a woman in 2018’ Q&A, to mark 100 years of suffrage; the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed on 6 February 1918.
Wendy Holden Q&A
What does it mean to be a woman in 2018?
Much more opportunity than being a woman in 1918! My grandmother was then 15 and had been a full-time millworker for two years. She had to leave school aged 13 because her parents were too poor for her to stay on. She was very clever and wanted to study but there was no chance whatsoever.
I, on the other hand, was born into a world where your education was paid for by the Government right to the end of university. So I was able to go from a northern comprehensive school to Cambridge. My grandmother would never have believed it possible. Her life was blighted by lack of education and opportunity; once she married she stopped working and became a housewife.
But my other main female influence, my mother, was luckier and able to choose her career. She was a secretary and loved it. She took huge pride in her job and worked all the time I was growing up. She passed on to me the importance of a career for a woman’s self-respect and independence.
The examples of these two women have always been before me, reminding me not only of how lucky I am, but that I have a responsibility to work hard and provide a good example myself. Being a woman in 2018 means pushing forward on all fronts, but it also means remembering the past. Women should take their opportunities. We forget all too easily how hard-won they are, and we take them for granted.
What do women still need to achieve?
It depends where in the world you are. Women in some countries lack even the most basic rights. They risk their lives striving for things we in the West don’t even think about – being able to drive, to vote, to go to school, to go out without covering your face, etc.
In the West, and thanks to the battles of the last century, I think women have pretty much all the tools they need to make as level a playing field as any of us could wish for. The reasons why this hasn’t happened are complicated and thanks to rows about gender pay gaps, everyday sexism etc it is easy to form the impression that women are still stuck in the Dark Ages. I’m not saying that these are not huge issues, but it is also completely untrue to imply that there have not been colossal advances. Things improve all the time.
Your personal proudest achievement?
Being able to earn a living as a writer for 20 years. It’s an unpredictable, swashbuckling profession which, besides imagination and the ability to string a sentence together, requires a steady nerve and huge reserves of energy and hard work. I love what I do and feel very lucky.
I am particularly proud of my latest novel. Last of the Summer Moet is a comedy set in the country, in Britain’s Poshest Village. The locals arrive by helicopter on Friday nights, every other person is an A-lister and downstairs loos without an Oscar are rarer than those with them. The idea for it came when, en route to Cornwall, we stayed in the village where my husband had grown up in the Seventies. He could not believe what had happened to it. The once-rough pub, where the local Joe Grundy had sold sacks of cow liver for dog food, was now a sage-and-beige gastro-palace run by a senior sexpot in Sweaty Betty trackpants. The once-ordinary houses were now security-camera-studded des reses. The leafy lanes were empty apart from the Ocado van in search of the oligarch’s newbuild mansion. I have to say that I spotted an opportunity.
If you could teach young women one thing about being a woman it would be…
You are in charge of your own destiny and you should crack on regardless. It’s not easy at times but you’ve got to get on with it. In particular I would advise young women to stay off social media, which seems to be a massive collective act of self-harm. Young girls need self-confidence and self-esteem. They need to be able to think for themselves and develop a moral compass. None of which is acquired through the internet; the exact opposite.
And if you could teach young men one thing…
Women don’t hate men. Some young men seem to have formed the impression that they do. They go on about ‘feminazis’. This is a lazy cliché, and very harmful. Men should educate themselves more about women. They should talk to them, read books like A Room Of One’s Own and The Female Eunuch.
Complete the following: In the next 100 years, I hope women will…
…Challenge and destroy the invisible, insidious, sexually-fixated culture which utterly degrades women and threatens to erode everything we have achieved.
Number one bestselling author Wendy Holden was a journalist on the Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday, Harper’s Bazaar and Tatler before becoming an author. Her career has inspired her latest series of comedies, set on a glossy magazine. Wendy has written ten consecutive Sunday Times top-ten bestsellers. A literary critic, she was also Chair of this year’s Costa Book Awards.
Last of the Summer Moet by Wendy Holden is out now in hardback and ebook, published by Head of Zeus.