Interview with social historian Dr. Viv Newman

Social historian Dr. Viv Newman is here today
and she’s chatting with me about Tumult
and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through the Eyes and Lives of its Women
. It covers social history of World War through the writings of women
poets – including U.S. poets.
Viv has been interested in
social history since primary school, when her teachers commented upon her “very
many questions”.

Viv’s doctoral research on women’s poetry of the
First World War uncovered a treasure trove of long-forgotten women’s poems. These
widen our knowledge of women’s wartime lives, their concerns, and their
contributions to the war effort and subsequent Victory.

Viv has taught women’s war poetry in both academic
and non-academic settings and spoken widely at history conferences (both
national and international).  She gives talks to a variety of audiences
ranging from First World War devotees of organisations such as the Western
Front Association as well as to Rotarians, Women’s Institutes and U3A.
Welcome, Viv. Please tell us a little bit about your
current release, Tumult and Tears.
During the First World War
and its immediate aftermath, hundreds of women wrote thousands of poems on
multiple themes and for many different purposes. Women’s poetry was published,
sold (sometimes to raise funds for charities as diverse as ‘Beef Tea for Troops’
or ‘The Blue Cross Fund for Warhorses’), read, preserved, awarded prizes and
often critically acclaimed. Tumult and Tears will
demonstrate how women’s war poetry, like that of their male counterparts, was
largely based upon their day-to-day lives and contemporary beliefs.
Poems are placed within their
wartime context. From war worker to parent; from serving daughter to grieving
mother, sweetheart, wife; from writing whilst within earshot of the guns,
whilst making the munitions of war, or whilst sitting in relative safety at
home, these predominantly amateur, middle-class poets explore, with a few
tantalising gaps, nearly every aspect of women’s wartime lives, from their
newly public often uniformed roles to their sexuality.
What inspired you to write this book?
From an early age I loved
the poetry relating to the Great War but always wondered why there were no
women poets. About 20 odd years ago, I discovered that 25% of all published
poets between 1914 and 1918 WERE women but that they had been sidelined and
then ignored so basically, I decided to set the record straight!
Excerpt from Tumult
and Tears:
“These poems speak to us
across the century and enable us to listen to an alternative story of those
fateful years. This is a story told through the quiet voices of those who, in one
poet’s words, were forced to learn the bitter lesson that whilst ‘Men made the
war; mere women’
had to live through its terrible consequences.”
By the end of the book, we are left unable to answer the question posed by
Jessie Wakefield in her poem “Whose”,
now for me remains the shell of life;
round of days that pass without a goal;
wakeful endless night with anguish rife,
Fear long-chained, stalks forth and rules my soul.
of mine afar or near, dear heart,
Say now; Whose is the harder part?
What exciting story are you working on next?
A totally forgotten spy
whom the Germans (for whom she spied) considered their most powerful
non-mechanised weapon – but she too has been forgotten by history. She was a
‘bad girl’ but a totally fascinating one. Her story will be published in
October 2017 as Singer, Siren, Spy: The
Undercover World of Agent Régina Diana
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Really when I began the
PhD as I realized that I adored both the research and crafting the thesis
itself. When one of the examiners commented that he had sat up all night
reading the thesis for pleasure, I felt that maybe this was something I could
actually do quite well.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
I wish!
I am also an educational
psychologist working for a number of British universities. I fit writing and
research around this but luckily I am an insomniac so often am at my desk by
5.30 am!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My husband would say that
it is the way that I have books in what he considers total disarray all around
me and can barely see where the keyboard is for books. He once tidied them up
for me – he has never dared repeat this!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first female British
Ambassador. However, I met my husband on my first day at university when I was
barely 19 and in those pre-enlightened days, the diplomatic service would not
offer jobs to married women. (Luckily, we are still together 40 years later!!)
Anything additional you want to share with the
I am also an inveterate
trekker and have trekked in Inner Mongolia and to Everest Base Camp amongst
other places. I tend to (hopefully) keep other trekkers entertained with
stories about my amazing WW1 women.
We Also Served: The Forgotten Women of
the First World War
Through Shot and Shell: A Great War Nurse’s Story
Pen and Sword: Amazon
Tumult and Tears: The Story of the Great War Through
the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets

Pen and Sword:
or Amazon

Thanks, Viv!

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