Women’s Writes: A Chat with the Online Book Club’s Founder

I’ve been a big fan of reading for as long as I can remember. My mother has always been an avid reader and she was very encouraging of building that habit within me as I grew up. She’d read books to me before bed (who remembers Goosebumps?) and let me pick new books to buy when the school gave us catalogues to choose from. The towering bookshelf in my bedroom could barely hold the weight of all my books, and this love of reading is one that continues to grow with time.

I’d always toyed with the idea of joining a book club but just didn’t even know where to begin. How do you find them? Where do they take place? What actually happens at a book club? A mixture of nerves and uncertainty means I only started looking into book clubs at the age of 28. But, after attending my first book club in March 2020, I was hooked! Now, I love finding out about book clubs, getting involved and discussing lots of different books and topics.

That’s why I was so excited to learn about Women’s Writes!

The female-led online book club champions female authors, supports independently run bookshops and publishers, and facilitates conversations across the world. The group aims to empower women through literature and regularly meets to talk about some amazing books and host events to support authors and encourage engaging discussions.

As a new, small business it’s been amazing to see how hard founder, Sophie McDermott, is working to develop the community surrounding Women’s Writes and how passionate she is about the books, the club and creating a safe space for conversations.

I recently spoke to Sophie to learn a bit more about her own story, and that of Women’s Writes. Here’s what she had to say!

Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Hey! I’m Sophie! I currently live in London where I have been for about 9 months. I work full time in a design engineering company full time as a project controller (basically all the unglamorous parts of project management!), but I also am the Founder of Women’s Writes which is my true passion project and dream job.

I went to Newcastle University where I studied History and Politics, with my main focus being how we can explain the world using Feminist Theory – which is where my passion for gender equality comes from! I loved Newcastle and stayed up there for a year after graduating in 2018, working at the Student’s Union as Director and Trustee.

I’m an only child, Irish and British, I grew up in Bath in the South West, and my parents moved to Singapore when I left for university! My favourite things to do include reading (obviously), going to the gym and running, spending time in pub gardens with friends and cooking.

When did you first get into reading and why are you passionate about bringing people together through books?

I’ve always been a reader. I don’t know if it’s because I was an only child back before technology and had to entertain myself, or if it was because both my parents were really into books. I was definitely a stay up in the night, under the cover, torch light reader and could devour a book a night, and on weekends, two books a day! That passion for books and reading continues to this very day.

I think the reason I love reading so much is because I can learn so much about other peoples’ stories. I always used to joke that one day I would make networking my job, because I adore talking to people, learning more about them and understanding their experiences. I think books are a great way to bring people together, because you instantly have this shared experience, by reading the story, but could have totally different interpretations which leads to great conversations and learning something new.

How did Women’s Writes come to be?

So as I mentioned, I did a history and politics degree, and I was shocked at how throughout history, and now, women’s voices are being minimalised, ignored or even erased. We were barely taught about women (something which we can also see in the school curriculum) and I was appalled.

When I went to work after graduating, I tried to use this learning to support women in the companies I have been at and on the project I’m involved in. However, I still found it hard to educate people, I couldn’t figure out how to make feminism accessible.

So I was actually on a coding course, and I was building a website (which then became the first Women’s Writes website… it was awful!) and was just playing around with ideas at first. I came up with the idea of an online book club with a feminist angle. I’m a member of a few book clubs and I love them all (and will still be part of them!) but they either weren’t explicitly feminist, or they were at inconvenient times or locations. So I thought a digital solution would be super accessible!

I was describing the project to people and they would be more interested in the concept of Women’s Writes than in my coding! So I did a bit more research and realised this could totally be something. Then, COVID-19 happened, and I realised this was going to be a really, really hard time for a lot of people. I decided to launch straight away and move quickly, because I knew this could be a place for connection, joy and new friendships, a bit of relief from the scary and difficult time.

Why should people get involved with Women’s Writes?

Women’s Writes is a real passion project and I care so much about every person who joins us online. I really want everyone to have the best experience, to meet other passionate women and to discuss some awesome books that have feminist themes!

Women’s Writes will host Monday night book clubs, and ad hoc author events. You don’t have to come every Monday, and you’re welcome to come even if you haven’t read the book. I’m trying to make sure there is enough advance notice for events and books so people have time to read, but I’m going to have to get better! The author events are definitely my favourite, because you really get to understand more about the book, and can answer those niggling questions you had.

I’m really hoping that every book choice, every conversation, will teach everyone something new. Even me! I learn every time I read, or log into an event. By sharing these stories, we’re widening people’s understandings and broadening perspectives, I hope that we empower and inspire women to actively challenge gender inequality. I also hope it gives them the confidence and tools to speak up about inequalities.

What are your hopes and plans for the future of Women’s Writes? Are there any exciting events or updates that we should be looking out for?

Yes! There is so much exciting planning happening right now, and I don’t want to give too much away but you DEFINITELY need to make sure you’re on our mailing list.

We will be increasing our author events and continuing the book clubs, adding more times to ensure more people can attend. What is really exciting is that the subscription will be starting in summer… I won’t tell you everything you get with your subscription, but I just KNOW you’re all going to love it. We also hope to meet a lot of you in person once the situation with COVID-19 improves.

How can people get involved?

It’s super simple to get involved, all you have to do it go to our website and book onto any event you fancy. We are updating our website constantly (and expect a dramatic change soon) with all out events, blogs, reviews and recommendations so keep checking back.

We are absolutely determined to keep all events online free for as long as people are unable to leave their homes as we really do care about the women involved and want to remain as accessible as possible.

We are also on aaaall the social media channels, and right now we are really enjoying interacting with people in this way. You can help us massively by sharing our content, recommending us to friends, or giving us a testimonial!

Which 3 books would you recommend for people who want to read more by women or feel more empowered by women writers?

I would definitely say for a non-fiction book, read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, because it will get you angry, and impassioned to act.

For fiction, one of the only books that I’ve kept on my shelf has been The Power by Naomi Alderman – it’s really out there (more so than The Handmaids Tale!) and really flips the world on its head. It makes the reader really uncomfortable and challenges you to think.

Lastly, I’ve been really exploring books by LGBT+ authors, or characters, and I just read The Ministry of Governance by Golnoosh Nour which was just fantastic.

Finally, what’s up next on your TBR list?

  1. White Houses: A Novel by Amy Bloom
  2. Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
  3. Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Will you be checking out Women’s Writes?

I hope you’re feeling just as excited as me to get involved with Women’s Writes’ upcoming events! I recently joined in with the My Sister, The Serial Killer chat and it was such a lovely, warm and welcoming environment to spend some time chatting to other women about a great book.

Don’t forget to check out the list of upcoming events and follow Women’s Writes on Twitter!

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