An Ordinary Woman Doing Extraordinary Things! — A Conversation with Lydia Sanders
By Botond Farago
Edited by Lizzie Alblas
Portland Coffee bustles as Lydia Sanders and I stand in line for a beverage. We chat off-hand about the content of our previous seminar and as our orders are called out, we take a seat at a table and I set up. We’re both bundled up in winter clothes but the sun has popped out for a brief guest appearance, painting the already warm tones of the café even warmer.
I ask her how she started on the idea of her book series Hysterical Herstories and the conversation flows naturally into talking about Lydia’s childhood, her past teaching dance and working as a translator for an accountancy firm. ‘I’ve got 14 cousins and they’re all younger than me apart from two of them. They range from the age of four to twenty four and we’re all super close so I used to read them bedtime stories! I’d eventually get really bored with the same old stories and so would they so I’d make up my own stories for them. Like, when they played with their barbies or their Power Rangers I’d make up stories for those characters and they seemed to really enjoy themselves so I thought “Oh right so I’ll write those down”’.
‘Hysterical Herstories specifically came about because I’d sit in my school history lessons and we’d learn about these fantastic men throughout history like Henry VII, Martin Luther King, Shakespeare. They’ve done all these incredible things and make amazing contributions to society but there’s nobody we learn about who’s like me.’ Hysterical Herstories is Lydia’s series of children’s books focusing on telling the stories of “ordinary women doing extraordinary things”. ‘My cousins noticed this in primary school as well and we’d have these conversations, even with the little six-year-olds, who’d say something like “we only learn about the Roman emperors and not the Roman empresses” so I kind of wanted to introduce them to more representation.’
We talk a little more about the process behind choosing the subjects for the books – of which there are currently five, ranging from Marie Curie to Ada Lovelace – and Lydia reveals that she has written near thirty different books but had to pick five initial ones to start with for logistical reasons.
‘I had to pick very carefully and I wanted to choose a wide range of women across different nationalities, different time periods, different social classes and different careers they all have. I also wanted to choose people who weren’t necessarily “heroes”. When you do read about women in history it tends to be all about empowered women empowering women and it doesn’t always have to be like that. I think to see women represented in the same way men are, women we see as regular people need to be brought to the forefront.’
The discussion moves to the independence with which Lydia has approached the process of creating the Hysterical Herstories series; and specifically the way she created her own publishing house named after it in order to compromise on her vision as little as possible. I ask her where she sees her publishing house five years down the line.
‘I’d really like to start publishing women-centric stories. For example [redacted] from class, I love their poetry. It’s not necessarily something I would’ve read before. I think this MA Creative Writing course has helped open my eyes to other work. I’d love to expand [the publishing house] and take on other people’s work at the same time! Not just for the publishing side of it, I do also just really like stories and hearing what people have to say.’ After mentioning the idea of publishing content that is more adult-centric, Lydia adds, ‘I think because I’m so much better at writing for children than adults, I just don’t feel like I have the life experience to write for adults, it’s never something I’d be interested in doing myself but I’d love to take that on for other people. Especially after experiencing the rejection from publishers and the added costs of publishers who wanted to take me. I would like to open doors for other people. It’s soul destroying when you can’t control things yourself. I feel like helping people who have their own creative visions whether that’s in adult fiction or poetry or child-centric writing, I’d like to help them get there.’ We lament on the air of elitism that some of the famous publishing houses seem to exude and I applaud Lydia on the breath of fresh air that she brings to the scene.
Since she has done so much over the course of lockdown, I was curious to ask what she thinks she would’ve done if she hadn’t become a writer at all. ‘If I hadn’t been writing, I’d have liked to be in performance. So like I said before, I dance and I’m LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) trained as well so I could’ve done something with that.’ She pauses for a moment, ‘But if I still had to be a writer I’d have liked to explore what I call observance literature, so think Sally Rooney’s Normal People. I quite like writing in a style where there’s no deliberate subtext, it’s just a nice story. A safe reading. At the end of the day, a story is a story.’
Instead of dwelling any further on what-ifs, I ask about the idea of a Hysterical Herstories TV adaptation or any other moves into different mediums. Lydia laughs. ‘I do have a YouTube channel, and I post trailers for each book. I started this whole project throughout lockdown and obviously everyone was at home. I created these trailers as a way to reach people when they couldn’t see me in person. I started out doing school visits over Zoom and I could see their eyes glaze over when it was just me talking so I’d put on these trailers and that would get their attention to perk up again. They’re all animated and they do the typical trailer thing where they end on a cliff-hanger to hopefully get people interested in the stories. I would be really interested in going into audiobooks but the market doesn’t seem to be going that way for children’s books. TikTok is definitely something I’m looking into as another visual medium for learning. I’d love for it to be picked up as a TV show but I don’t think we’re quite there yet!’
We share a laugh and finish our drinks, which prompts me to ask one final question.
“Advice to aspiring young writers? One thing I always say is that writers always read. That’s my advice. Oh, and be brave about it. I wasn’t very brave before starting all this but I’ve learnt to ask for the things I need without being scared. So yeah, be brave and read as much as you can.’
Lydia Sanders, 23, is the young and innovative author of the ‘Hysterical Herstories’ book series. With the slogan “ordinary women doing extraordinary things”, the series which works to highlight the accomplishments of women throughout history that may not be taught in the regular academic curriculum. She is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham. To see more of her work, please check out her website www.hysterical-herstories.com and find her on Instagram at @hystericalherstories .
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