Miles Willis/Getty Images for Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
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Picking up a pen, celebrating women’s writing and a trip to the marshes

Kate Mosse, co-founder of the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, writes the diary.

This week, I swapped the computer screen for old-fashioned paper and pen. I went from writing to editing. Imagination to process. A kind of cabin fever takes hold at the end of a novel, a disquieting combination of holding one’s nerve and a wild desperation to have it over and done with. This new book is the first in a sequence of historical novels – The Burning Chambers – set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion. Starting in Carcassonne and Toulouse in the 16th century and ending in Franschhoek in the 19th (by way of Amsterdam and Cape Town), the series has been five years in the making, from the first glimmer of an idea, the book research and the physical research, false starts and new starts, to the wrestling of the story into shape. Suddenly, there is a book. Almost a book. The shift of a few yards from the office desk to kitchen table, keyboard to scissors and paste.

This novel has been a slow burn, gently revealing itself like an old-fashioned photograph. What do I feel this week? Relieved, nervous, excited, disappointed, exhausted, shy. I oscillate between wanting to share the characters to wanting to protect them from being sent out into the world. Then I go back to Margaret Atwood’s brilliant meditation on the craft of writing, Negotiating With the Dead, and remember that this is how things always feel in the moment of transition. This is normal.

A change is as good as a rest

All authors dream of being left alone, in peace and quiet, to think, write and edit. This rarely happens. Things collide. So though I should be chained to my desk, the beginning of June sees the final preparations for the announcement of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The prize was founded in 1996 to cele­brate and honour the very best writing by women anywhere in the world. Past winners include Lionel Shriver, Rose Tremain, Eimear McBride and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Twenty-two years on, it is one of the largest celebrations of women’s writing in the world. Thousands of readers have taken part in events celebrating the 2017 longlist and shortlist – novels set in Nigeria and China, Canada and contemporary London, in the Kent countryside in the days after the Second World War, from 19th-century Kentucky to dystopian futures set free from time and place – with a week of live events at Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road, London, in April, reading groups in libraries up and down the country in May, and international readers taking part via ­Facebook and our digital platforms.

Eyes on the prize

Now, it’s June again. Usually, the week before the prize is quiet, making sure every­thing is ready for our shortlisted authors – Ayobami Adebayo, Naomi Alderman, Linda Grant, C E Morgan, Gwendoline Riley and Madeleine Thien – to take to the stage at Cadogan Hall in London on 5 June for the shortlist readings. The following night, after a panel event the prize is hosting in partnership with Grazia magazine at Foyles on
Charing Cross Road, the 2017 judges – Tessa Ross, Aminatta Forna, Sam Baker, Sara Pascoe and Katie Derham – will meet to decide which of the six exceptional novels on the shortlist will win the 2017 prize.

Women of the world

In a fragile and challenging world, celebrating women’s voices matters more than ever. This year, millions of women all over the world have taken to the streets in protest; the spirit of resistance has felt, at times, like a turning back of the clock.

In times of division and the silencing of other people’s voices, novels help us to listen. They slip between the cracks of what we thought we knew and encourage us to see things differently. Novels may reflect our lives or help us to stand in another person’s shoes. Between the covers of a book, we can travel in time or all over the world.

That is why it is so fantastic this week to be announcing the new, exciting future for the award from 2018. After months of planning and listening, analysing the nature of contemporary arts partnerships, brainstorming how best to help the prize to grow and flourish, we decided to move to a family of sponsors rather than continue with a single headline supporting organisation. It’s a collaborative model widely – and successfully – used in other areas of the arts and will help to extend the reach of the prize further than ever before. Each of the partners shares a commitment to promoting and celebrating women’s voices, and is ambitious to help the prize thrive. It’s a particular pleasure to be able to confirm that Baileys, which has been a fabulous title sponsor over the past four years, is a founder member of our family of sponsors. The full line-up will be announced in the autumn.

Memory lane

In the never-ending juggling between our private and public selves, between reflection and action, between moving too fast and thinking too little, there will be certain days when we must stop and fall silent. Red-letter days. This week, I spent as much time as I could walking on the Fishbourne Marshes and thinking of my beloved, much-missed parents on what would have been their 62nd wedding anniversary. My father died in 2011, my mother in 2014, and though the sharpness of grief has passed, I miss them. To walk in their footsteps, in a place they loved, is the gentlest act of remembrance. A fusing of past and present.

The Marshes look much the same now as when I grew up in Fishbourne in the 1960s and 1970s. In Sussex now, the hawthorn is coming into bloom as the last of the bluebells fade in the woods. The foxgloves are pink and plump, and the fields yellow with rape seed. Down by the sea, the wind whispers in the reedmace and the shore is alive with birds.

Then, back to the kitchen table . . . 

The 2017 winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced on 7 June. For details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 01 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Labour reckoning

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.