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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Emily Midorikawa and ‘A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf’

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series conducted by Soniah Kamal, Jaggery Blog Editor and author of the forthcoming novel Unmarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan. 

Emily Midorikawa is the author of A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront?, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, co-written with Emma Claire Sweeney and with a foreword by Margaret Atwood. Emma and Emily also run the website Something Rhymed, which celebrates female literary friendship. Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has appeared in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, the Paris Review, The Times and the Washington Post.

About A Secret Sisterhood

A Secret Sisterhood tells the stories of the literary friendships of Jane Austen and amateur-playwright / family-governess Anne Sharp; Charlotte Bronte and early feminist author Mary Taylor; the seemingly aloof George Eliot and ebullient Harriet Beecher Stowe; and Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, most often portrayed as bitter foes, but who, in fact, enjoyed a complex creative bond.

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

EMILY MIDORIKAWA: As a child, I loved Enid Blyton’s mystery stories and also her school stories, especially the Malory Towers series. I was a big fan of Judy Blume too.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

I love a cup of tea or a glass of red wine.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? 

Anything by Jean Rhys is worth reading. I read After Leaving Mr Mackenzie when I was a teenager and it completely blew me away. Her writing made me feel that (in skilled hands like Rhys’s) there were no limits to what language could do).

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I’ve somehow never got round to reading War and Peace.

Favorite quote

I love Harriet Beecher Stowe’s comment in a letter to George Eliot that book-writing, from an author’s perspective, resembles ‘a hand stretched forth in the dark passage of life to see if there is another hand to meet it’.

Favorite book to film? 

Peter Weir’s 1975 film of Joan Lindsay’s novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is immensely atmospheric and stays true to the atmosphere of the novel. I love re-watching it. I think Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, adapted from Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, is great too.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

This is really tough, since I have quite a few favorites, but perhaps it’s Persephone Books in London – home of the publisher of the same name. They publish works by neglected, mostly female authors from the mid-twentieth century, and their small shop is a lovely place to discover forgotten literary treasures.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

It’s easier with good friends. As a child, I bought into the well-worn stereotype of the isolated writer – someone shut away in a garret with only their words for company! As such, I imagined writing would be a very solitary profession. Of course, the nature of authoring a book means that you are bound to spend many hours cooped up on your own, but my interest in writing has also led me to make many wonderful fellow-writer friends. I’m lucky to have met my Secret Sisterhood co-author Emma very early on in our careers, and so I’ve had her at my side right from the beginning. We give each other writerly advice, swap early drafts of stories, celebrate the good times together and help to pick the other one up whenever the going gets tough.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

In a way it does. You at least have the knowledge that you have done this before. You know that you can finish writing a book or a story. Regarding the publicity side of things, you’re also able to learn from past successes and misfires, in terms of what has worked or not worked in the past. On the other hand, each new project brings its own challenges. In many ways, it was a joy to work with Emma on A Secret Sisterhood, but when you have two authors – both with strong opinions – working on a single book this means that you are going to spend a lot of time debating the fine detail. This could occasionally get frustrating, but in the end we realized that, by arguing things out between us at a desk, we had taken our manuscript through a really rigorous drafting process even before we showed the final draft to our editors.

Dog, Cat, Or?

I have no pets.

Ideal vacation?

My mother was Japanese and I lived in Japan for a couple of years when I was in my early twenties, so I always love revisiting Japan – both the nostalgia of returning to old haunts and the excitement of discovering new places.

Favorite book cover?

I feel very lucky that the cover designer for A Secret Sisterhood did an excellent job of conveying what lay inside. Aside from this one, though – which of course holds a special place in my heart – I really like the beautiful yet chilling design for The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin.

Favorite song?

Again, it’s very hard to pick just one, but ‘Think’ by Aretha Franklin would be right up there.

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Abstraction White Rose by Georgia O’Keefe

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Back in the autumn of 2017, Emma and I were delighted to give the keynote speech at the George Eliot Fellowship’s 46th Annual Lecture. Among the audience members was a sixth-form student, Jess Molyneux, who had travelled some distance to be there. We enjoyed talking with Jess and were so happy when she got in touch many months later to ask if we would be interested in featuring a post by her – on the literary friendship between Charlotte Mew and  May Sinclair – on our blog Something Rhymed. It’s always nice to meet readers at festivals, and especially when that meeting turns out to be just the start of a connection that stretches into the future.

What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? 

Sense and Sensibility – the Ang Lee picture starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet – is full of warmth and humour. I first saw it at the cinema when it came out in the mid-nineties and I feel that it has stood the test of time.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

The Good Journal – a new British magazine featuring the work of UK writers of color.

Last impulse book buy and why?

A writer I follow on Instagram posted an image of Did She Kill Him?: A Victorian tale of deception, adultery and arsenic by Kate Colquhoun. I was instantly intrigued by the sound of this Victorian true crime and ordered it right away.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her novel Unmarriageable: Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan, has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.  NPR calls it ‘thought provoking and deliciously readable’ and People Magazine says “This inventive retelling of Pride and Prejudice charms.” Unmarriageable is an Amazon Best Books pick, a People Magazine’s Pick, a New York Post Best Book pick, a Library Reads pick and more. Soniah’s debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Award for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah’s short story ‘Jelly Beans’ was selected for the Best South Asian Short Stories Anthology 2017. Her TEDx talk is about regrets and redemption. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Catapult, The Normal School, Literary Hub, and has been widely anthologized. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Georgia State University where she was a Paul Bowles Fellow in Fiction. She currently teaches creative writing at Rhineheart University and reviews books for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Soniah will be giving a keynote address at the Jane Austen Summer Program Conference (2019) and she is a Jane Austen Literacy Ambassador. She was born in Pakistan, grew up in England and Saudi Arabia, and currently resides in Georgia.

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel



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