Kirsty Manning on strong women & #BeBoldForChange

All this week as part of our celebrations of International Women’s Day and the Be Bold For Change theme, our authors are writing about bold women, how they have influenced their work, and a need to be bold. Today Kirsty Manning writes about where her strong female characters in The Midsummer Garden come from, and the need to Be Bold For Change. 

From the very first moment I started noodling around with ideas for The Midsummer Garden, I knew I wanted to write about not one, but two, strong women.

One contemporary, one medieval.

I used the Roman de la Rose trope because the garden has always been a powerful metaphor in literature. My medieval character—Artemisia—a cook and herbalist is contained by both the physical walls of the chateau, but the social mores of the time. She is little more than a chattel, with very few choices in life. But she has hope. Artemisia dares to dream of a life beyond the walls, despite knowing that the odds are against her.

Even in the darkest times, hope can spur us to #beboldforchange.

So when it came to writing my contemporary protagonist, it’s no surprise I called her Pip I wanted to flip the coin and explore the Great Expectations that modern society place on the educated modern women. Is she still expected to place love before career and family? Is it unseemly for a woman to be physically tough, to dive deep into her study and passions and lose herself there until she is ready to surface?

I wanted to pen a note to my younger self. To say: ‘you know what girl—just make sure you elbow out a little room for yourself.’

It’s not being selfish to want to thrive.

Women tend to put themselves last when it comes to career, love and family. But really, women are the powerful ones that hold this complex matrix together.

I’m inspired by women who make scientific breakthroughs, run companies and run marathons. But I’m equally inspired by the extraordinary women who work on community projects, volunteer at schools, care for the sick, disabled and displaced. Those strong women at the coalface of life, who slog to make days a little better for someone else.

Now they are the real heroes!

My own mother has always been an agitator for change in her country town. She’s bold, brave and fierce. It’s not a competition—we need all types of women to #beboldforchange and we need to celebrate them everywhere from the podium to the boardroom to the play parks.  Instead of saying ‘I wouldn’t do it like that,’ or ‘it’s okay for them to do it’—I choose to say, ‘thankyou’, ‘well done’ and ‘awesome,’ instead. More often I’m finding myself inspired, and ask: ‘how can I help?’.

One of my biggest motivations to #beboldforchange is for my daughter. She’s clever, determined and strong but already, in her tween years, I’m seeing how current social mores start to put up silent walls around our girls. This can range from the ridiculous amount of pink and sparkles in department stores, to the idea of being a princess and being rescued by ‘Prince Charming’. (My response? Work it out yourself, Princess!)

In 2017, it astounds me that in some circles it’s still a ‘little unseemly’ to speak out about a girl’s desire to win in the classroom or on the sports field. It’s not nice. I’m all for fair play, but I also want my girl to know it is okay to play hard and #FightLikeAGirl.

I don’t have to be everywoman, but I need to celebrate each and every woman. To stand up for those that can’t be heard, and every day try a little harder to #beboldforchange. Because the little eyes of my sons and daughters are watching my every move, I need to show them it’s okay to have goals. To work hard. To be grateful for opportunities and support that comes their way. To help others when they can’t help themselves.

In The Midsummer Garden, Pip struggles, fails and tries again to make her mark. That’s life! But I love Pip, because she’s not afraid to #beboldforchange.

In the end, those are the heroes we need most of all.

Kirsty Manning has degrees in literature and communications, and worked as an editor and publishing manager in book publishing for over a decade. A country girl with wanderlust, her travels and studies have taken her through most of Europe, the east and west coasts of the United States and pockets of Asia. Kirsty’s journalism and photography specialising in lifestyle and travel regularly appear in magazines, newspapers and online. The Midsummer Garden is her debut novel, and published in April 2017 – read advance praise for it here.

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