Women We Watch: What Would Boudicca Do?

Women We Watch: What Would Boudicca Do?

Charlotte Prichard, 6 September 2018

Need a new read? Enter "What Would Boudicca Do?" A punchy guide to navigating life, love and executive realness with a lil' helping hand from 'superwomen of history.'

It is time to turn to women like Frida Kahlo and Josephine Baker, Hypatia and Cleopatra, Coco Chanel and Empress Cixi. In this irreverent guide by E. Foley and B. Coates, you'll figure out how to dispatch a love rat, back yourself, kill it at work and trounce FoMo. With original illustrations by Bijou Karman, What Would Boudicca Do? will leave you fired-up and ready for anything. Ready to read on? Let's do this!

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST BRUSH WITH FEMINISM?

EF: Well we’re both lucky enough to have seriously strong mothers – so it’s always been there for us both. My mother was a consultant anesthetist, who trained at the point where only about 10% of medical students were female. She banged on about this a lot and openly mocked my surgeon father for his god complex and the sexism of their workplace (they are now divorced).

BC: My mum is a renowned expert in gin (yes, really) so she spends a lot of time with old guys who only want to talk about whiskey: she always bosses it in her fedora, ray bans, and platform trainers. Both our mums were obsessed with contraception when we were younger and constantly told us to put our careers first, earn our own money and find fulfillment for ourselves rather than through anyone else.

FROM PODCASTS TO PLAYLISTS, WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO WHILST YOU'RE WORKING/FOR INSPIRATION?

BC: We love the High-Low podcast as we’re big Dolly Alderton fans but generally I like to work to the strangely lulling backdrop of Radio 5 Live football commentary.

 EF: And I have a sentimental weakness for vintage Country and Western so there was a lot of Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris going on in the background while we wrote Boudicca. Clearly, we have a penchant for Dollys.

'STANDING UP TO BULLIES', 'GETTING OVER HEARTBREAK', 'MANAGING INFIDELITY' AND 'GIVING UP HOUSEWORK' ARE CHAPTERS WITHIN 'WHAT WOULD BOUDICCA DO?' WHICH THEME WOULD YOU SAY THAT YOU PERSONALLY FOUND THE MOST VALUABLE/IDENTIFIED MOST WITH?

BC: Imposter syndrome is a definite issue for me – I find it very hard to switch off that inner voice that constantly tells me all compliments are in fact lies and that I’m only one small slip-up away from being found out. I loved the fact that Isabella Beeton – a byword for domestic godhead was, in fact, anything but – she couldn’t cook to save her life. What she did have though, was an amazing entrepreneurial spirit, and she just ran with it, creating a brand that lasts even today.

EF: I’d say the chapter we did on Josephine Baker and having it all really resonated for me. That woman was an absolute legend; she was a dancer, a spy, an activist and had a huge brood of adopted kids and she took a lot of shit for all of those things in different ways. The very specific pressure on women to ‘have it all’ or be punished for trying to ‘have it all’, really annoys me and Josephine is an incredible example of being open to all experiences and throwing yourself into everything and maybe not always getting it right but judging what you have by your own values, rather than by what our culture likes to say about women’s duties and fulfillment.

HOW EASY WAS IT TO LINK HISTORIAL WOMEN AND THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS WITH ISSUES RELATABLE TO MODERN READERS?

BC: This was actually surprisingly painless. It was one of the most fun, and satisfying parts of the writing process: to delve into all these amazing women's lives, and then look for where their troubles and their triumphs intersected with the situations we still face today. Some required a bit of creative thinking: the ancient poetess Sappho was an interesting one. She was a massive literary smash in her own time but over the millennia much of her work has been lost and biographical facts about her remain sketchy at best – though that hasn't stopped historians getting themselves in a twist about her straightness or lack thereof. We could only really rely on the poetry she left behind, and what's there is this incredibly emotional, intimate and exposing voice – she struck us as perfect for teaching us a bit about self-acceptance.  

EF: It was both dispiriting and reassuring to see that many of the problems women from past eras faced still bother us today: like body image, being properly valued and standards of femininity. But it also made us realise how far we’ve come which was very inspiring. We don’t have to fight as hard as some of our heroines did to get into interesting employment; we get to vote and own our own property and choose our own partners and have custody of our kids. Obviously, there’s a lot more to be done but it made us feel very grateful to be living in the 21st century.

 

DID YOU SEEK TO PAIR CURRENT PROBLEMS SUCH AS THE WORK-LIFE BALANCE WITH AN INSPIRATIONAL 'SUPERWOMAN OF HISTORY' OR DID THE ICON COME FIRST AND THE MODERN COMPARISON SECOND?

BC: It worked both ways round. There were some women, like Ada Lovelace, Sophia Duleep Singh, Hedy Lamarr and Mary Seacole where we knew we really wanted to include them so we read up about them and found the problem to match them with that way. And there were others where we had a problem, like body positivity, that we felt needed to be addressed in order for the book to be properly helpful and we had to search for the right person: who of course turned out to be Mae West. Some of the women could have answered any number of problems: we have Catherine the Great on dealing with gossip but she’s also a great example of work-life balance, sexual liberation and loving your job.

 

WAS THERE ANYONE WHO DIDN'T MAKE IT TO THE FINAL EDITION OF THE BOOK WHOSE STORY YOU'D LIKE TO REVISIT AT SOME POINT?

 EF: Yes, we have a list of 223 women, filed under ‘Spare Ladies’, who we discovered or admired who could easily have made the cut. The hardest thing was making the selection as we knew we wanted just 50 and we were keen that they were from all over the world, from different periods in history, and that they had varied experience: sports, politics, music, science, religion, philosophy, fashion, literature etc. We definitely feel guilty about Marie Curie and Maya Angelou not being there for example, but we also wanted to make sure we bigged up some less well-known heroines, and we wanted each entry to genuinely give advice on the issues. 

WHICH TATTY DEVINE PIECE IS YOUR FAVOURITE?

BC: So many to choose from! But we love your 'Do Your Bit' Fist Brooch - so intricate and beautiful, but there's real strength there too: a very pleasing blend of grit and gorgeousness, it packs the perfect punch (sorry). And the Feminist necklaces, of course.

WHICH WOMEN ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?

BC: It's been an amazing year for women and it’s been a joy to watch talented women being celebrated. I’ve avidly watched (and reread) The Handmaid's Tale, and drunk in anything featuring Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman. The actress, writer, producer, rapper Janelle Monae seems to create magic whatever she turns her hands to. I’ve been listening to her genre-busting album ‘Dirty Computer’ on a loop. 

EF: I saw Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette recently and that was amazing and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the book I’m recommending to people most at the moment. Next, on my bedside table, I have Elena Passarello’s Animals Strike Curious Poses which is about famous animals and looks completely unique. Who knew I needed a book about famous animals, but it turns out I really do!

 

Yaaaaas, Queen! We've teamed up with Faber and Faber to give away 10 signed copies of "What Would Boudicca Do?" Lacking a little life 'spo? Need a helping hand from historic heroines? *COMPETITION HAS NOW ENDED!*

 

*UK entries only, winners will be chosen on Tuesday 11th September, 2018 and contacted directly.

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