The Sotonettes and Jane Austen

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park being published, we chose Jane Austen to read and discuss this month at the Sotonettes Book Club. The main book was Northanger Abbey, but any book was up for discussion, and we did talk about them all – Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and of course, the very famous Pride and Prejudice.

Northanger Abbey, Austen’s pastiche of the Gothic novel, which was very popular at the time, was generally decided to be the least exciting of her books that we had read, as the plot is a lot slower and the mocking, witty tone is more overt. Although it was enjoyed by most of us, we thought that Pride and Prejudice was more plot-driven and interesting to read, and a lot more accessible to the modern reader.

Further reading suggestions were Longbourne, by Jo Baker, a take on the Pride and Prejudice story from the perspective of the household staff. Also a reimagining of Northanger Abbey, by crime writer Val McDermid, released this year to celebrate the anniversary. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, a mixture of a sequel and crime story, based again on Pride and Prejudice, was recommended. Also there was an excellent BBC adaptation of this, shown at Christmas. Also mentioned was The Forgotten Sister by Jennifer Paynter, which is about Mary in Pride and Prejudice, telling her story as the neglected sister.

The book that Catherine and Isabella in Northanger Abbey adore so much, The Castle of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, could also be interesting as further reading, and give an insight into the literary tastes of the characters and society at the time. The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis is another Gothic novel mentioned by the characters, and was published in 1796.

A spin-off of Austen books, The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler, was also recommended, and the TV show Lost in Austen, for a more modern take on the novels. Of course there are numerous adaptations of all of Austen’s novels, and there was a little debate between us about which version of Pride and Prejudice was superior! Also there was the biopic of Jane Austen, Becoming Jane, based on the book by Jon Hunter Spence,which was released in 2007.

We also discussed Chawton House in Hampshire, which has letters, costumes and other items from the time when Jane lived there, and how events like balls happen from time to time where you can dress up in Regency costume – some of us were very keen on this idea!

I hope all these further reading suggestions are inspiring! Do let us know if you read any (and what you think)!

As always, we’ve scored Northanger Abbey to help us compare it against our other books…

Plot – 5
Portrayal of women – 9
Writing style – 7
Enjoyment – 7.5
Discussion – 9
Sotonettes Rating – 7.5/10


Diabetes Week – 8th to 14th June 2014

Diabetes Week is Diabetes UK’s annual awareness and fundraising week. Laura Davis, one of the Sotonettes, writes about her experiences. She also runs a website for women with diabetes at

As a type 1 diabetic, I wanted to share this with you and help make some noise about diabetes.

I have been diabetic for twenty one years. It is a condition that changes lives, and not just for the individual, but for their families too. It is a condition that you can never forget about. It is with you every minute of every day, all year round. 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects the endocrine system in the body. It destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Insulin is very important to the body as it acts as a key to unlock the energy that is carried by glucose, which we absorb when we eat food. We need this energy to survive. For type 1 diabetics the body does not produce any insulin so insulin injections are needed every day. Type 2 diabetics may produce a small amount of insulin but will need tablets and diet to control their condition. 

I was diagnosed as a child and soon found myself having to give four injections every day to control my blood sugar levels. I had to learn about carbohydrate counting and how to treat myself when I was having a hypo (when you have too much insulin in the body and not enough sugar) and when I was having a hyper (too much sugar and not enough insulin). It basically became a balancing act every day. As a child this was quite a responsibility and even now as an adult it can be frustrating and difficult at times to manage my condition. I am very lucky that I now use an insulin pump which I have attached to me at all times and it delivers a small amount of insulin directly into me every hour. This means that I have more flexibility over what I do and when and what I eat, and gives better overall control.

The theme of this year’s Diabetes Week is ‘I Can’ – sharing stories and experiences of the challenges, tough times and break through moments of life with diabetes. A week to share and celebrate what can be achieved with diabetes.

Back in 2010 I felt inspired to challenge myself and my diabetes and basically prove to myself that having diabetes didn’t have to stop me doing anything! So I signed up to trek to Everest Base Camp in the Himalayas. I raised £5000 for Diabetes UK. The trek itself was a once in a life time experience. The beauty and magnificence of the mountains and peaks was awe inspiring. I never tired of opening up my tent each morning to be greeted by huge rock faces and snow covered peaks. The trek was hard, with warm conditions at the start and snow at the end. I was carrying triple the amount of medication and supplies I needed to care for my diabetes, plus a spare pump, loads of jelly babies to treat hypos, and special bags to keep my insulin at a constant temperature. I even had to sleep with my insulin at the bottom of my sleeping bag at night as it got so cold!  As well as being aware of altitude sickness, I also had to be aware of the effect of altitude on my diabetes (we were trekking to 17,000 ft.). It caused blood sugar levels to rise so I had to constantly check my levels. I also had to be aware of hypos, with all the walking I was doing. I reached Base Camp full of relief, pride and a sense of real achievement. It was a moment I shall never forget.

Diabetes WeekDW_2014_Logo_A is all about raising awareness and supporting those who are affected by the condition. It is about learning about what it is, how to spot the signs, how it affects people and how we can support each other, whether we have it or live with someone who does. 

Here are some facts from Diabetes UK:

  • Every 3 minutes someone in the UK learns that they have diabetes
  • 3.2 million people live with the condition, and a further 650,000 have diabetes but are either unaware or undiagnosed
  • 7 million people are at risk of developing the condition
  • The NHS spent over £10 billion on diabetes last year

Diabetes is becoming more common and affecting more people. Please take a look at Diabetes UK to learn more and help someone you know who has this condition. Spread the word too about Diabetes Week. It is a great opportunity to raise awareness and for those affected by the condition to share their stories, offer and receive support and stand strong.

WI Campaigning – Interesting Listening

For anyone interested in the WI’s campaigns, there have been a few interesting and topical public discussions over the last few days.

Maternity Services:
In relation to increasing the number of midwives and improving maternity care I’ve noticed lots of discussions on social networks about personal experiences of labour at home, in birthing units and in the labour ward. Recent research on the birthplace has sparked a lot of interesting discussion of experiences and opinions on giving birth. Radio 4’s You and Yours did a feature on Where should you have your baby?, BBC News have written about the undue pressure to give birth naturally  and there’s also the WI’s More Midwives Campaign. All interesting food for thought.

Everyone’s experience is different, as is everyone’s opinion, and part of campaigning with the WI is about taking experience and opinion and trying to make a difference.

Although not an official WI campaign, the legalisation of prostitution is always a topic to inspire discussion. This was a Hampshire WI Resolution. A recent episode of the Public Philosopher in the Netherlands discusses with an audience morality and the state focusing on the idea of a liberal society, prostitution, cannabis and euthanasia. An interesting listen if anyone is curious.

If you are interested in getting more involved in campaigning or proposing a resolution on something you’re passionate about let us know. It doesn’t have to be detailed, just an idea. Let us know we might be able to help, and one day your cause might be the subject of journalistic interest too!

Where do resolutions come from?

We’re writing a series of blogs on the WI tradition of campaigning and the issues that are relevant to the women of today.  If you missed our earlier post, find it here to get to know the history of WI campaigns.

We wanted to find out how resolutions came to be and how they evolve before they reach every WI in the country to be voted on.

Get involved!

We contacted Rachel Barber, Head of Public Affairs NFWI, who has provided us with information and encouragement to get involved. The process is quite straightforward – there is a simple form to complete (click here to see last year’s form here as an example), which requires a few pieces of information:

  • what the problem is,
  • what the campaign hopes to achieve, and
  • information on any other bodies that may be working on this campaign.

Once you (or a group of you) have completed the paperwork, the local WI, in our case the Sotonettes, will need to vote. If a majority of our members support the resolution, it will be submitted to our Federation (Hampshire) for them to consider and submit it to the NFWI.

Long lists and short lists

The successful resolution is then long-listed, at which point the NFWI will research the issues and develop briefing papers to assist the short-listing process. We don’t need to be involved in this part; however, if you have strong and evidenced arguments supporting your campaign proposal we see no harm in including this with any submissions.

In previous years there have been between 20 and 50 resolutions proposed. Below are a few examples… you can see the proposed resolutions cover a very wide range of issues.

Weekend Hospital Cover
Chinese Lanterns
Dignity in dying
Motorised Scooters
Online Bullying
Ovarian Cancer – a silent killer
Stop Cold Calling
Shared Spaces in Cities, Towns and Villages
Compulsory wearing of cycle helmets on roads
Stop Casual Sexism
National Vaccination Programme for Meningitis B
Dangers of hidden sugars
A new WI anthem to mark a new century
Impartial Career Guidance for young people

The Committee found these lists provided a great deal of food for thought; if you would like more information please contact us at

Remember, just because some of these issues above have not been short-listed does not mean they are not suitable campaigns, it may be that a slightly different argument can be presented.

A high profile and relatively recent and ongoing campaign has been Jean Johnson’s campaign for legalising prostitution. Although it has not become a national WI campaign, it started life as a resolution proposal. It appeared in Channel 4’s programme A WI Lady’s Guide to Brothels where “Middle England meets the sex trade head-on when the Hampshire WI emerges as an unlikely champion of the reform of prostitution laws”. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to be available to watch online any more but if it’s repeated, we’ll let you know!

The issue continues to be debated and discussed with ongoing discussions taking place on radio shows such as Woman’s Hour. There are a number of Woman’s Hour shows discussing different aspects of the sex trade, including why men pay for sex. They were all quite interesting to listen to but if you’d like to listen to the main episode that was broadcast last month, you can find it on the BBC website.

If there is something you strongly believe would benefit from support of the WI, or simply some national attention, this is the place to start. Add your suggestions below or get in touch with the Sotonettes by email, on Facebook or Twitter so we can work together and broaden our campaigning horizons.

Afternoon tea anyone?

Lady Carnarvon

Lady Carnarvon at Highclere Castle

Hampshire WI cordially invites you to Afternoon Tea (with sparkling wine!) on Tuesday the 3rd of June.  In addition to scones, sandwiches and sweet pastries, Lady Carnarvon – resident of Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey) – will be speaking. Judging by her blog, I’m sure there will be plenty of funny anecdotes to be shared!

The Tea will be held at the Botleigh Grange Hotel near Hedge End and tickets are £30 per person. You are also invited to dress up and think Garden Party or Downton Abbey… maybe it’s time to get our hats out! If you’d like to attend, get in touch with us and we’ll send you the contact details to get a ticket.

Women in business!

The world has just finished celebrating International Women’s Day – did you do anything special to mark the date? While we’re all thinking about women and their impact on society, here’s a very inspiring blog post from Hannah Farmer, last year’s President, about her newest venture in business…

Last year I made the decision to leave a job that I’d started to hate and start my own business. While at the time it was a terrifying decision and my family still thinks I’m a bit mad, it was definitely the right decision, and I’m finally making money doing something I love. In my case, that’s messing around on the internet!

One of the things I immediately noticed when I started going out and using things like professional and networking organisations to build my customer base was how male dominated they were. It’s common to be one of only two or three women in the room and while the people I’ve met – both male and female – have been incredibly helpful and supportive, a lack of diversity in any community is a bad thing. Having talked to other women entrepreneurs in Southampton it turns out that this experience is pretty typical.

There are a range of women-only networking groups, where I’ve found the members to be hugely supportive and helpful. In my experience, they’ve been a little more socially focused and I didn’t want to restrict my customer base to only women. A group of us got together and decided there had to be a better way.

After talking to local business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Solent Businesss Growth Network, we found that there was a lot of willingness to help women start and grown businesses, but these mostly male groups didn’t feel that they were the best ones to take the lead on the issue. From this, two of us started a project we call The Next Word. Although it’s very early days, we’ve had an amazingly positive response, especially from Southampton City Council, who immediately told us they wanted to support us.

Over the next few years, as part of the City Deal and other national and European funding streams, a lot of money is coming into the Southampton area focused on providing training, starting businesses and increasing employment. However, without access to the mainstream community, many women who run their own business are totally unaware of the kind of help, both financial and practical, which they’re entitled to. In fact, there’s a European funded project to build a network of French and British women entrepreneurs, B-NEW, being piloted in Hampshire right now. And yet they’ve struggled to find women to participate!

As a group, The Next Word wants to provide training, support, mentoring and networking to help women start and grow businesses. Many women we spoke to told us that having the confidence to approach large and mostly male organisations was a hurdle that they had to actively work to overcome. They also told us that much of the business training that was available was focused on skills that were perceived as traditionally male, and geared towards persuading women that they had to imitate these gendered behaviours in order to be successful in business. This was particularly the case in sales training, where we found women being told to “try and be one of the boys”.

Our first steps will be small: we’re running a one-day sales and marketing workshop (details on the flyer below), focusing on building the confidence to present yourself and your products to everyone. From there, we’ll be meeting with the council to discuss other projects and how we can make sure that any women who wants to start a business is able to.

If anyone would like more information on The Next Word, they are on Facebook, Twitter @tnw_hants and they too have a blog. If you’d like to attend the workshop later this month, tickets are available online.