Jemma Wayne discusses the universality of the female experience.
In talking about my new novel, Chains of Sand, I’m asked a lot about the war between Israel and Gaza, I’m asked about anti-semitism, prejudice, hatred, identity – all themes that are extremely important to the book. But there is another, equally important idea that I don’t get to talk about much, and that is the role of women in conflict situations.
Two of the three main protagonists in Chains of Sand are men, and in writing them, I was surprised to find that having previously written all sorts of women vastly different from myself, writing from a different gender was the hardest shift of all. It reaffirmed to me however the universality of the female experience. In almost every country in the world, rich or poor, women are usually: employed less, paid less, poorer, they take on more of the household work, are more exposed to violence, are less represented, and are more discriminated against, especially within religious spheres. This is a significant struggle to share because it crosses borders and conflicts. It also fosters a certain empathy – an empathy that is sometimes seen as a bit ‘human rightsy’, a bit too feminine for the demands of war – but for me is a hugely undervalued and under-utilised tool, especially in conflicts that are as deep-rooted in hearts and minds as the one in Chains of Sand.
Because of the obstacles women face, we are also very used to challenging the status quo, of having to. We are used to demanding change of the establishment and sometimes saying what is unpopular. During the 2014 conflict, there was a significant shift in Israel towards quashing left-leaning, liberal voices. People who spoke out against the devastation in Gaza were demonised. But people did. And many of those people were women.
In the book, there is a group called Women in Black – made up of women from both sides of the conflict who every Friday, stand on street corners to protest the war. There is also a feminist writer who refuses to sit at the back of a gender-segregated bus. And there is a young female artist who will not allow her boyfriend to dictate her actions. Many of the organisations and incidents the characters encounter are based on reality – and I researched these through scouring news stories, and through personal interviews. But in incorporating these within Chains of Sand, what was most important to me to explore, was the way in which women so often take on the role of truth seekers, and truth speakers, and how immensely powerful this can be.
He has always been good at tracking down things that are hidden, like cockroaches in his mother’s kitchen cupboard, or tunnels in Gaza. At 26, Udi is a veteran of the Israeli army and has killed five men. He wants a new life in a new place. He has a cousin in England.
Daniel is 29, a Londoner, an investment banker and a Jew. He wants for nothing, yet he too is unable to escape an intangible yearning for something more. And for less. He looks to Israel for the answer.
But as the war with Hamas breaks out, Daniel cannot know that the star-crossed love of a Jewish girl and an Arabic man in Jerusalem a decade earlier, will soon complicate all that he thinks has become clear.
Jemma Wayne grew up in Hertfordshire and studied Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge University and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Westminster. She now works freelance splitting her time between journalism, writing for stage, and prose.