The event was unusual for a couple of reasons. This was our first in person reading together since early 2020. And performing in the morning is definitely a novelty! Luckily the walk from Hilaire’s place to Northcote Library was a good 45 minutes in fresh sunny conditions, so we were both warmed up by the time we arrived.
Senior Library Assistant Courtney had thoughtfully set out a table display of books by and about women writers, plus a plate of chocolate biscuits and some bottled water for us. All we had to do was add a few copies of London Undercurrents to the display.
We began with a brief overview of our book, and how we came to write it, followed by reading the first fragments and Hilaire’s opening poem First Crop, which imagines a Huguenot woman in the 17th century tending her asparagus crop in Battersea Fields. We roughly alternated north and south poems, with Hilaire reading a couple more from the south side of the river given our partisan audience.
It felt special to perform The Cook Sisters Contemplate a Final Trip to Nazi Germany together, Hilaire reading Ida’s lines and Joolz Louise’s, less than 10 minutes’ walk away from the sisters’ former home on Morella Road. Jeanne Rathbone, whose recently published book Inspiring Women of Battersea includes a chapter about Ida and Louise Cook, informed us that there are two biographies of the sisters coming out later this year.
There were other fascinating anecdotes from the audience, recalling Battersea in the sixties, and other characters from the past. We answered questions about our research, and discussed how important our local libraries and archive services have been. And at Jeanne’s request, Hilaire read her poem Battersea Pre-Raphaelite Diptych, about another inspiring local woman, the artist Marie Spartali, to round off the event.
What a life-affirming return to reading in real life, rather than online. Support your local library – we’re so lucky to have these free resources on our doorstep. It could kick-start your own research into local women or local history. Thank you to Northcote Library for the warm welcome, and to everyone who attended our event, engaged in lively discussion and bought our books.