Bee Rowlatt is a writer and journalist whose award-winning book In Search of Mary was a “biography of the year” (Independent).
She co-wrote the best-selling Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad, and is one of the writers in Virago’s Fifty Shades of Feminism.
Bee chairs at festivals ranging from Jaipur to Hay, most recently in conversation with Mishal Husain, Germaine Greer, Reni Eddo Lodge and Mary Beard. She started out in BBC World Service and writes for national and international media.
Bee is chair of Mary on the Green, the campaign to memorialise Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Wollstonecraft Society, a new human rights education charity.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist. I’ve got four kids, I’m working on a third book, and I run a campaign to memorialise the human rights pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft. I feel lucky to live in London because it’s one of the world’s greatest cities, but naturally I still boast about my Yorkshire roots. I’ve lived in Spain, Colombia and India, I used to be a showgirl, and I’m an optimist. I’m also the mum at the school drop-off with her nighty hanging out from under her coat.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I once made a five year plan. It was with an old friend, we were both properly down in the dumps and we’d had a few beers. We each scrawled down ten things we hoped to have done five years later, then left our plans in a drawer and forgot about them. But when we opened them all those years later, they had come true! So it sounds a bit daft but I recommend it. Since then I’ve developed a love of writing lists. Planning is everything.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes. I struggled financially when I first moved to London. I’d landed a three-month work experience at BBC World Service and worked in a pub on the Caledonian Road at night. Like everyone I’ve had my share of terrible bosses, and I know what it’s like to feel stuck in the wrong job, you feel you’re wasting time. And then there’s the shock of having kids…
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
My biggest achievement is always the next one down the line.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
I still sometimes feel like an outsider, and that makes me try harder.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring is vital, and for me it’s a constant process. You only have to look at the great results delivered by WeAreTheCity to see that it works! Personally, I’m lucky to have some extraordinary women in my network. It’s made a difference in my work, I actively learn from them and am grateful for that input. We all remember people in our lives who’ve encouraged us, it’s a powerful force. Writing books is a weird and lonely process but there’s a sisterhood of writers that I count on. And my campaign and voluntary work has brought me into contact with some true forces of nature. If you want to meet amazing people – volunteer!
I’ve also been a mentor myself, doing careers mentoring with the Refugee Council. Until last year I was living in India where I mentored at an organisation for working mums. What was interesting there was finding out that certain themes are universal, and the stresses of managing small kids and a career is one of them.
The last word on this topic must go to the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who said “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
I’m glad you asked, that’s easy! FREE CHILDCARE.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
My younger self would roll her eyes at advice. But looking back it would have been nice to know back then that all jobs are a learning experience, no matter how hard they might seem. Nothing goes to waste if you’re learning from it. Even the bad stuff can teach you something. I’ve worked in pubs, shops, restaurants and a coleslaw factory, and while it wasn’t as glamorous as being a showgirl or journalist all of them were deeply formative jobs for me. Even Mary Wollstonecraft had a nightmare boss back in 1787, and she turned that experience into her first work of fiction. Silver linings..
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
I need to finish my next book; complete the work of the memorial campaign Mary on the Green (aiming to launch next year) and begin the human rights education work of the newly-founded Wollstonecraft Society. Her best quote? “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”