Today I’m delighted to feature Emily Midorikawa, author of Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, published by Counterpoint Press on 20th May.
She is also the coauthor of A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontё, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, written with Emma Claire Sweeney, and published in 2017.
Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has been published in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, the Paris Review, The Times (of London) and the Washington Post. She is a graduate of the University of East Anglia’s creative writing MA and now teaches on the writing programme at New York University London.
Over to Emily:
Which piece of music/song would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
‘Into the Groove’, Madonna. I was around five-years-old when it came out, and it’s the first pop song I can remember liking. It’s stood the test of time for me because when you hear it, you’re straight back to the 1980s and I’m always partial to a song that celebrates the incomparable joy of being on the dance floor.
‘Swan Lake, Act 2, No. 14. Scene (Moderato), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This one’s also associated with dancing and another early childhood memory. My parents had gone out for the evening and I was being looked after by my elderly babysitter Mrs Tomlinson, a lovely woman who once gave me a tiny bunch of sweet peas on my sister’s birthday, presumably, so that I wouldn’t feel left out. She told me the story of the ballet Swan Lake and we drew a picture of the ‘good swan’ and the ‘bad swan’. The next day I began to pester my parents to let me start ballet lessons in the (completely unrealistic) hope that I might be a ballerina one day.
‘Never Forget (When You Touch Me)’, Hardrive: 2000 featuring Lynae. I was 19 and a student, and making the most of my new life in London, when this came out. Nothing takes me back to the highs and lows of that time of my life as this does.
‘Tokyo Kid’, Misora Hibari. I lost both of my parents when I was relatively young – my father when I was in my mid-twenties, my mother when I was in my early-thirties. We played this at Mum’s funeral, since she had been a lifelong admirer of this Japanese childstar whose fame endured into adulthood. I can’t listen to it now without welling up.
‘I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle’, Bessie Smith. I’m a fan of early blues music, and I love the typical defiance of Smith’s voice in this 1925 song, which still feels full of vitality and life almost a century after Smith recorded it. I recently read Jackie Kay’s book, Bessie Smith, which combines memoir and biography to paint a vivid picture of Smith’s extraordinary life.
What (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.
My wrist alarm clock, which wakes me up with a gentle buzzing rather than the harshness of a ringing bell. It also means I can creep out of bed in the early hours without waking my husband.
Tea, especially made in a teapot
Books (of course)
My trusty notebook, for jotting down ideas
My library cards
Can you offer a piece of advice for your younger self?
Don’t be so destination-focused. Enjoy the journey there too.
Failure is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an important part of daring to try.
Be open to new opportunities. You may find fulfilment in unexpected things.
Keep dancing. You’re happier when you do.
Treasure your close friendships.
Tell us something that most people don’t know about you
I’m still a keen ballet dancer.
Purple is my favourite colour.
I have unusually big veins. It’s something on which medical staff – and no one else! – like to compliment me.
When I was eleven, I fell through a glass door. I have a faded, star-like scar behind one of my knees to prove it.
I love sour things. I can happily eat a slice of lemon.
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
See the Northern Lights
Finish the next book I’m planning to write.
Visit Japan, my late mother’s home country, with the grandchildren she never had the chance to meet.
Return to ballet lessons. I’ve been taking a break, partly because of Covid-related restrictions, partly because I have a toddler now and a baby due next month.
Bit of a longshot, this: experience space travel.
Thanks so much for joining me today Emily and thank you for choosing the piece from Swan Lake. One of my favourite pieces of music. When younger I also wanted to be a ballerina, I remember going to the theatre with school to see The Royal Festival Ballet perform and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. As dancing lessons were never an option I was destined to remain in the stalls! I appreciate you sharing your Mum’s favourite with us, music has the ability to instantly stir up emotions and take us back to the past – and it can be hard at times. Tea and books, you are in good company here. Oh to have big veins, I paid the price for having veins that go into hiding when I was having hospital treatment – appreciate them! I hope you get to Japan, though it will no doubt be bittersweet. Keep dancing and all good wishes for your new arrival next month.
Out of the Shadows : Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice
Published 20th May, available now to pre-order
Out of the Shadows tells the stories of six enterprising women whose supposedly clairvoyant gifts granted them fame, fortune and astonishing cultural and political influence, as they crossed rigid boundaries of gender and class as easily as they passed between the realms of the living and the dead. The Fox sisters inspired some of the era’s best-known political activists and set off a transatlantic séance craze. While in the throes of a trance, London-born Emma Hardinge Britten delivered powerful speeches to crowds of thousands. Victoria Woodhull claimed guidance from the spirit world as she took on the millionaires of Wall Street before becoming America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon narrowly escaped the asylum before becoming a celebrity campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws. Drawing on diaries, letters, rarely seen memoirs and texts, Emily Midorikawa illuminates a radical history of female influence that has been confined to the dark until now.
A Secret Sisterhood : The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf Kindle Edition (co-authored with Emma Claire Sweeney)
A Secret Sisterhood uncovers the hidden literary friendships of the world’s most respected female authors.
Drawing on letters and diaries, some of which have never been published before, this book will reveal Jane Austen’s bond with a family servant, the amateur playwright Anne Sharp; how Charlotte Brontë was inspired by the daring feminist Mary Taylor; the transatlantic relationship between George Eliot and the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe; and the underlying erotic charge that lit the friendship of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield – a pair too often dismissed as bitter foes.
In their first book together, Midorikawa and Sweeney resurrect these literary collaborations, which were sometimes illicit, scandalous and volatile; sometimes supportive, radical or inspiring; but always, until now, tantalisingly consigned to the shadows.