IN just a few week's time Gladstone's Library in Hawarden will come alive with stories and conversation as internationally-renowned and breakthrough writers arrive at the beautiful Grade I listed building for the library's annual Gladfest event.

This year's literary festival, the sixth held at former Prime Minister William Gladstone's residential library, sees the organisers adopt a radical tone with the centenary of the Suffragette movement's success in gaining votes for women celebrated in both the content and the purple, white and green colour scheme of the event.

Among those appearing is writer Diane Atkinson, whose best-selling book 'Rise Up, Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes', explores the history and extraordinary stories of the Suffragettes who have, until now, been hidden from history.

Described by as "a thrilling and inspiring read" by Harriet Harman MP, Diane's book has caught the mood of the increased interest in the brave women who thought for the right to vote, especially given the modern context of the #metoo campaign.

"For a long time the Suffragettes were wilfully ignored or they were portrayed as unhinged women," says Diane. "My book is about those suffragettes who took risks and sacrificed so much to take part in a campaign which they gave a huge amount of momentum.

"It's been great for me to know that the story is now out there and it's lovely that Suffragettes are having 'a moment' after all these years."

Led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, the suffragettes and their actions would come to define protest movements for generations to come. From their marches on Parliament and 10 Downing Street, to the selling of their paper, Votes for Women, through to the more militant activities such as bombing pillar-boxes, acts of arson and Emily Davison's famous self-sacrifice when she ran in front of the king's horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, the women who participated in the movement endured police brutality, assault, imprisonment and force-feeding, all in the relentless pursuit of one goal: the right to vote.

"Women got involved for a whole variety of reasons because they fought getting the vote would unlock a whole variety of freedoms," explains Diane. "Although they didn't call it #metoo a lot of the same motivations were there such as the struggle over equal pay. Shockingly 100 years on we still haven't resolved the problem but it is timely to remind ourselves that this has been a long struggle that surely has to be resolved soon."

During their years of protest, suffragettes were stung by the stereotypical view of them as strong minded women in masculine clothes and Diane believes the movement has suffered from an image problem ever since, leading to many of their achievements being ignored.

"At the time they had an image problem because politicians couldn't stand them and the media didn't like them either," she says. "Most of the general public were against them too so it was always a struggle, but since then there has been an attempt to paper over the story and ignore their importance because for all sorts of reasons it didn't suit the narrative of the day.

"This year I thought it was time to actually talk abut the women themselves and really dig into their biographies and discover their history and find out what compelled them to fight.

"It was such an unpopular campaign - to come out as a suffragette was a huge thing - it required a huge amount of bravery and family support because you might be thrown out of your home, divorced or lose your job. It was an extraordinary act of defiance and persistence that they kept at it for so long and eventually were successful."

From the early 20th century until the outbreak of World War I, approximately one thousand suffragettes were imprisoned in Britain but as Diane reveals these women were a richly diverse group that spanned the divides of class and country, age and geography.

"The first suffragettes were often working class women and I learnt that the movement was all over the country, across the classes and there were thousands of women involved it," says Diane. "There was such a lot of diversity and my book celebrates that - there were actors, singers, teachers, nurses, servants - all kinds of people were prepared to make that brave step and were prepared for the scorn and derision which rained down upon them."

As Diane points out, there's an irony in the author of a history of the Suffrage movement speaking at the home of William Gladstone, given the four-time Prime Minister and his son's less than supportive role in the movement. Gladstone spoke often of the importance of the ‘Woman Suffrage’ issue, and “the need for extended thoughtful debate” on the subject, but he never supported a single proposal for legislative reform for females, while his son, Herbert, frequently clashed with the leaders of the movement in his role as Home Secretary from 1905 to 1910.

"Herbert had a very awkward relationship with the suffragettes," laughs Diane. "They pestered the life out of him and basically stalked him, making his life very difficult. A lot of Liberal politicians were very ambiguous about what they really believed in - when it came down to it they were instructed to hold the line by the prime minister and that's what they did."

With her book riding high on the best seller lists, Diane's visit to Hawarden is yet another personal highlight during a fantastic year but any personal pride is outweighed by the opportunity to put the Suffragettes back in the spotlight.

"The interest has been phenomenal", she adds. "Next year the paperback will come out and I think I'll be doing more around it so hopefully it won't be a flash in the pan.

"I don't think it will because there is such a grass rots interest in activism that has come to the surface recently it could be a chance to actually make changes. Something has to be done soon about the whole equal pay issue - it can't go on and on because it is across the board and women are not going to forget that.

"It has become part of the fabric of conversation in society and people will not let it slide - it would be dishonourable to the suffragettes who would be amazed that we didn't have it - they'd be thinking 'what the hell are you doing?'"

Diane Atkinson will talk about her book Rise Up, Women! at Gladfest on Friday, September 7 at 6pm. For more information and tickets go to