Month: September 2016

Movies for Women? #movies #wwwblogs

film woman quote.gif

I do like a good film- almost as much as I like a good book. And I have quite diverse tastes. A list of my all-time favourites would include ‘The Color Purple’, ‘Only God Forgives’, ‘All the President’s Men’, ‘Drive’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, ‘Bronson’ and ‘Midnight Cowboy’.
So, eclectic taste then. And I’m happy to try anything, mainly because my son is studying film and English and makes me watch things I otherwise wouldn’t think of, and they’re the ones I usually love.
So I was persuaded to go along to see ‘Suicide Squad’ (read Scott’s review here). But god, was it awful. Truly awful. And part of the big issue for me was Harley Quinn.

harley quinn


Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is the Joker’s psychiatrist-turned-girlfriend who helps him escape Arkham Asylum so that they can Bonnie and Clyde their way across Gotham. That’s a pretty interesting duality for a character to grapple with, but it’s handled so badly in the film that it ends up more travesty than USP. What starts out as a promising role deteriorates into a tired vehicle for infantile sex fantasy.
On the way home I had a real rant (I’m a bundle of fun to take out) and it got me thinking about films in general and why women always seem to be the ones left out of the fun.
I love films. I love well-written, stylistic, beautifully shot films. I’d go to the cinema far more if there was anything that actually appealed to me. I’m sure there are lots of older women like me who would too. So why are we ignored? What is there for us? I have no interest in Mr D’Arcy, I hated the Great Expectations remake, I hate, hate, hate anything in the New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc. franchise. I can’t bear musicals – Mama Mia was appalling and don’t get me started on Les Miserables. And no, I don’t want Marigold Hotels either.


That’s more like it!

I’ll be honest, there have been a few recent goodies that I’ve loved. Legend, for one, and not just because of Tom Hardy; and I loved Mad Max (again, I promise!). The Grand Budapest Hotel was stunning (even though I have an irrational fear of Jude Law) and I have to recommend the uncut version of Batman vs. Superman, if only for the gratuitous Ben Affleck shirt-off scenes (hey, until they stop doing it to women then it’s fair enough). OK, it was really silly – but it was well-done silly. But there is a real dearth of good films out there.
I think a lot of this is to do with fear – the same fear that stops publishers taking on unknowns. Money makes the world go round, after all, and no one wants to take a risk (except Nicolas Winding Refn, apparently) so loads of great stories go ignored.
I can think of at least ten great books I’ve read in the last year or so that would make wonderful films- films that would appeal to women like me. Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, Mary Smith’s No More Mulberries, Hilary Custance Green’s Borderline, Rebecca Powell’s The Brazilian Husband, and Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief, for example (and if you haven’t read these books yet, then you really must). All great stories, with fabulous, interesting, three-dimensional characters and settings that would look wonderful on film. But sadly, I think that film has gone the same way as publishing. Re-make after re-make after re-make. Franchise after franchise after franchise. Celebrity sells and money talks – who cares about the story?


‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse #DBowieBooks #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview


Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar was published in 1959, and captures brilliantly the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small town. It tells the story of Billy Fisher, a Yorkshire teenager unable to stop lying – especially to his three girlfriends. Trapped by his boring job and working-class parents, Billy finds that his only happiness lies in grand plans for his future and fantastical day-dreams of the fictional country Ambrosia.

I read ‘Billy Liar’ as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I first heard of on Jade Scatterbooker’s blog.

A long time ago, when I left home to study journalism, I packed, along with my kettle and pots and pans, the late Keith Waterhouse’s excellent ‘Waterhouse on Newspaper Style’. I would still have it now if one of the dogs hadn’t decided to chew it up. It’s proved to be invaluable on many occasions over the last twenty-five years and Waterhouse was a journalist I admired, respected and was influenced by on so many levels.

But I never read ‘Billy Liar’ for some reason (and have never watched the film either), so it was a book I was really looking forward to.

And what a wonderful book it is. As the name suggests, the hero, Billy, is a compulsive liar. He lives in a fantasy world and his lies get him into deeper and deeper trouble. The narrative takes place over one single day in Billy’s life, and in that short space of time Waterhouse brilliantly conveys Billy’s frustration with his life, and his longing for something else, away from the small town mentality of the fictional Yorkshire town of Stradhoughton.

The wonderful dry humour, the comedic situations that are almost farcical, are tempered by a sadness deep at the heart of this book. Billy needs something more, but he’s his own worst enemy. He’s a complex character too; the lies he tells verge on cruelty, and his treatment of Barbara and the dodgy sounding passion pills are worrying to say the least.

But at the heart of this story is a brilliantly-drawn character who is bigger than the life he’s been given, the life he can’t escape – unless it’s to his fictional world, ‘Ambrosia’ where he can be the man he dreams of being. In Stradhoughton, he’s out of place, trapped where he doesn’t belong, surrounded by people he doesn’t understand. During the evening, he watches the people around him, as Saturday night begins:

‘I stood for a quarter of an hour at a time, watching them get off buses and disperse themselves about the streets. I was amazed and intrigued that they should all be content to be nobody but themselves.’

This is a real classic. Not a word is wasted. Beautifully executed, evocative prose and an absolute masterclass in characterisation. Billy Liar is a must read.

5 stars

‘Dear Thief’ by Samantha Harvey #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog


In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget. 

Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.

This book was an absolute joy to read. The quiet but stunningly beautiful narrative tells the story of a woman who has been betrayed, who is now addressing that betrayal, confronting, if only in words, in a letter, the friend who let her down.

But there isn’t bitterness, or spite, and the novel is much more than the premise suggests. Through the letter, the narrator weaves two tales – the story of her own past and its links to her friend, known as Butterfly, and also the present, that she imagines for Butterfly, a woman she hasn’t seen for years. She doesn’t know where she is, or what she is doing, or even if she is still alive, so she creates a life, and in doing so exacts something like revenge.

The writing seems effortless, flowing and lyrical at times. The characterisation is spot on- the narrator is middle-aged, separated from her husband, has a difficult job, and she has all the insecurities and the regrets that come with that. She is hard on herself at times, and too easily forgiving of herself at others. Her pain, her sense of betrayal, but also her love are vividly shown through her words.

A powerful book from an incredibly talented writer.

5 stars



Commonly Confused Words #wwwblogs #IAmWriting #WritingTips


When I’m editing I often find that the same errors come up time after time. One of the big problems that lots of writers have is homophones – words that sound the same but that have different meanings and (for the most part) spellings.

There are of course the obvious ones – they’re, their and there, for example, and to, too and two. But some less commonly used words can also cause problems. Here are a few examples that I’ve come across recently.

***Please note these apply to British English spellings though most (but not all) are relevant in US English too ***

Phase and faze

Phase – any stage in a series of events or the process of development

They moved to phase two of the building schedule.

Faze – to disturb or disconcert (someone)

His attitude didn’t faze me.

Draft and draught

Draft – a preliminary version of a document

I’m never going to finish the first draft of this novel.

Draught – a current of cool air in a confined space, or a single act of drinking

The old wooden window frames let in a cold draught.

He took a deep draught of ale from the tankard.

Taught, taut, tort and torte!

Taught – past and past participle of teach

I taught him a lesson he won’t forget!

Taut – stretched or pulled tight

The dress was taut over her stomach.

Tort – a wrongful act or infringement of a right leading to lawful liability

The lawyers have opposed tort reform measures.

Torte – a sweet cake or tart

I’d like a very big slice of that chocolate torte.

Loath and loathe

Loath – reluctant or unwilling

I’m loath to lend him the money.

Loathe – feel intense dislike for something or someone

I absolutely loathe marzipan.

Peak and pique

Peak – the highest point of a mountain (noun), a projecting pointed shape (noun), reach a highest point (verb), at the highest level (adjective).

He surveyed the view from the peak of the mountain.

Whisk the eggs into peaks.

The noise peaked as the crowd grew.

The dog was in peak condition.

Pique – a feeling of irritation (noun), arouse interest (verb), feel irritated or resentful (verb).

I smashed the glass in a fit of pique.

My curiosity was piqued.

She was piqued by his bad manners and attitude.

Any examples of words you mix up?




‘The Brazilian Husband’ by Rebecca Powell @BeccaPowellUK #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReviews

brazilian Husband

SUNSHINE, SAMBA, SECRETS AND LIES – this summer’s must-read.

“…scrawled in biro, the words which had brought me here…

‘Take me home’.”

Determined to honor her late husband’s final request, Judith and her teenage step-daughter, Rosa, set out on a journey from London to Brazil to track down his family and take his ashes home.

But when Judith’s search leads her to Ricardo, a handsome but haunted human rights lawyer, she begins to unravel a web of lies surrounding her husband’s past: a past which is about to come crashing into their present in the form of Rosa’s real mother.

As the two women navigate their way through this vibrant country of contrasts, they find themselves struggling to salvage their own fractured relationship and put the past behind them.

The perfect blend of romance and suspense, set against the stunning backdrop of northeast Brazil, The Brazilian Husband is a story of friendship, family and finding out who we really are.

The perfect page-turner to get you in the mood for the Rio Olympics…

I read ‘The Brazilian Husband’ for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Intelligent, thoughtful, and engaging, it really is a page turner.

Judith is an interesting and well-developed main character. Her difficult relationship with her troubled step-daughter Rosa is very well-portrayed and a real strength of the book. Judith’s desperation to rekindle her connection with Rosa is heart-breaking and frustrating – just as it should be, and Rosa is spot-on, her voice completely authentic. I didn’t know whether I wanted to give her a hug or a real telling-off!

The author clearly knows Brazil and it is described in vivid detail; no punches are pulled and there is some very gritty realism here, but this is tempered by an obvious affection for the country and its people and an appreciation of its beauty.

The writing really flows and is a pleasure to read.

All in all an excellent debut novel. I’ll certainly be looking out for more from this author.

5 stars

The Myth of the Feisty Woman #wwwblogs #womensfiction #histfic

boxing woman

My recent post about the portrayal of women of a certain age in fiction certainly seemed to strike a chord with many of you. So I thought I’d have another bit of a rant – this time about the way women are portrayed in historical fiction.

Now, I’m not talking about historical romance here, because to be honest it’s not a genre I read. In the historical fiction that I enjoy, there will be strong, likeable, intelligent female characters. These characters will often be inspiring and admirable. There are enough real historical women who have acted bravely and out of the bounds of convention after all. But, without exception, all of these women would have found it tough, and would have met resistance and hostility and often real danger.

So what really gets on my nerves in historical fiction is women who act rashly, or who are rebellious, or adventurous and who do these things without any consequences whatsoever. Women of upper class families who go out on their own, for example, without permission. And this is acceptable because after all, she’s a feisty one (god how I hate that word) and it’s all just a bit of a giggle.

And women who show no fear. Who stand up to adversity and discrimination and their fear, their anger, their frustration isn’t portrayed. I’m willing to bet everything I have that every single woman who stood on the gallows, accused of witchcraft was utterly, completely terrified. That every single woman who fell under suspicion and was arrested and tortured felt helpless. That every single woman who wanted more for herself than to be a wife or a mother felt totally frustrated and angry.

When I wrote ‘The Black Hours’ I wanted to show that what happened to these women accused of witchcraft was terrifying. In too many books and films these women stand up for themselves and are defiant. Would they really have been? Or would they have crumbled, and cried and begged for mercy? And wouldn’t you? I think we do a disservice to these women when we write their feelings out of our fiction. What I was trying to get across with Alice, and with Maggie, was that they were completely, utterly helpless. Alice had no agency at all. No one, absolutely no one, was going to help her. It would have done no good for her to be feisty. She just had to bear it and she just had to suffer.

I began reading a book the other week that was a best-seller. The author is well-respected and very, very successful. I’ll admit I had my reservations before I began. The book is set in France, during the occupation. In the opening scenes, a local woman, very young, very clever, very outspoken, is put into a situation that could end with her being killed. But she’s fine, because she’s strong, and brave and clever and beautiful and feisty. She stands up to the nasty Gestapo officer. And all is fine.

How utterly insulting to all the women who tried to deal with the occupation and keep their children safe in whatever way they could, but failed. What a judgement on those who weren’t feisty enough or pretty enough or brave enough. I wouldn’t be brave in that situation. I doubt that I’d even stand up for myself.

I know fiction is make-believe. I know that people can act differently in fictional worlds to how they act in the real one. But I also feel strongly that we owe it to the millions and millions of women that have suffered, that have been tortured and murdered and abused and vilified and subjugated, throughout history, to portray them honestly. A woman that confessed under torture to things she hadn’t done; a woman that betrayed someone because she was scared for her children; a woman that didn’t do all the things she was capable of because she couldn’t. Because not everyone was bloody Florence Nightingale (although she certainly had her share of the struggle). These women are part of female history too. So, if you’re writing historical fiction, please be authentic to these women; to how they would have been and what they would have done. And please, do remember: there weren’t many happy endings.