Episode 8: August, Elizabeth Lee
This month's piece is written by author Elizabeth Lee, whose debut novel Cunning Women was published earlier this year. Her piece considers the juxtaposition of the hope and promise of a new school year and restrictions lifting with the terrifying news of wildfires, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and rapidly escalating climate change, ending on a hopeful note of how it felt to realise a dream and have her debut novel published in 2021.
Take a look at the rest of this year's digital programme on our website: https://www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org/.
For more information on Writing West Midlands, visit https://writingwestmidlands.org/
Follow the festival on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @BhamLitFest
Curator: Shantel Edwards (Festival director)
Production: 11C/ Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands
Welcome to the Birmingham Lit Fest Presents…podcast and our new series of commissioned writing about 2021. Each month we are commissioning a new writer to reflect on the month that has passed, offering us moments of connection through great writing and the opportunity to reflect about what we have collectively experienced at the end of the year.
We will be bringing you a new short episode at the start of each month, with each piece read by our guest writers. You can read the pieces on our website, where you will also find information about our upcoming digital events.
Hello everyone, my name is Elizabeth Lee and I wrote August’s piece for the Birmingham Literature Festival.
August has been a month of sunlight and storms, both literal and figurative.
As I walk the canals and fields I’m lucky enough to live by, the air is sometimes bright and hot, sweet with pollen and busy with insects, sometimes filled with needle-sharp rain and biting winds. Always, somewhere, the shouts and laughter of children enjoying freedom from school can be heard.
On a larger scale, the news feels like a series of earthquakes. I wonder whether we will, like the children preparing for a new school year as summer wanes, at last be shaken from lethargy and compelled to act. As wildfires rage in Greece and Turkey, we are warned that this planet we are the custodians of teeters on the brink of a disaster of our own making. We watch the terrible, terrifying events in Afghanistan take place. In my own home, we celebrate GCSE results that enable the next step on a journey. Exciting times, full of possibility and hope. Nationally, more students than ever end a difficult year by celebrating good results. But there is also a growing gap between North and South, between state and private schools. Those already at a disadvantage have been further failed in the Covid crisis.
But there is also hope. Most of the adult population are now vaccinated against Covid, and we tentatively break free from the past months of isolation and fear. The world might be changed. But it is still here.
Personally, I’m emerging from a post-publication haze as my debut novel was published in April. The fulfilment of a life-long dream that still has me pinching myself, and giving thanks for every piece of luck that passed my way. Set in 17th Century Lancashire, the book is a tale of persecution and superstition, but also one of love, in all its forms. Between parents and children, between siblings, between a man and a woman. Turning my mind to a new project, similar themes emerge; a historical setting that explores the struggle of those trapped by poverty and prejudice. But there is kindness to be found in the chaos. There is hope.
These themes remain relevant, I think, to our world today. A world where women are raising their voices to say Me Too. A world that must address structural racism and respond to calls for collective action on climate change. Where Covid highlighted the danger of isolation, and the importance of community. But there is always sunlight in among the storms, there is always kindness in the chaos, and perhaps we will turn with new vigour, like a child returning to school in September, to protecting this world and valuing all that live in it equally.
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Birmingham Lit Fest presents…podcast. Follow us on Instagram, twitter and Facebook @bhamlitfest. All information about the festival and upcoming events can be found on our website www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org. The Birmingham Lit Fest Presents... podcast is produced by 11C and Birmingham Podcast Studios for Writing West Midlands.