Loose Muse: redressing the balance for women writers
When I first set up Loose Muse in the summer of 2004, I honestly didn’t think that eight years later it would have grown into London’s premier night for women who write, or that it would have become so firmly embedded in London’s literary scene.
At the time there didn’t seem to be many opportunities for women writers to read their work, share skills, and discuss what to do next in a non-threatening, supportive environment. When a monthly slot became free at Covent Garden’s Poetry Café, Loose Muse was born, and has been running successfully on the second Wednesday of each month, except August.
From day one, despite running on a shoestring budget, I never had a problem getting featured writers who were happy to appear despite being paid little more than pin money. On the plus side, they had the opportunity to sell product, as well as participate in a wider debate on how they did what they did, and what the next step might be for novice writers.
Each Loose Muse features two women writers, a general open mic session where work can be shared from the floor, and occasional special guest spots if a someone is passing through London, is keen to take part, and I can squeeze them in. We have featured over 160 women writers of all genres, drawn from all over the country and overseas – from the US to Argentina, and Europe to Singapore via the Middle East. True, it’s a tad poetry-heavy…but I’m a poet, so that’s my world. But it is also a cross-genre event that includes novelists, playwrights, bloggers, songwriters and journalists as well as women who write flash fiction, short stories, for film, or work in radio or theatre. It is for any woman who writes anything at all, so that those who want to write can learn from, and share skills with, those that already do. It is all about helping women writers to take the first steps to a career in writing, and providing a friendly, supportive environment where they can test their skills, and grow more confident in their creative abilities.
There’s always a robust and lively open mic session where anyone who wants to gets up to five minutes to strut their stuff . I’m always amazed at the quality of all those women writers who take part; and it’s very satisfying to see them progress from nervous first-timers who have never shared their work before, to reading from their first published collection, with confidence and poise. Sally Blackmore was so nervous when she read at Loose Muse for the first time she visibly shook with fright. She went on to publish two collections of her work, and was an Olympic Storyteller in 2012. Katrina Naomi, who got her first paid gig at Loose Muse, went on to win the 2008 Templar poetry competition with her pamphlet Lunch at the Elephant & Castle, was the Bronte Parsonage Museum’s first writer-in-residence, and is a Hawthornden Fellow. Camilla Reeve was picked up by Flipped Eye after taking part in Loose Muse open mics, and had her first full collection published in 2010.
One question I get asked a lot is, can men come to Loose Muse events? Of course they can. This isn’t a women-only event, but one that welcomes anyone interested in writing. In fact 10-20% Loose Muse audience is made up of guys who come because it’s a high-quality, interesting night. But while they’re welcome to take part in the Q & A sessions, only women can read from their work. Sorry guys, but there are plenty of other nights where you can read your stuff.
In 2011 things took a massive leap forward when Loose Muse was given a two-year Arts Council of England grant to develop the project further. This has meant that as well as being able to pay featured writers a reasonable fee, I’ve been able to commission new work, paying the six writers commissioned so far a very healthy fee for the two series of poems and four short stories they’ve produced. I’ve also been able to produce two anthologies of new writing for 2012 and 2013, which have been welcomed with tremendous enthusiasm, and proved immensely popular. These anthologies are a fantastic springboard of creative imagination, with new writers appearing as equals alongside veterans of the literary scene. Each anthology to date has presented the work of 34 writers, many of whom haven’t seen their work in print before, with lively, high-quality launches attracting a vocal and animated audience.
But is there still a need for a women’s writers’ night, I hear you ask? Well, yes there is. So many other events are testosterone-fuelled, antler-locking events where alpha males lock poetic horns and read “love” poems that are really “shag” poems, and where women (especially if they’re over 40) are often patronised or minimised. I’ve seen some male hosts practically dribble in lust-filled anticipation at any young or attractive women writers who take part in events…not an attractive scene.
Loose Muse sets out only to redress this balance, and demonstrate women writers can write about things other than cats and children, have vivid, robust imaginations and can write with strength and passion about anything and everything. Otherwise we wouldn’t have Harry Potter, Cathy and Heathcliff, Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, PD James’s poetry-writing detective Adam Dalgleish, or even EL James’s bonk-and-bondage Fifty Shades of Grey, to name but a few. Today the humble Loose Muse open-micer … tomorrow the poet laureate or bestselling novelist. You’ll never know unless you try.
The deadline for submission to the spring 2013 anthology is the end of January, for an early March launch. The only real rule for writers wanting to submit is that they must have attended at least one Loose Muse event during the preceding six months. Take a look at the Loose Muse website for full submission guidelines.
The next Loose Muse is on 9 January, featuring poet-artist Janice Windle and writer-singer-performer Linda Shanovitch, plus special guest Claire Booker with one of her 10-minute plays. The Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9BX 8pm. - £5 or £3 concessions. For more details, or to join the Loose Muse mailing list, contact Agnes Meadows at email@example.com
* Do you have a story to tell about your open mic venue? If you have, get in touch with Write Out Loud’s Julian Jordon and Greg Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could feature in our Tales from the Venues series.