As part of our month-wide celebration of women’s writing, 4th Estate will be bringing you exclusive written pieces from our fantastic authors. We presented them with a selection of questions to choose from, and the responses we’ve had have been hugely inspiring. We can’t wait to share them all with you.
Today we bring you the words of Laline Paull, author of The Bees and The Ice.
Question: How do you respond to individuals who openly state that they are not a feminist?
Answer: Must we all wear labels to be trusted?
Hello my name is Laline Paull and I want to come to the International Women’s Day party, but the dress code seems to have got very strict. These days it can feel a little bit like I might be asked any moment for my papers. Are you a member of the Women’s Equality Party? NO? But – surely – you are a feminist – aren’t you?
I first visited Svalbard in 2013, after forming the sudden conviction that I must see go to the Arctic and see the ice. I certainly didn’t have a story in mind, but something was tugging at me to go and have a look. Rubbernecking, maybe: see the ice while it’s still there. Polar bears are all very well, but that wasn’t my focus. I didn’t actually have one, which was relaxing. I was supposed to be on holiday.
The epiphany came when I was temporarily alone on deck – staring out at the peculiar beauty of a slow, semi-frozen satiny black sea full of huge white mosaic pieces of ice. I heard singing. Or rather, the sound of the ice bumping and creaking, I knew that was what it was – but I could also literally hear a strange a-tonal but very beautiful sound coming out of the water itself, as if the ice had a voice and was speaking to me in a tongue I had never heard. I was enchanted as if in a wild fairytale, and very sad to have to turn back when the captain said we might risk being stuck if it moved in and locked around the ship. It had a life, non-human and non-animal, but powerfully present. And I felt it.
From well-known and treasured stories including Aesop’s Fables, Black Beauty and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, to writers such as Michel de Montaigne, Anton Chekhov and T.S. Eliot, storytellers have used animals not only to capture the imagination of readers, but to deliver powerful and revealing messages about what it means to be human.
Sunday the 15th of March sees Mother’s Day, a day to celebrate every single thing your Mum has done for you. Whether it’s something as basic as your washing, as unconditionally kind as coming to collect you from the train station when you’ve missed the last bus and don’t want to shell out for a cab, or telling your dad that he really ought to respect your life choices (even if it means you’ll be out of work for a year until the green grows out of your hair), Mum has your back, and Mum’s are the best. And, in some cases, let’s not forget that Mum has to be Dad too. To help you give your Mum the very best gift possible, we’ve paired some of our brilliant Mum-friendly books with some especially Mum-friendly presents. Spoil her rotten this Mother’s Day.
This month our blog theme is ‘Love in All its Forms’ – we’re celebrating the diverse ways in which love is depicted in literature – so we asked our authors to tell us who their dream fictional date would be. Laline Paull would hop into a hot air balloon with Lord Asriel from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ and fly to a party in West Egg, New York…
A few months ago, we interviewed Laline Paull for a podcast, which can be heard here. Beautiful, touching and highly educational, here are the very best bits for your eyes, rather than your ears.
It’s such a unique story: how did you come to the idea in the first place?
It was a gift from a friend of mine who was a beekeeper and dying of cancer, although I didn’t realise that until she’d gone. One of the last things she ever said to me was that she hoped there’d be a flowering of creativity when she’d gone. I hope that now I know what she meant by that, because in the immediate aftermath of her death I started to read about the honeybees which she loved so much and which she called her “girls”. Read more…
To celebrate WOM4N, we asked several of our authors and staff to share their favourite female characters from the 4th Estate bookshelves. Here, Justine Gold explains the appeal of Flora 717, the humble insect at the heart of Laline Paull’s ‘The Bees’…
‘Flora thrills and frustrates me. Hatched into a world where deformity can mean death, Flora essentially defies the Hive’s eternal law – ‘Accept, Obey, Serve’ – from the very beginning of The Bees, through her physical strength and attributes. She kicks and forces herself out of her cell, is ‘obscenely ugly’ and ‘excessively large’, and is able to speak, while others of her kin are mute.