BOOKS

Can Any Mother Help Me?

Fantastically absorbing, frequently funny and always affecting.” – Observer

A unique record of female friendship during the last century.” – Guardian

“Equally entertaining and moving.” – The Times

“Top Ten Books Ever Written on Motherhood” – The Guardian

In 1935, a letter appeared in Nursery World magazine, beginning ‘Can Any Mother Help Me?’ The young mother who wrote the letter bravely shared her frustration and loneliness, and her feelings about motherhood struck a chord with women all over Britain. Some of the women who replied to the letter began corresponding, and out of this a secret magazine was born – the Cooperative Correspondence Club.

With startling honesty, the women wrote about every aspect of their lives – the pain and elation of childbirth, the challenges of marriage, broken hearts and fading dreams. None of them could have anticipated the friendships that would grow; nor that the magazine would last their lifetimes. This is their story.

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PHOTOS

A_Priori
A Priori holding a copy of the CCC in Scotland in 1941 with her daughters Sally, Vicky and Jane.

Reunion-1969
The CCC reunion in 1969 at Elektra’s house in London. 

Jenna&Accidia
Jenna in Dorset working with Accidia on her biography.

BookLaunch
Book launch of Can Any Mother Help Me? with Elektra front and centre surrounded by children and grandchildren of the CCC.  

REVIEWS

“All female human life is here … To be honest I wept as I read it. Time in the book became non-linear as I fast-forwarded to the biographies at the back, or a postscript at a chapter end (Bailey has a gift for the coda), even while I was with each woman in the vivid present of her long-gone past, with her future unsure.”

“Grand girls, ordinary goddesses: I wish I’d known them, but reading Bailey’s compilation, I felt I did.”

Veronica Horwell – The Guardian

 

“This CCC compilation, edited and annotated with intelligence and sensitivity by Jenna Bailey, offers a unique record of female friendship during the last century. They write in intimate detail, often as events unfold; many with eloquence and all with immediacy. Engrossing.”

Judith Rice – The Guardian

 

“This is a marvellous book about women’s lives in the 20th century … What’s most illuminating is how open-minded and modern these women of the 1940s and 1950s seem. By the end, they feel like friends … Jenna Bailey has done them – and us – a great service in gathering and editing this gem of social history.”

Isabel Berwick – The Financial Times

 

“It is the wonderful intimacy and spontaneity of the writing … that make Bailey’s selection so compelling. Here are hearts and lives opened, an important social history, the authentic voices of intelligent women speaking to us from a fascinating archive.”

Val Hennessy – The Daily Mail

 

“Jenna Bailey has skillfully compiled and edited some of what survives of the magazines … what remains is compelling: a behind the scenes account of women’s history through one of its most formative periods.”

Rosemary Hill – London Review of Books



“ … what Jenna Bailey has achieved with her sensitive arrangement of material and unassuming commentary – gives us a remarkable opportunity to indulge in that most human of pleasures, eavesdropping …”

Alex Clark – The Observer

 

“… an engaging and informative book, often touching, occasionally hilarious, sometimes profoundly moving …”

Sue Gaisford – The Independent

 

“At the end of the book we mourn these remarkable, ordinary women as if they had been our own.”

Bel Mooney – The Times

 

“Beautifully written and emotionally engaging … Bailey’s selection and organisation of the material is very good indeed.”

Sarah Wise – The Daily Telegraph

 

“It’s extremely moving and beautifully written, like an Elizabeth Taylor novel condensed into 30 pages.”

“Bailey has compiled this material with great skill and respect.”

John O’Connell – Time Out Magazine

 

“As non-fiction, woman-centred historical books go, this one is juicy. It’s also groundbreaking.”

“… the quality of the editing, which allows for a series of letters completing a narrative by each writer, brings out the raw beauty of the writing.”

Pat Donnelly – The Montreal Gazette

 

“This engaging book comprises their letters and comments, contextualised with biographical details … their correspondence gives a rare insight into the quotidian activities and preoccupations during this time of extraordinary change. The club membership was diverse, and the women’s letters (honest, articulate, humorous and moving) reflect their distinct backgrounds, families and politics, and their shared resilience and humour.”

JW – The Times

 

“Jenna Bailey has made a tremendous find in the Cooperative Correspondence Club … This is a valuable record of the necessity of friendship and the difficulty, elation and boredom of motherhood.”

CM – The Daily Telegraph

STAGE PLAY

Play1
Photo: Robert Day

 

Based on Jenna Bailey’s bestselling book of the same title, Can Any Mother Help Me? is an evocative, dynamic and touching play by the Foursight Theatre company, bringing to life the funny and often moving stories of a group of women whose lives became intimately connected through the simple act of writing letters.

From marriage to childbirth, hidden desires to socialism, housework to wartime politics, the story of the Cooperative Correspondence Club delves into lifelong friendships and domestic tragedies and allows us an opportunity for that most human of pleasures, eavesdropping.

From February 2009 to May 2009, the theatrical production of Can Any Mother Help Me? was performed in theatres in Hereford, Oxford, Portsmouth, Jersey, Coventry, Shrewsbury, Warwick, Birmingham as well as London.

 

Play2
Photo: Robert Day

 

PLAY REVIEWS:

“Moving, illuminating and sometimes hilarious.”

The Hereford Times

 

“Based on Jenna Bailey’s 2007 book of the same title, the latest show from Wolverhampton women’s theatre group Foursight Theatre illuminates an extraordinary story of literary self-help … The show, devised by the company and based on the original letters, is a powerful social document of an era when many intelligent women found that the expectations of them as homemakers left them bereft of intellectual stimulation. By turns it is sad, funny and moving … this beautifully crafted piece is a real credit to West Midlands theatre.

Terry Grimley – Birmingham Post

 

“The production takes these women’s writings, and weaves them together into a moving ensemble performance. Reflective of the source material the production is made up of a series of episodes, each based on a letter from one of the women writers . . . Beautiful harp and piano music (provided by performers Samantha Fox and Jill Dowse) and accomplished acappella singing by the ensemble provide fluid transitions between these episodes. The almost constant motion of the three staircases that make up the production’s cleverly sparse scenery also adds to this fluidity …”

“The production’s high point is the telling of a gripping, Gothic horror-tinged story involving organ music and attempted rape in a post-pub visit to a church. With carefully choreographed movement, the ensemble support the storyteller (Lucy Tuck) who makes the most of the dramatic potential of the letter, and gives an assured performance which brings out the comedy, beauty and brutality of the tale.”

“The performance draws to a close with the tear-jerking testimonies of the bereaved widow and the last, surprisingly lucid, writings of a woman on her death bed. Living up to the core values of the company, the performers can be proud that they appear as tight and supportive an ensemble as the group of women correspondents they so successfully portray.”

Katie Day – www.whatsonstage.com

 

Play3
Photo: Robert Day
 

HET GEHEIME TIJDSCHRIFT

Can Any Mother Help Me? (Dutch)

Published by Artemis and Co (2009)

Het geheime tijdschrift werd 1935 opgericht naar aanleiding van een ingezonden brief van een wanhopige, jonge moeder. Zij schreef naar een vrouwenblad over de eenzaamheid en de verveling van haar bestaan als huismoeder. Ondanks haar studie en ambities moest zij na haar huwelijk stoppen met werken. Maar aangezien de brievenschrijfster geen enkele voldoening vond in haar huishoudelijke taken, zocht zij naar een bezigheid. Er reageerden vrouwen uit het hele land, en een aantal van hen besloot een geheim tijdschrift op te richten. Niemand van hen kon op dat moment vermoeden dat de vriendschap die op deze manier ontstond zo sterk zou blijken dat het tijdschrift gedurende hun hele leven zou blijven bestaan.

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A GRIEF OBSERVED Readers Edition

“A classic of the genre, a literary answer to the pain of loss.”
– Robert McCrum

In April 1965, C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, married Joy Davidman, an American poet with two small children. After four intensely happy years, Davidman died of cancer and Lewis found himself alone again, and inconsolable. In response, he wrote this journal, freely confessing his pain, rage, and struggle to sustain his faith. In it he finds the way back to life. A modern classic, A Grief Observed has offered solace and insight to countless readers worldwide. This new edition contains the original text of A Grief Observed alongside specially commissioned responses to the book and its themes from respected contemporary writers and thinkers: Hilary Mantel, Jessica Martin, Jenna Bailey, Rowan Williams, Kate Saunders, Francis Spufford and Maureen Freely.

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REVIEWS

“A Grief Observed is part-confessional and part-theological, describing in graphic and brutal detail the experience of bereavement … Many people who have been bereaved have found A Grief Observed to be a source of great consolation … This value of the book – at least in its depiction of grief, if not in its more theological aspects – is confirmed by the various readers who write movingly of deeply painful losses … It is a relief for the reader to find that he or she is not alone in the intense loneliness or feelings of anguish that bereavement brings.”

The Times, January 2015

 

 

Coming Soon!

Watch for Jenna’s new book about…
Ivy Benson and Her All Girl Band, the first nationally successful all girl band in British history.