The Abyss

Ciara Dossett

It’s late August. The shops are crammed with ‘back to school’ regalia; school jumpers in every imaginable colour, fluorescent highlighters, sensible shoes. But, for the first year since I was 4, I will not be joining the hordes returning to education. Slightly terrifyingly, I won’t be going into anything at all.

At the start of the year I considered this to be the worst possible outcome: to have nothing secured. As an addictive planner I had applied for countless jobs (with an equal number of rejections), desperate to have something confirmed for the following September. Not to do so, I thought, would somehow be a failure.

Instead, like so many millennials, I have moved back home with my parents. Swapping the stress and excitement of university life for the bumbling countryside and mundane summer jobs seems jarring. This post-university nothingness feels like a directionless blur, something I have somewhat dramatically begun to refer to as the abyss.

I realise I am in a privileged position, with parents who are willing and able to allow me to move home for a while. For this, I am grateful. But, with the prevalence of Instagram compare-culture, it’s sometimes hard for other people’s exciting lives not to make you feel inadequate.

Many seem to be in the same position, however. A recent article in The Times reported that a quarter of those aged 20 to 34 were living at home last year. Only a handful of my peers have dream jobs and apartments secured. Most are similarly taking time off to figure out what they want to do. When discussing this phenomenon with a friend, she commented on how we’ve been driven for so long that to take some time off to relax, re-evaluate and have fun seemed an alien concept.

Slowly, however, I’m beginning to the realise that real life doesn’t operate from September to September. That it’s ok to take time off to reset and rethink. That it’s fine not to have a plan, whatever well-meaning older relatives may say to the contrary. That perhaps the abyss isn’t something to be feared but celebrated and enjoyed. To have time to read books for enjoyment rather than for essays, to exercise, to see friends, to explore the world, all without the pressure of the imminent return to a desk, a freedom I might never have again.

Success is not instant nor does it necessarily result in happiness. In fact, I’ve come to realise the times when I’ve been happiest had little to do with success at all. So instead of planning my next career move, I’m jumping on a long-haul flight with two of my best friends in the whole world. And, after that, who knows? For once the addictive planner has no plan. I’m trying to see this as liberating rather than terrifying. Wish me luck…

Cover photo source: author’s own photo. 

 

A review of “Football, Feminism & Everything in between”

Selin Zeyrek

This summer sees the introduction of a new podcast by Grace and Alistair Campbell (yes, that one), a father and daughter pair that is funnier than it should be. Alistair is a politician, best known for being Blair’s ‘spin doctor’; Grace is a feminist activist and comedian. Each week, they invite a guest to discuss ‘football, feminism and everything in between’, and while they always begin on either football or feminism, the conversation frequently veers off into the ‘in between’ category. Part of the strength of this podcast is how different each of the guests are from one another: some notable ones include Ed Miliband, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Rachel Riley. The guests come from a variety of backgrounds, so their views and experiences of football and feminism are rarely the same. When the topic shifts, it can be to anything from private schools to whether politics is the best way to change the world.

Grace and Alistair make for a quick-witted and intelligent pair of interviewers: unafraid to openly criticise one another, their interactions are always lively and they bounce off each other with ease. As explained in the introduction, football is Alistair’s passion, feminism is Grace’s passion, and this podcast aims to integrate these two topics. As a staunch feminist and lukewarm football fan, I was at first skeptical as to how much I would be able to understand and enjoy the conversations about football. What has surprised me is that, although of course there is some discourse about the various managers of football teams through the years, football tends to open up into broader conversations about how to connect with the people important to you in your life, and how football is an extremely effective way to do this.

Rachel Riley is a good footballer in her own right, having played for her university team. However, her introduction to it stemmed from a reason other than a love of the sport: ‘it was the way I interacted with my father’, she explains. Multiple guests have brought up the fact that they become invested when England is playing, but they would otherwise not be termed a football fan. This revelation in particular is brought up near the beginning of each episode, where the Campbells ask their guest to rate how much of a football fan they are, and then how much of a feminist they are, from 1 to 10. Their answers are hardly ever straightforward, and lead onto the nuances of being a feminist and the different levels of football fan.

In a similar way, conversations that begin with feminism tend to open up into broader discussions about the difficulties these people have faced in their lifetime, and how they managed to overcome them and become successful. Especially relevant is the interview with Gabby Logan, the ex-gymnast who presented the BBC showing of the Women’s World Cup. Having been a sportswoman as well has having a footballer father and a rugby player husband, Logan represents the perfect overlap between the two main focuses of this podcast and contributes to probably one of the best episodes in the series so far. Logan, upon being questioned over the criticisms surrounding the USA women’s team’s celebration in their 13-0 win against Thailand, offers this response: ‘they beat the record after 11 goals – they became the biggest scoring [team]. Can you imagine if England’s men last summer stopped celebrating against Panama (which was the most one-sided game I’ve ever seen)? They wouldn’t have stopped celebrating. There’s a double standard with almost everything in women’s football… it’s like everything has to be justified: the crowds, the goals…’. Having had a wealth of experience in both men’s and women’s football, she is well-placed to make these comparisons; prior to this analysis, she gives a short history of women’s football in Britain, and her ultimate message is that things are improving: ‘watching the opening ceremony I was thinking ‘wow, this World Cup feels different already’ – in the crowds there were men, women, families – because of course this is important, there is no point having women’s football being watched only by women … it is a game-changer.’

The reason why this podcast is so enjoyable is because it is not restricted to a particular area of interest. The lack of structure allows the insights and reflections of the hosts and guests to shine through, whether they are discussing feminism in politics or how to deal with grief. Given the distinct differences between the life experiences of the guests, this means that each episode leads down a different path, the specific topics of football and feminism never being a barrier to getting the guests to talk about – well, basically anything. The podcast ends with the question of how best to make meaningful change in the world, where each guest is asked what their six-a-side team to change the world is. This feature reveals a lot about the person: some choose writers and artists, believing that culture is the best way to shift people’s perspectives; others choose motivational speakers and politicians, with the aim of altering policy. In any case, this podcast makes you laugh and also think about the dynamics and relationship of football and feminism.

Cover art source: audioboom.com

The inclusive politics of women’s football

Posy Putnam 

I have been attending male football matches for years, but only recently have begun to watch women’s football. Does this make me a bad feminist? Perhaps – but I would hope my newfound enthusiasm for the women’s sport rectifies my past ignorance. And I do not appear alone in showing such enthusiasm. My conversion to women’s football reflects a growing trend, with rising TV ratings and match attendances. Indeed, 11.7 million people watched England lose to the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-final in early July – the most-watched TV event of the year.

That semi-final also served as my full introduction to the US Women’s Team. Of course, I had seen a few of their earlier matches and caught the headlines centred around Rapinoe’s attacks on President Trump. However, as I followed the American women’s progression into the final, I was struck by the sheer volume and pride in their queer representation.

On July 7th in Lyon, as the crowd cheered the United States’ win in the Women’s Football World Cup, Kelly O’Hara ran over to kiss her girlfriend. Behind her, engaged teammates Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger celebrated, as did co-captain Megan Rapinoe, and head coach Jill Ellis. Whilst O’Hara had never publicly commented on her sexuality, all of these other women were publicly and unashamedly gay. O’Hara, meanwhile, felt comfortable enough to out herself on live, international television.

This victory snapshot illustrates one of the core aspects of women’s football that has made me such a fan: its unabashed inclusiveness. This is something that the women’s game appears to have taken on and celebrated – highlighted by the official Twitter account for the US Women’s National Team’s tongue-in-cheek re-tweet of Rapinoe’s quote, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before. Ever. That’s science right there,” with the caption “Told ya”, following their World Cup victory.

This tweet was no attempt to play down some of the players’ queer identity to make them more palatable to a wider audience, or to attract greater sponsorships. No – it was a bald statement of the inclusive, vocal identity the team has taken on, spear-headed by Rapinoe. After all, this is also a team who sued the US Soccer Federation for equal pay with the men’s side – leading to chants ringing out following their win of “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” – and used their World Cup victory parade to reiterate their demands. Rapinoe was also the first white athlete to kneel for the American National Anthem, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, and during the course of the World Cup, attracted criticism for refusing to put her hand on her heart for the anthem.

Contrast this to men’s football. Political causes are rarely part of its discourse, and queerness is largely seen only in the context of homophobic chants and jeers. The fact that so few male players have ever publicly come out as gay is testament to the fact that men’s football simply is not a safe space for it. It was not twenty years ago, when Justin Fashanu, the first professional footballer to be openly gay, killed himself in 1998, and it is still not today. This is not to say that no efforts have been made – the Premier League did partner with Stonewall for the Rainbow Laces campaign with the aim of tackling homophobia in sport – but inclusiveness appears largely as a top-down policy, orchestrated by governing bodies, whereas the US Women’s Team demonstrated a more grass-roots approach.

However, inclusivity in women’s football goes beyond the US team. In many senses, women’s football feels like a more radical space than the men’s sport. Indeed, the existence and success of the sport itself is a challenge to football’s traditionally masculine association and assumptions, if not yet its inherent power structures. Following on from this, the queer representation at all levels of the women’s sport helps support a wider shift in how society accepts queer women. These women are strong athletes, great commentators, and masterful tacticians, not merely a punch-line in a joke, or reduced to a category on Pornhub.

This inclusive politics does not take away from the football itself – instead, it adds to it. I am able to invest far more in teams I identify with, who have players I follow off of the pitch. The support that the US team has garnered is merely an example of this phenomenon. Football has never just been about the pure, unsullied game on the pitch – pub disputes over penalties given, the buying of your team’s scarf, player transfer speculation and the chants sung during the match all serve to make the game so popular, and so integral to many people’s daily lives. For me, queer representation in the sport is an extension of this.

For too long, my sexuality has led to a feeling of otherness, of uncertainty and, predominantly, simply not feeling safe, when combined with my love for football. However, the more inclusive politics of the women’s game, introduced to me through the US Women’s Team at this World Cup, has opened the door to new possibilities for me. Rapinoe’s kick of the ball was not a magic solution to the problem of homophobia and discrimination in sport, but the success of the World Cup did give me, and others like me, a sense of hope and validation. It was, in many ways, a lifeline; I am allowed to love both football and women, and the Women’s World Cup was a glorious space to come to terms with this.

Cover image source: the author’s own artwork.

Spotlight artist: Isobel Richards

In case our readers don’t have/follow us on Instagram, could you please give a little introduction of who you are and what you’re up to at the minute?

Hi, I’m Issy and I’m a postgraduate student studying for a PGCE at Cambridge. I love being creative and try to draw as frequently as possible in my spare time. I’ve been embroidering sporadically for about a year- I started embroidering on shirts originally (an avocado was the first thing I embroidered) and well, it grew from there! Following the series of comments that embroidery is an ‘old lady’s hobby’, I’ve been trying to ‘get with the times’ and have recently started experimenting with digital mediums and sharing my work on social media.

How would you describe your art?

I would describe my art as quite abstract and simplistic- it’s just a series of lines really!

What drives you to create? What or who inspires you? 

Aside from other feminist artists and line drawings that I like, I’m also heavily inspired by female experience. Being surrounded by amazingly empowered, educated women; at uni and in life, I wanted to find a way to convey and solidify the beauty & power of female strength, form and experience through art. Creativity and art are also a way that I can switch off, so I’m driven by my own sanity as well!

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Do you have a few stellar Instagram accounts you would recommend?

YES- so many! In this day and age (I sound like an old lady again), Instagram is such a good platform for sharing art with the world! From an artistic perspective, there are a series of illustration accounts that I love: @arewenearlybareyet is a great one- the simple colours are beautiful, @gemmacorrell is fantastic for aspiring adults and the reality of day-to-day life. From an embroidery perspective: @ohmygollyembroidery is brilliant and very creative, and from a general life point of view, @danschawbel is stellar; very inspirational.

Do you feel your art has a trajectory and do you think it needs one?

No, I don’t really feel my art has a trajectory- I fear that having a rigid ‘trajectory’ could put a bit of a dampener on my creativity; the need to create something within a time frame would be quite stifling I think, so I just work as and when I have time or want to. At the moment I’m just trying to develop my own personal style and way of working.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given to do with your art?

The best piece of advice that I was given was by my friend Alex and it was that: “nothing else matters” when art is involved. Other people’s expectations and personal insecurities should go out the window and I should just focus on the moment and what I’m doing. A beautifully profound comment really.

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Make sure to follow Issy’s art account on Instagram @by_issy_

Grad Talk with Harriet Lamb

Blanca Schofield-Legorburo 

I was so fortunate to have Harriet Lamb onto my Camfm radio show. An international development stalwart and Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Eco-Queen, Harriet’s career spans decades of working in organisations such as the World Development Movement (WDM) and as CEO of Fairtrade UK and now International Alert. During the show we spoke about her varied experiences in this field, including protests and more organisational work, as well as observations and advice she would give to a woman hoping to go into international development today. Read on to see what this amazing woman had to say on these topics.


Tell us a bit about your degree in Cambridge.

When I first came to Cambridge (Trinity Hall) I read English because I wasn’t aware of all the different options there were. I was good at English and loved it – among other things, it helps you think about words and how you present them. However, I became more interested in politics and switched to HSPS – this was a gift of being in Cambridge as I was lucky to be able to switch. Then I was able to begin work on the love of my life: politics and social activism.

Were you always interested in world affairs?

As a child I spent 3 years in Maharashtra in central India because of my father’s job, thus I was exposed to and always knew about terrible poverty. Yet I also learnt from that age that though imperial history has kept them poor, countries like India are also more than capable of tackling poverty themselves. I then went back to India when I was 18 to teach English, and began thinking more about these issues. After Cambridge, I went back again for 2 years and lived in villages and worked with small NGOS. Then when I went on to work for Fairtrade I had seen what it is actually like to work for a Co-op and take on big forces. That experience always kept me grounded.

How did you envision and start your career?

I’ve never had a grand plan – I’ve taken opportunities when they’ve come and so far it’s worked out really luckily for me. I struggled in my final year of Cambridge, wondering if I wanted to go down the G&T or brown rice route. I chose brown rice! After India, I did an MPhil in development studies in Brighton at Sussex University. This gave an intellectual framing to what I’d learnt first hand. I then decided I didn’t want to work oversees, but back in Britain as we also had to sort out our own problems.

I worked first on low pay – campaigning in those days for a national minimum wage. This taught me that what some think is impossible and everyone thinks will be an economic catastrophe can and does work! Economists say all kinds of things are impossible, but you actually can introduce them.

I then worked with refugees in the North of England from Palestine, Ethiopia and then for the World Development Movement, which focuses on how England works with developing countries, particularly in cancel the debt and arms sales. For example, we wanted to highlight the financing of fighter jets of Britain to Indonesia, which was using them to bomb people in East Timor who were fighting for independence. I’ll tell you about a protest we did: we actually bought a share in Midland Bank so we could attend an AGM in the city (I still have my £1 share) then drove a hired tank through the city of London (having told the press) and went to the AGM, put up our hands and asked why they were financing the sales of these fighter jets. I did wonder if I was going to get arrested… But actually it was fine!

Did anything happen – did they change their policy?

Not immediately, but we were trying to put the spotlight on them. I’ve always believed in campaigning – sometimes you are lucky and have short-term wins, but more often that not you aim to shift the ground. Then these companies learn that there is a risk of protest and the risk factor is taken into account more and more so the next time they will think harder about it.

When campaigning you are up against enormous forces – look at Britain selling weapons to Saudis who are bombing Yemen and then we send aid to Yemen. What you come up against all the time is that people are mainly preoccupied with making profit, leading to ever-increasing inequality. You hope logic is what they will answer to, but it comes down to money and short-term profits. For example, Fairtrade is more expensive, but in the long run it helps the company position themselves as attractive and ethical. So you need to convince companies and corporations to put long term profits above short term. It is the same argument for divestment! If the university wants to situate itself in the future it has to think about divestment! It has to show that it is ready to take the high-ground and be a leader.

How did you pick the areas of international development you wanted to work in? You did so much!

While working for WDM I thought: what are the structural things that keep countries oppressed? Arms, aid and trade. Given the power of multinationals and the impact they have on trade, we then started pushing for a general code of conduct, which the world still doesn’t have. For an example we looked at bananas and campaigned against the use of agrochemicals and the suppression of trade unions in Latin America. We dumped a tonne of banana skins in front of Del Monte HQ in Kent to protest. I then got hooked on bananas! They are a symbol of so much that is wrong with how international trade works. How can we create a bubble where we show that you can do it differently? Bananas and Fairtrade.

You’ve done such a mixture of large-scale organising and protest and activism!

I did more protest at that time and then worked for Fairtrade for 15 years, which was about always creating a positive solution to show it could be different. The power of the positive alternative is so important.

Can you tell us about your experience of being a woman in international development – did you see equal opportunities?

It is a sector that seems to attract a lot of women. But then you look at leaders and they are very often men! This is because of sexism, but also women leave to have children. Though it is much better now than it was in my day, there is still not enough support for women or available and affordable childcare. Many employers don’t make juggling easy. I have been lucky with employers who let me work part-time after my second child. It’s great working part time at 3 or 4 days a week. I lived and worked in Germany and there part-time was much more normal: people work in the office and then are creative and help their family or community. You can still succeed with part-time! I also did a job share once and I think the organisation benefited hugely as it had 2 brains instead of 1.

Do you think women will only find equality when society becomes less fast-paced and focused on productivity?

I actually found that women and people who worked part time were more productive! They know they have to get things done. Why are we so obsessed with a 5-day working week? Why not 4 and get more people into work? We have such a fear of a societal re-structuring. And now, although we have more economic growth, people’s leisure time has decreased, and with phones and laptops you can be expected to work all the time…Yet there are more and more opportunities for women. It is incredible how much has changed, if you think that just before I came to Trinity Hall it was all men!

Do you think we are losing focus on Fairtrade and workers’ rights?

We should not have to pick between Fairtrade and organic and vegan. We underestimate how much companies listen to what customers want: we can ask them to produce their products ethically and must never feel shy to do so and reward those who do the right thing and congratulate them.

We should also push on the fashion industry. We did struggle with Fairtrade cotton as the fashion industry is so fast paced – it is very hard to get them to respond. But how can you be paying the workers well if you are only paying £10 for a pair of jeans?

Though it does take a long time to push for social change, we can see how so much change can be achieved! Look at veganism: 10 years ago you wouldn’t be able to get a vegan meal so easily!

Tell us about the organisation you are CEO of now, International Alert.

I’ve always felt that the three big issues are poverty, conflict and climate change. The three are interconnected – conflict keeps people poor and climate is the exacerbating factor. We work with communities to bring people together across different sides of conflict, for example refugees from the Syrian civil war: when you meet other people you immediately find that there is more that connects than divides you. When they first enter the room everyone blames everyone, but by the end they are working together for social activism, etc. However, it needs to be taken to a whole other scale – conflict is rising and yet there is no proper adequate response to it. Strangely there isn’t a peace movement the way there was in earlier times. What can we do to raise awareness and what can we all do to help build peace? With Fairtrade we landed on something that everyone could do, but we haven’t found that with peace-keeping. You can email your MP and Jeremy Hunt etc. But we all must help to build a society of love and compassion against the competitiveness and aggression. Respect others and slow down.

Do you have any advice for students hoping to go into international development?

It is annoying, but the best way is to start working as a volunteer for organisations. I spent many a happy hour stuffing envelopes!

I also always believe that you must keep a work-life balance – keep work in perspective and have fun at it! You should enjoy it. If you do you keep up your stamina.

Any final thoughts and reflections?

What is that vision we want of internationalism in the future? How can we build a future that tackles inequality? At the moment we are hearing and seeing the voices of anger, but we need to put forward another vision of a more fair and peaceful world.


I hope you enjoyed reading Harriet’s thoughts on life in international development. If you would like to hear the whole interview please email us and we can send it to you.

Also, for more information on the Fashion Industry and its effect on the environment, I really recommend you watch The True Cost: https://truecostmovie.com/ 

Thank you and let us know if you would like to write a Grad Talk of your own with a graduate you admire.

Grad Talk with Elizabeth Day

Bea Carpenter 

To me, Elizabeth Day was an obvious choice for someone to interview for Grad Talk. For those of you yet to discover her she is a best selling author and journalist currently writing a weekly column for the You magazine in the Mail on Sunday and is the host of the very popular “How to fail” podcast. She is releasing a book of the same name “part memoir, part manifesto”, all about learning from our mistakes, that comes out very shortly.

Before all of this success she graduated from Queens College Cambridge with a double first in History. At the end of Lent term, on International Women’s Day no less, I was lucky enough to chat to Elizabeth over the phone and ask her a few questions on life after Cambridge and how she felt her time here prepared her for the real world. Although we veered off track slightly during our conversation, I managed to ask a few of the questions I prepared so I hope you enjoy reading Elizabeth’s answers and hearing her advice.


B: When you were at University were you still able to enjoy writing and use it as a creative outlet or did you ever become bored of it?

E: I’ve never in my life been bored of writing, which is a really lovely thing given that’s how I make my living. It’s interesting, because I didn’t actually do that much creative writing but I did an enormous amount of journalism; I was a section editor on Varsity, I edited my college magazine (a satirical magazine) and I was the JCR communications officer that involved doing a quarterly newsletter. I did try to write a really terrible play, which quite rightly got absolutely nowhere.

Elizabeth remarked that she didn’t write novels because in her head it felt like a “craft and a skill that I had to learn” and she didn’t feel ready to do so. This led us to discuss how odd it is that writing is best learnt by doing, yet so often people are too scared to start. Elizabeth believes “ 95% of people have a novel in them, but very few people can sit down and write it”. One of her tips for novel writing is “the most important thing is getting words on a page” and that it can always be edited!

B: Did you feel the pressure of perfectionism when at University?

E: I massively felt it. I did come from an all Girls school and the cult of perfectionism was very strong there as well. I was an internal perfectionist: I felt I got rewarded when I got good grades and that became a sort of inner loop in my head. But I also think Cambridge is an incredibly stimulating environment in the right way because there are so many people thinking in different ways and you are actually encouraged to think differently so I found it a bit of release after school, being stuck so rigidly to a curriculum. Where I found it really difficult was revision, it was like an arms race for revision hours. It becomes its own hot house!

Elizabeth went on to say she felt 4 hours of revision a day was the optimum for her. This was hugely reassuring to hear after having seen people trapped in the library for so much of last year’s Easter term and dreading the prospect of it. It also just reminded me that we all learn in different ways so trying to compare ourselves is pointless.

B: Perhaps because everyone here has hyper-achieved, they need to find another level of competition?

E: Yes and I realised quite quickly that I couldn’t do everything whereas at school I did lots of different extra curriculars. So I focused on the thing I really loved which was writing. If people are brilliant at everything across the board there is a danger that they then get a bit lost in adult life because in adult life the reality is you can’t be good at everything all the time!

(We then bonded over the fact that we both play the trumpet and noted the lack of female trumpet players so I just wanted to flag it up as a plea for more women to learn brass!)

E: Something I would give as a piece of advice, is sometimes at Cambridge it felt as if I was not one of the best and brightest of my generation but actually life is reassuringly long and it might just be you are not in that patch of life where you are at your most fulfilled and that will come to you in your 20’s or 30’s or 40’s!

B: When you had just graduated from University did you experience that limbo as so many graduates do?

E: I was approaching that sense of limbo in my final term of second year. [After graduation] I thought to myself I would do a postgrad journalism training course or go onto work in the local paper but then a friend dragged me to a careers fair. The first man I saw was the deputy editor of the Londoner’s diary on the Evening Standard and it was completely random that he was there. He said to come in for some work experience so I went in for a week in summer, by the end of [it] I had a full time job there. I couldn’t believe it. I went straight into that job after graduating and I knew how lucky I was. The reason I can relate to the feeling of limbo is that Max Hastings, the editor who had given me the job, left a few months after I had arrived and it went through quite a chaotic time. I started to feel like I was stagnating slightly and I didn’t know how to get on to the next thing and I found that a really tricky period of my life. Similarly I felt like everyone else had it sorted, but they didn’t. It was just the impression I was torturing myself with. The great thing about being at that stage of life is you can take gambles, because you don’t have dependence. So I was able to leave that job on the idea of getting something else.

Another piece of advice from Elizabeth concerning journalism is that you can genuinely learn on the job, so to go for it.

B: I wanted to ask how has writing “How to fail” compared to writing novels and your work as a journalist?

E: I’ve always dreamt of being a novelist [but] I’ve loved writing How To Fail in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I think the reasons are twofold; one is that I’ve now been a journalist for 18 years and there is a confidence that comes from just having done something a lot and with this particular book I was surprised to find that I had so much I wanted to say and it came to me quite naturally. I loved the process. [In journalism] there is always a word count and an editor who wants a certain thing from me. With How to Fail I could write it exactly how I wanted it to be and I found it so liberating. With a novel you have to invent an entire world, but with How To Fail the groundwork was already there because it was my lived experience. The other thing, a practical thing, [with a tight deadline] I went to LA for a month, said no to all other journalism and wrote everyday in the sunshine and it was such a happy period of my life, getting this stuff of my chest and a tan at the same time…

B: As it’s International Women’s day and this is for Girl Talk, I wondered what your experiences have been of gender discrimination in Publishing and Journalism?

E: Publishing is incredibly female dominated and I love it and I work with amazing, strong and extremely kind and clever women. It has been a joy from beginning to end. I’ve had the same editor for every single book, she’s called Helen and she is amazing and the way she expresses herself is so respectful towards me and my writing which is not the case with journalism. The only place [sexism] has made itself felt is in the jacket choice for book covers and historically a lot of female authors have been marketed a certain way. A man would write about family and it would be called ‘a state of the nation novel’ and a woman would do it and it would be called a ‘domestic drama’.

In terms of Journalism, I would have said the same thing until the #metoo movement. I had gone into journalism at the stage where I still felt very grateful for being allowed into this predominantly male space, I didn’t feel I deserved to be there. I was constantly saying yes to things. I now realize I should have been questioning the entire system and not afraid to claim my own space. A lot of things I was asked to write about were “Women’s interests” as it was at the time when editors were desperate to get more women reading papers. It’s been wonderful to see how journalism has adapted and become so much less binary and I honestly think it’s because of a generation of younger women who are calling it out. I needed that to happen to understand my own history.

B: Finally, what are the three most valuable takeaways from your Uni experience (and life in general) and what advice would you give to people at Cambridge now?

E: The first advice I would give is know there is more than one way of looking at something. You might think that something has happened that is really bad and you’re failing at, but I promise you that there is another way of looking at it which makes those difficult moments into opportunities.

My second piece of advice is don’t feel you have to do everything at Cambridge. It is completely fine just to do your degree. You are enough doing that. You don’t have to be everything to everyone or do everything at once.

And my third piece of advice, I was about to say something that made me sound 85… but appreciate the extraordinary opportunity you have being at Cambridge and try and stop yourself at various moments and breathe it in.

B: Thank you so much! It’s been so lovely to talk to you.

E: Pleasure, thank you for thinking of me!


I immensely enjoyed chatting to Elizabeth and am so grateful to her for giving up her time to do so. A particularly lovely thing about our conversation was that she continually expressed how grateful she was for her time at Cambridge for the friends she made there and the opportunities it provided. So much so that she pays tribute to Cambridge in her novels with little “winks” to people and as a mark of appreciation to it.

So often we talk about our university lives with a negative rhetoric so hearing someone looking back with such fond memories was a well-needed reminder to truly embrace the wonders it has to offer.

She did not in anyway ask me to promote it but for your own enjoyment I hugely recommend that you pre-order her book How to Fail and have a listen to the podcast to help keep you keep grounded over Easter term!

Link to Pre-order: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008327323/how-to-fail/

 

End of term reflection

Cambridge Girl Talk committee 

As a committee, we have become accustomed to taking some time to write some short contemplations at the end of each term, thinking about how we feel at the end of Cambridge and what we have noticed and learnt.


Bea

Already term feels like a million miles away from me as I sit at home surrounded by all things familiar. Going home is always an odd experience as whilst I feel completely comfortable and safe, it’s not as easy to slot into life as it once was. I’ve found it tricky being surrounded by people all of the time, learning to share my time with others and I can feel myself craving my independence again while simultaneously dreading the reality of next term full of revision and exams. Now I’ve been back for a little while, I’ve figured out a couple of ways to establish some of my own space and thought I’d share something that’s really making a difference for me.

As a challenge for lent I’ve taken up doing yoga everyday and yes I know it’s a bit cliché but it’s allowed me to have some time completely to myself each day, even if it’s only 15 minutes. I’ve not been that strict with it as I feel that defeats the purpose, but instead am actively making an effort to find time for it as much as possible. It’s keeping me grounded and is something I can continue to do in term to try and make that tricky transition more seamless. If you would like to join me I would hugely recommend Cat Meffan’s youtube videos. I’ve been following her #yoganuary series and its fab, alternatively just you can just flow to your own rhythm, Namaste!

Blanca

Looking back on the last few months, I am filled with so much warmth and gratitude. Among other things, I celebrated my 21st birthday, joined by friends visiting from Dublin and some amazing Cambridge people. Moments, days and weekends like these reinforce again and again just how important friends are and the love and loyalty they bring to life. After a difficult Michaelmas term, I made an effort to go out less and relax more, enjoying theatre and films, as well as all of the amazing art and beauty in Cambridge. Being an MML student, I will be leaving this city and my friends in September for a year – it will be sad as well as exciting, but taking time to appreciate Cambridge and all it has to offer this term has helped to prepare for the goodbyes.

Adjusting to home life has been somewhat more trying this time, and I think it is precisely because I had been surrounding myself with so much Cambridge before coming home. Allowing myself to just spend time doing nothing can be tricky when accompanied by the persistent Cambridge habit of a need to be occupied and productive. It can also be hard to re-adjust to chatting with people who don’t have similar opinions to me, accustomed as I am to therapeutic rants with close like-minded friends at all hours. However, I am adjusting and I have been able to do this with time, as well as taking in the beautiful Irish countryside I live in through morning jogs and walks – in such a pressurising and individualistic world, it is more important than ever to just love each other and ourselves.

Anna

I don’t really know how I feel about how this term went and the thought of writing a summary of it daunted me. As usual it has disappeared in a blur marked by a few highs and lows that stick in my mind. Stumbling across this random selection of drawings in the back of different notebooks I had forgotten I carried with me was strangely reassuring. They are proof of time spent simply stopping to think and reflect, not in order to be productive or meet someone else’s expectations. They remind me of moments where I was doing something with no ultimate goal or outcome in mind. Finding these scraps – which bring back memories I would have otherwise forgotten of me still being me despite external pressures – makes me hopeful that I can make time for more of these small acts next term.

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Alicia

This term was very full. Full of events (three from Girl Talk!), changes and excitement. Eight weeks whizzed by but also dragged on. As much as I tried to engage myself with the architecture of 14th century Cairo or Hegel’s theory on art, the biggest thing I learnt this term was definitely about resilience. In the past eight weeks I was dealing with chronic pain, the end of a relationship, a bit of disappointment and a lot of essay crises. Overall, I’m a very lucky and privileged person and none of these things were ever life-changing or terrible, and I’m grateful for that. However, I’m also grateful that the spot of a tough time I did go through has allowed me to understand resilience and see that I actually have quite a lot of it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but at my school resilience was this ‘buzzword’, empty of any real meaning. Throughout this term however I’ve begun to understand it a bit more, or at least what it means to me. What resilience means to me now is being able to recognise that as bad as things feel, eating super noodles with friends late at night will always make me feel better, and the worst-case scenario I had imagined is often not that bad. I learnt that I’m pretty good at taking care of myself and staying positive, and that I have great supportive friends who help me do that. This term has been very educational! Though perhaps not in the way my DoS had hoped…

Julia

Whenever I think back on term, I find it hard to map all the time that has gone past. I have written about this before, in previous Girl Talk reflections – sometimes mapping time can be done by keeping little tokens from places I have visited, sometimes it is through music, sometimes it is through drawing little doodles in my notebook.

This time, I’m looking back on term and I find the little pieces of text and verse I have written down. There is one from somewhere at the beginning, about the snow. The snow which drifted down in the darkness, whilst I sat in the library. It settled for a moment and when I stepped outside to take a look, it had already vanished in little rivers, down the pavement, soaking into the grass.

There is some verse about the pink and white which lay itself over the sky around the middle of term, when I was walking to the library in the morning. I took my watercolours out apparently, later that afternoon I suppose, and mixed those colours on to the page. Then there was all the rain and wind which arrived towards the end, and I wrote whilst sitting in a café by the window, hearing the force of the water against the glass next to my ear.

I find that all this writing feels quite removed from what was actually happening in my day to day life – I don’t really tend to describe who I was with, what I was doing but rather, what was going on around me. And I find that remembering these little scenes I was set in, whether it was a sudden flock of birds flying out from behind Queens as the sun was setting, or a punt I watched pass beneath me as I walked over a bridge in the rain, or even the little details of flowers I found in the greenhouses of the botanical gardens, allow me to remember, too, the thoughts I had then and the emotions I brought with me to that place.

Featured image by Berthe Morisot, source: antiquesandthearts