10 Nottingham Women in Literature

Words: John Baird
Illustrations: Dolly Loves Dallas
Friday 12 January 2018
reading time: min, words

Mention Nottingham’s literary heritage and people often cite Byron, Lawrence or Sillitoe. But our female writers are equally as rebellious and ground-breaking. Margaret Cavendish was one of the earliest science fiction writers; Lucy Hutchinson was the first female writer of an epic English poem; Ada Lovelace is credited as the first computer programmer; suffragist, Alice Zimmerman, worked as a writer and translator; and Alma Reville was an influential screenwriter. In more recent times, Nottingham has been home to one of Britain’s funniest authors, Mhairi McFarlane; Pippa Hennessy played a key role in our successful bid to become UNESCO City of Literature; and Sandeep Mahal took up her position as its first director last year. Up the women. Here’s ten more who’ve contributed to Nottingham’s incredible literary landscape...

Panya Banjoko
It’s fitting to begin with a multiple award-winning poet, whose performances have appeared on our airwaves and screens, and even graced the Olympic Games. Published widely, Panya Banjoko’s poems address issues of sexism, racism and social justice, making people consider what it’s like to be seen as “other.” Banjoko empowers and informs, and through her work with Nottingham Black Archive, she’s helped document our city’s black history, heritage and culture, playing a vital role in preserving and promoting an understanding of the contribution black people have made, and continue to make, to Nottingham. Banjoko puts diversity on the agenda, identifying ceilings and smashing through them. Look out for her latest collection of poetry, Some Things, due out later this year.


Helen Cresswell (1934 - 2005)
A former Nottingham High School for Girls student and a member of Nottingham Writers’ Club, Helen Cresswell loved creating stories for children. And in a 45-year career, the BAFTA award winner penned well over 100 of them. Combining comedy and mystery, she created the character Lizzie Dripping, which she adapted into a hit BBC TV drama. Cresswell devised several series and also wrote for television productions of The Secret World of Polly Flint, Five Children and It and The Famous Five. Her best-known book is Moondail (1987) –  also a BBC TV series – but the menacing and often overlooked The Winter of the Birds (1976) is said to have been her favourite.  


Alison Moore
Alison Moore is best known for her debut book, The Lighthouse (2012), which gained her a place on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, making her the first member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio to be included. Throughout most of her thirties, Moore worked as an assistant to the director of Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre, and wrote short stories in her spare time. She’s now an honorary lecturer in the University’s School of English and has written three acclaimed novels and a short story collection. The author is equally at home with literary fiction and horror. Her first children’s book, Sunny and the Ghosts, is out this year, along with her fourth novel, Missing.  


Sue Thomas
Both of our universities support Nottingham as a UNESCO City of Literature and the creative writing courses they offer contribute much to our city’s literary output. Sue Thomas was the first course leader of Nottingham Trent University’s MA in Creative Writing, one of the longest established postgraduate courses of its kind in the UK. During her sixteen years at the university, Thomas wrote a book for creative writing teachers and founded Trace Online Writing Centre; a unique, international creative community which used the internet to develop innovative work. Her other published titles include science fiction, and important research on how digital technology and nature impact our well-being.


Amanda Whittington
A former columnist for the Nottingham Evening Post, Amanda Whittington entered the mainstream with a string of popular and accessible plays featuring the experiences of women. Her debut play, Be My Baby, sheds light on teenage pregnancy in the sixties, and is studied at GCSE and A-Level English Literature. Nottingham features in Amateur Girl, the story of a woman who lives in a Viccy Centre flat. Whittington has also adapted Saturday Night and Sunday Morning for the stage. A winner of the Dennis Potter Screenwriting Award, Whittington is a Doctor of Philosophy by Publication, awarded for a programme of work Bad Girls and Blonde Bombshells, and she’s currently working on new commissions for theatre and radio.


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