Women in medicine

Female medical students currently outnumber their male counterparts in the UK. This is a situation that would have seemed incredible to the earliest female doctors.

In 1865, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first British woman to qualify to practice medicine. (The first woman, that is, since Dr James Barry, who though born female, lived her adult life as a man so that she could practice medicine from 1815, her secret only being discovered after her death.) Even with her qualification, Anderson was excluded from work in any hospital. She set up her own practice and launched a remarkable career in medical work, and in the furtherance of women in the profession and in wider society.

However, the battle for women to become doctors was very far from over. It is difficult for us to appreciate how strongly, and with what sometimes vicious misogyny, women’s entry into the profession was resisted well into the 20th century. A medical career was considered by the male establishment to be far too physically arduous and intellectually rigorous for any woman’s capabilities. All kinds of quasi-medical theories were propounded in support of this view – all the more bizarre when you consider that these were often expressed by highly educated men in the scientific community: they included the idea that too much study would cause a woman’s womb to atrophy.

These prejudices were enshrined in the regulations of the most important medical institutions. During the first half of the century, women were still barred from training at the major hospitals – with the sole exception of the Royal Free, where Garrett Anderson had established the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874. Although for some women, the shortage of men during the First World War around the time that they qualified provided a timely career-boost, allowing them access to institutions that were forced in desperation to admit them. Between the wars, it was still common for job advertisements in the British Medical Journal to specify that women need not apply.

In 1911, Marie Curie won her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Apparently unmoved by her achievements, Sir Henry Butlin, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, delivered a lecture in the same year in which he stated unequivocally that he believed women to be unsuited to medical research. An indication of how slow attitudes were to change is that 30 years later, in 1941, Sir Robert Hutchison, President of the Royal College of Physicians, told female medical students “medical women make excellent wives, while their qualification is always a second string to their bow.”

Against this background, the achievements of the early female doctors are all the more impressive, and we are pleased this month to be able to display fascinating biographies and memoirs of many of them (from our Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library), as well as those of contemporary women doctors writing about the stresses and joys of their chosen career.

We are also delighted to tell you about an exciting event linked to this display: on Monday 18 June, 6 to 7.30 pm here at Kensington Central Library, Dr Abby Waterman will be discussing her compelling memoir “Woman in a White Coat”. This is a wonderful read which describes with great humour and honesty her journey from an impoverished girlhood in the East End to a wide-ranging medical career.

You can book a free place to this event via Eventbrite 

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

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Book Break reading groups in Kensington and Chelsea

This is guest blog post from Liz Ison. She works for The Reader and looks after the Book Break reading groups that run in Kensington and Chelsea . Over to Liz to tell us more…

Do you love stories, poems and great literature?

Would you like to find out what shared reading is?

Did you know that there are many shared reading groups going on in your local neighbourhood running every week?

Meet The Reader, an organisation that is passionate about the power of reading together.
We at The Reader are the pioneers of Shared Reading. The volunteer Reader Leaders who run our weekly groups, bring people together to read great literature aloud.

Groups are open to all, readers and non-readers alike. Come along and listen to stories and poems read aloud. It’s an opportunity to read and talk together in a friendly and relaxing environment. Free refreshments provided!

Our shared reading groups have been running locally for many years bringing shared reading to the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. We work in libraries, community centres and other organisations spreading the joy of shared reading.

Here are what our group members have to say about shared reading:

“I’ve felt really happy since the session with you —bought myself some flowers the next day…and went for a long walk while listening to music— all in one day. Our happy thoughts trigger happy chemicals in our brain.” Aysha

“An anchor during the week”

“It always makes me feel more fulfilled than the other days”

  • 95 % look forward to the group as an important event in the week
  • 84% think the reading session makes them feel better*

Here are some groups to try in our local libraries:

Brompton Library – Tuesday, 10.30am to 12 noon
Chelsea Library – Tuesday, 2.30 to 4pm
Kensington Central Library – Tuesday, 2 to 4pm
North Kensington Library – Thursday, 3 to 5pm
North Kensington Library – Saturday, 10.30am to 12 noon

We look forward to welcoming you to a group soon. To find other shared reading groups in your area you can contact:

Erin at erincarlstrom@thereader.org.uk or call 07483 972 020

Liz at lizison@thereader.org.uk or call 07807 106 815

More information is on the The Reader website too.

And if you’d be interested in volunteering with us, get in touch!

 

* 2017 Reader evaluation data for Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea shared reading groups

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part III

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place later today (Monday 23 April), which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first and second part here

We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

A Berlin Love Song is about a travelling circus.  What’s so alluring about circuses?

I love the circus. I’ve always found it romantic although I’m a great animal lover and I’m very glad we don’t use performing animals any more. Research into the circus in Germany was one of the most enjoyable parts of my research for the book. It was light relief from the Auschwitz research and what it was like to be bombed and how it felt to be in a tank during a horrific battle. There was so much I had to read that was upsetting, so learning about how to fly the trapeze and ride horses bareback was something of a relief. I actually watched the most amazing film about the Flying Codonas called Swing High that you can see on You Tube so I have actually seen Alfredo Codona perform his triple somersault. I also saw him perform it in the film Vaudeville where the Codonas were doubles for the actors. I watched this particular sequence over and over again when I was trying to describe what it looked like and what it felt like to be up in the dome of the Wintergaten Theatre in Berlin about to swing out over the audience below. I also thoroughly enjoyed researching Fredy Knie, the owner of the Swiss Circus where my characters find employment during the war. His circus really did appear at the Wintergarten during the winter of 1942/43 when the Wintergarten was bombed. He really was in his twenties at the time and one of the most famous horse trainers in Europe. He had a reputation for kindness to animals and that’s why he got on so well with Lili and her family. I hope I’ve done his blessed memory justice in my fictitious portrayal of him.

The Flying Codonas

When I was a girl I loved the song: Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher. I used to lie in bed at night listening to it on my record player and imagining the life of a travelling show. If you look at the beginning of the chapter in A Berlin Love Song called Circus Petalo you might hear strains of this great song:

I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show

My momma used to dance for the money they’d throw

Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of doctor good

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down …

 My chapter entitled Circus Petalo begins: I was born in a wagon in the middle of a show, amid the smell of canvas and sawdust, greasepaint and cheap perfume …

What were the hardest aspects of creating this book? What were the most satisfying?

The hardest thing about creating this book was the amount of really gruelling research I had to do – research that kept me awake at nights and sometimes made me despair of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man and what seemingly ‘normal’ people are capable of doing to each other is always horrifying and sometimes I felt I couldn’t read another word about the subject. My visit to Auschwitz was harrowing, especially as I had by that time read so much about the camp that my imagination was running riot.

Then when I started writing, I had the very difficult task of how to express this horror and suffering in a story that on the one hand shone a light on this ghastly subject but was also uplifting and hopeful. Because during my research into the Holocaust I also came across so many stories of heroism, true selflessness and hope in that darkest of times, that I felt I wanted to share with my readers. Working out how to combine together the two aspects of this heartbreaking time in a narrative, without belittling the one and over-romanticizing the other, was a real challenge for me. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope it not only raises awareness about a topic I feel has often been overlooked, the Romani Genocide, but also expresses my own world view – that it is and has to be possible to find hope, wonder and love in the midst of despair, degradation and hatred.

The most satisfying and enjoyable parts of writing this book were possibly recreating the folk Romani tales. I read lots of wonderful Romani folk tales but none of them seemed to fit exactly into my story so I set about using authentic ones but amalgamating and rewriting them for my own story. I didn’t feel bad about this because the nature of folk tales is that people pass them on with their own embellishments for their own reasons. Folk tales often reflect the concerns of a particular people at a particular time and so mine, whilst firmly rooted in the Romani tradition, have my own stamp on them.  I really loved writing them. I also very much enjoyed writing the dialogue, particularly amongst the Hartmann children. I suppose as a mother of 4 young adults myself I have listened to countless family ‘disagreements’! I know how young people talk to each other and how merciless they can sometimes be in their teasing of each other – sometimes cruel. Writers usually have to use their imagination to create unknown worlds but I didn’t have to look much further than my own kitchen table for a rich source of dialogue for the Hartmann children!

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Sarah, and hope to see you at the event this evening. Do book a place – it’s free- via the link at the top.

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part II

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place next Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first part here

We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

How did you go about doing your historical research?

I’m meticulous about historical research. I try to be as historically accurate as I can. I’m very aware that sometimes a novel might be the only literature a reader will read about a subject, so I feel I have a certain obligation not to mislead. Of course, you can always say that a novelist isn’t a history teacher and if the reader wants to know about history they should read a history book – but I know lots of people who enjoy historical novels who wouldn’t read non-fiction.

I try to do as much research as I can. It helps me to create that ‘authentic voice’ that is so important to me. There are lots of excellent diaries and contemporaneous accounts written by Germans. I also read German newspapers from the time to see what was being reported and what sort of propaganda was out there. In addition to diaries and memoirs there is a mountain of black and white photographs and newsreel to watch, so finding out about clothes and how the streets of Berlin looked, for example, was not a problem. Sadly, there are also many pitiful photographs of Auschwitz. I visited Auschwitz more than once to see it for myself, but there are plenty of contemporaneous photographs too. Through this research, I was able to piece together in my own mind what Auschwitz must have looked like. When I was researching the Romanies I read as many accounts as I could find by Romanies who had been in Auschwitz and managed to escape or survive there to the end of the war. There are not many of these, but those I found I read avidly. I also bought a book when I was visiting Auschwitz – part of a series called Voices of Memory. It’s full of accounts by Romanies of what it was like to be incarcerated there.

I always go about my research in the same way. I start by simply reading. I read and read around the subject and as I do the plot begins to form in my imagination. I read serious history books about the period and memoirs written by real characters from the past. Gradually my characters start to emerge from the mist and then I create ‘character boards’ – A3 pieces of card with photographs and little bits of imagined dialogue, descriptions of how my characters might look, what they might have worn, and what their personalities might be like. I write reams of notes from books about all sorts of subjects which might or might not be relevant in the end. I have big A4 notebooks I buy from Rymans divided up with coloured dividers and I label each section. So for example, for A Berlin Love Song, I had sections entitled: Hitler Youth, the Hartmann family home, Air Raids, Music, Propaganda, Religion etc.  I had a separate A4 note book for the war years, each year 1939 – 1945 having its own section. I then researched weather for every day of every year of the war. You can obtain weather reports for years gone by. The internet is wonderful! So, every day in my story has the correct weather and for the bombings the correct phases of the moon, and every bomb mentioned was dropped at the right time in the correct weather conditions. When writing about the bombing of Berlin, I listened to a really harrowing recording I found on YouTube of an Allied bombing raid, actually recorded in the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber as it flew from England to drop its bombs over Berlin. I found it terrifying, chilling, nauseating … words can’t describe how I felt as I listened to it. War is so terrible. It affected me for days.

Some of the accounts you must have read in order to illustrate what the characters in the book went through in the prison camps must have been very difficult to read.  How did you cope with this?

It was very difficult. Sometimes I felt so sickened by what I read that I felt I couldn’t carry on with the research, especially when I came to the detailed research about Auschwitz. I suppose the way I coped with it was always to try to find the good people amidst the despair and horror of it all – the Jewish prisoner doctors who worked tirelessly to help their fellow prisoners and the few SS who tried to help people get on the transports out of the camp. Alongside the many accounts of inhumanity and degradation that I read, there were many stories of bravery and selflessness to counterbalance the despair that I sometimes felt. I tried to concentrate on the uplifting and nourishing stories of people who risked their lives to protect others, rather than on the stories of inhumanity. Many, many people collaborated with the Nazis, but there were also many in Germany who actively assisted victims by purchasing food for households to whom shops were closed, providing false identity papers for those at risk of arrest, and sheltering those who evaded capture. I hope that A Berlin Love Song ends with a message of hope.

Nazi Propaganda posters encouraging young people to join the Hitler Youth

Did you have the opportunity to speak with members of Hitler Youth and Romani survivors?

My father had a close friend, Pastor Knott, a German Lutheran pastor who he met after the war. My father got to know him when they were working together in Coventry on a post-war reconciliation project. Pastor Knott had been forced to join the Hitler Youth as a boy. His family were anti-Nazi but it was the law in Germany at that time that you had to join up. Your parents could be sent to concentration camps if you didn’t and children who didn’t join could be sent to orphanages. Pastor Knott spoke a lot about this when I was younger and I remember him well. When I was writing A Berlin Love Song I wished he’d still been alive for me to ask questions, but I did find a wonderful TV programme online about the HY and there were lots of old men talking about life in the HY, so I listened carefully to their interviews and took notes, and some of my dialogue and descriptions were inspired by these interviews.

I also read all the first-hand accounts of the war by Romanies that I could find, but I couldn’t find any living ones to speak to. The problem is that people who were teenagers in the war are now very old or will have already died. Also, I’d have needed to find them in Germany and I couldn’t manage that. However, I did find about 4 hours of recorded interviews with Dina Gottliebova, the Czech Jewish artist who worked in the Zigeunerlager – the Gypsy Family camp in Auschwitz. She was forced to paint portraits of the Roma for Dr Mengele for his book on genetic research. She was an old lady in the recordings but she spoke so vividly about her memories of the Roma and the Romanies she had known and painted that they came alive in my imagination. She was the most amazing, lovely, generous hearted woman, and the relationship she had with Lili in the novel was inspired by these interviews that I watched.

I also knew two Auschwitz survivors very well indeed. The mother of my best friend at university was a Polish Catholic intellectual who’d been in the Resistance and had come to England after the war. She was terribly badly affected by her experiences in Auschwitz. She suffered from serious depression for the rest of her life.  Our next-door neighbours when I was a child growing up had also experienced life in a concentration camp. They were German Jewish refugees and Mr Adler had been in Auschwitz too. They were great friends of my parents. He was a very skilled dentist. It had a profound effect on me as a child – seeing a proud professional man with his own business cry when he talked about his experiences during the war.

We’ll be back next Monday with part III, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part I

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place on Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – the first part is today and the second and third will follow on the next two Mondays. We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

The fate of the Romani people in WW2 has been called the ‘forgotten holocaust’. Why do you think it’s important that we don’t forget what happened to them?

Many people have little or no knowledge that the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime on racial grounds and that up to half a million Roma died during the Second World War.  Despite the welcome opening of the beautiful memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in 2013, today the Romani community remains one of the most disliked and least tolerated minorities in Europe. And alarmingly, anti-Romani hostility is on the increase, aggravated by growing far-right extremism. The Roma are still scapegoats, frequently victims of prejudice and racially motivated attacks, hate speech and hate crime, and facing discrimination in nearly every country where they live. I believe that now more than ever we must stand up against prejudice and hatred when we see them in our own communities. The Holocaust all happened a long time ago, and yet millions of men, women and children have been murdered since in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In today’s world, racial abuse and hate crime is still very much in the news so it is more important than ever, as the people who witnessed the Holocaust during WW2 are growing older and dying, to keep the memory alive of what can happen when prejudice and hatred are left unchallenged.

Roma in a WW2 concentration camp

A Berlin Love Song also reflects on what happened to normal German families at the time and the difficulties they faced. Was it important to include this perspective?

Since A Berlin Love Song is set entirely in Germany and about Germans, I felt it was essential to make sure that the story was told exclusively from the German point of view. I was very careful not to read anything about the home front in England to make sure that my characters had an authentic German feel. There is so much written about the home front in England that it would have been very easy for me to rely on those sorts of books, but I was very careful not to be tempted. It wasn’t too difficult as there are lots of diaries and memoirs written by Germans who lived through the war years and many of them are published in translation. I have schoolgirl German but I was very relieved I could read most of them in English. I did have to tangle with a couple of books in German that I couldn’t find in translation and it was very time consuming. I was also very careful to try to write without the benefit of hindsight. The challenge of writing historical fiction is that the characters cannot know what happens next even though the writer does, and you need to bear this in mind when you are writing, so that events from the war years feel contemporary and authentic, and that conversations and people’s reactions to events feel right for the time.

We’ll be back next Monday with part II, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.

Q&A with author Katherine Arden

Katherine Arden is the author of the Winternight trilogy, three books based on fairy tales set in snowy, medieval Russia. She will be at Brompton Library on Thursday 5 April and she will read from her new book, The Girl in The Tower and answer questions about her stories.

It’s a free event which is suitable for children aged 14 and over, book via Eventbrite

As we’re so excited about this – Katherine has answered some questions already! Over to her…

What books would you like to read this year?

Working on Barkskins by Annie Proulx next up is News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I don’t really plan my reading year.

What is your favourite fairy tale?

Sivka-Burka, King Frost, Vasilisa the Beautiful, the Snow Queen

If you were a character in one of your books, what type of character would you be?

A bard, possibly with magic powers. This is a future book that I haven’t written, but hey I have time.

How often do you write?

The goal is five days a week, 2K words a day when I’m drafting.

You have lived in many places, what is it about Russia that so inspired you?

Everything! The people, the weather, the landscape, the history, the literature.

What is your favourite book?

It’s a series, but The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.

If you could give your younger self advice about writing a book, what would it be?

Don’t give up. You can do it.

You have said that writing is lonely, how do you deal with that and keep writing?

Take time for friends, keep people around.

What do you most love about being a writer?

The ability to travel when I want and set my own schedule.

What was the last thing you watched on Netflix?

Don’t have a Netflix subscription. It’s a giant time sink.

What do you most like to do when you are not writing?

I like to hike, ski, swim, and read!

If you could live in any book world, which would it be?

Redwall Abbey. I’d be a badger or a hare and just eat all day.

Thanks again to Katherine for taking the time to speak to us, and don’t forget to book a place to meet her on Thursday 5 April.

Fiona at Brompton Library

Post-war British actors

This month the theme of our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library is ‘Post-War British Actors’.  From the iconic glamour of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton to the compelling stories of more recent stars like Emma Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch, we have a range of fascinating biographies which give an insight into the worlds of film, theatre and TV as they have evolved over the last seven decades.

It’s a huge field, but we are putting particular emphasis on actors who have written their own memoirs – several, like Dirk Bogarde, were gifted writers whose reminiscences have become classics, and Rupert Everett’s beautifully written memoirs contain some of the funniest scenes I’ve ever read! As it is Oscar season, we’ll also be including as many UK actors as possible who have been honoured with one of the world’s most famous trophies.

If reminiscences of stage and screen interest you, you are sure to enjoy hearing actor Robert Gillespie read from his new memoir ‘Are You Going to Do That Little Jump?’ A hilarious, poignant, and at times provocative assessment of the profession that has been his life’s work. Join him on Tuesday 20 March 2018, 6.30 to 7.45pm at Kensington Central Library. Book your free place via Eventbrite

The Biography Store team at Kensington Central Library

Welcome to the RBKC Libraries blog…

Kensington Central Reference Library
Kensington Central Reference Library

Welcome to our new blog, where we hope to entertain and inform you about everything to do with Kensington and Chelsea’s libraries! Sign up for posts about fun things that that we do, events that we’ve organised, what our bookclubs think about their current read, and more. We’ll also be posting regularly about our special collections, so you can find out more about the treasures we have on our shelves…

Making monsters & more with Jessica Spanyol

Creativity was in abundance at an event in Kensington Central Children’s Library  last Friday, when author and illustrator Jessica Spanyol visited to inspire some eager young artists. Jessica began by reading some of her picture books and talking about how characters take shape in her imagination. She introduced us to Clive, the hero of her new series of colourful books, and also read us the story of Carlos the giraffe’s exciting first ever visit to the library – a story she said she first wrote and illustrated when she was six, proving it’s never too early to start!

carlo

Next, sheets of paper with abstract shapes printed on them in different colours provided an amazingly fruitful starting point for the budding illustrators. Have you ever played the game where someone does a random scribble or doodle, and someone else has to make it into a recognisable thing? Or looked up at the clouds and seen the shapes of animals? This worked in the same way, and it didn’t take long before seemingly random shapes had become a range of amazing creatures. These newly-invented characters were embellished with collage made from lots of coloured paper, stick-on googly eyes and enthusiastic colouring-in. It was amazing how different people could transform the same shape in completely different ways.

spanyol2
spanyol1
Jessica gave some great advice about creating characters for stories, which should come in useful for all aspiring authors: try starting with a picture, and building the words around it, instead of the other way around – and think of a name for your character (which might be based on someone you know in real life – Jessica confided that “Moshi cat” in the Clive books is named after her own cat, Moshi)!

spanyol3

All in all this was a really enjoyable event and I was so impressed with the beautiful creatures – and some quite scary monsters! – the children produced.

We’ve got some more crafty events coming up soon with Eithne Farry: take a look at the libraries website for dates and times.

Claudia Jessop

Ollie’s Big Surprise at Notting Hill Gate Library

Laila El-Boukilli, Senior Customer Services Assistant at Notting Hill Gate Library, writes: 

It’s been a storytelling season here at Notting Hill Gate Library- we’ve had Michelle Sami, who enlightened us with her animated, creative and charismatic stories, aimed at our younger readers; Sarah Deco, who  spooked us out with her winter storytelling, along with friends; and recently Marcel Feigel, who read his book, Ollie’s Big Surprise. Marcel delighted us with a fantastic reading and all the children met Leo the mouse and found out about his love for cheese!

 

Ollies Big Surprise
Ollie’s Big Surprise by Marcel Feigel

His enthusiasm filled the room and he encouraged everyone to participate in a competitive game of matching the cheese with the country (sounds delicious!)

MarcelFeigel

Marcel proved to be a popular man: children and parents were lining up to get a signed copy of Ollie’s Big Surprise, with their complimentary Hummingbird Bakery cupcake.

We are very grateful for Marcel taking the time to do this event and appreciate all the effort and wish him the best of luck for the future. We had a brilliant time with Ollie’s Big Surprise and we hope to see him again at Notting Hill Gate Library soon!

We would also like to thank The Hummingbird Bakery for all the cupcakes they have kindly donated to our library and for all the support they have given us for our events this year.

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