#SPECTRE is, basically, sexist…

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.

This week we’re taking a slight detour & reviewing the film Spectre. Oh. My. Days…

I don’t know what I expected, really. Action? Sure. Deaths. Aye. Swanky gadgets. Where do I press? But what I did not expect, despite the legacy, despite the decades of decadence, was the out-and-out sexism. There. I said it. Namely, the latest Bond movie is a sexist show.

From the very beginning titles even, the new Bond film is all about strong men and weak women. The rolling titles feature, basically, naked woman writhing around Bond with the odd snake thrown in, real snakes that is. I won’t even contemplate the imagery for Bond’s trouser area.

Now look, sure, I’m not naive here, I know how the Bond franchise works: slick secret agent, shaken not stirred, an eye for the ladies. But, with the emergence of the Bourne films, the raw, visceralspectre-poster-black-white quality of them, their realness, the straight forward, actual depiction they give of women – how we are basically equal – the Bond films changed. They had to up their game to compete with this new real Bourne character that director John Greengrass had created.

So Casino Royale was better. It was less, ‘ladies’ and more, well, normal. In a good way. It slipped a little with Skyfall, Miss Moneypenny starting out as a tough agent then being relaxed to a secretary, but still, it was trying. Heck, the reason I switched the main character of my thriller to a strong woman was because I was sick of films like the Bond franchise portraying women as weak. Yet Spectre is out-and-out just for the lads. It was cringey. There were lines in the film that were simply clunky. The first female character, a widow played by Monica Bellucci – well Bond, frankly, shagged her and left. Then the next female, a character played by Lea Seydoux who first appeared strong, eventually submitted to Bond’s charms with the line, after a man was killed, ‘So, what next?’ This was followed by, yes, you’ve guessed it, them, ahem, shagging. And this woman is a good twenty years younger than Bond.

I know a lot of people will read this and say, what did you expect? It’s Bond! He loves the ladies! get over yourself. But why should I accept that? I brought my daughters to watch the film and I was so utterly disappointed that they had to see, for two hours, women being objectified and portrayed consistently as weak, for them to see a woman ‘in need of protection’, who says she’s scared only for a man looking after her.

It’s tiring. Even when the blonde female character showed strength, it had to be pointed out. Why can’t films just show strong women without any explanation of why or how they are strong? You don’t see Bond going around defending why he’s got big muscles or saying he can shoot, thanks, that he doesn’t need anyone to do it for him.

Sam Mendes, director of Bond, please, re think your strategy. Women are strong. Depict us as so. Because my daughters one day will be adults with money to spend , and if films like Bond continue to degrade them, they won’t be spending their cash watching those films any time soon.

Next week’s review: Stasi Child by David Young

Agree with the Spectre review or totally disagree? Comment below.

 

 

#fridayreads: My review of Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly Macmillan…

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.

This week’s fiction gives you my review of Burnt Paper Sky by Gilly Macmillan (Piatkus £8.99)

If you’re a parent, imagine taking your eyes off your child for a split second and then losing them. This is what happens to Rachel, the main character in the amazing novel that is Burnt Paper Sky, and boy is it an emotional read.

What ensues after Rachel’s son, Ben, goes missing is a huge search during 25343473which everyone, including Rachel, is put under suspicion, and in today’s world of intense social media and 24-hour TV news pressure, it’s a suspicion that the public get well behind.

What Gilly Macmillan has done with this story is get to the raw nerve of not only the utter despair of losing a child (amidst, what turns out, is the break up of her marriage), but of how we as a society are so quick to judge and accuse, especially hiding behind the veil of internet guises. The writing in the novel is sharp, taut with social media put to clever use with emails and transcriptions weaved within the narrative. The cumulative result is powerful, gripping and very, very emotional.

It’s a real page turner and really looking forward to the next novel. And if you want to know what it’s like revealing a new book for the first time, what the Burnt Paper Sky vid below…

 

How not to be a lonely writer… #amwriting

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how writing can be a lonely business. But there is a way to prevent the malaise…

Sometimes, I’ve discovered these past couple of years, being an author can be lonely. It’s weird, really, when you think about it. Before I got published, I assumed an author’s life would be littered with parties and book signings and meetings – a whirlwind of social occasions, and while, yes, some of those awesome things do happen, in the main part the ‘post-published’ period is actually a very solitary time.

You see, writing, being a writer, means, for most of us, you have to work alone, pen to paper, sitting at the laptop. It’s lonely. Do you find that? I did, but now? Well, now I’m beginning to change my mind.  It’s taken me a while to realise that, actually, writing is not, as it turns out, a lonely act.

See, not writing every day is the thing as writers that actually makes us lonely. What I’ve discovered recently is that on the days I don’t write, I get angsty. I grit and fly and wonder what’s bothering me. These days, you see, may be filled to the brim  with meetings and parties, say, and the odd happy encounter with good friends, and yet still, if I don’t write something down, anything, I feel…lonely. Seroiusly. It was odd when I pinpointed it, when it dawned on me what was going on, but it was a blessed relief to finally understand the score.

Because not writing creates self obsession. You start to get way too serious about the small stuff, and that obsession can prevent you looking outwards, can stop you from relating to others, from seeing the world with their eyes – and that’s no good for being a writer. We badly need those connections. Writing gives us that life line. It’s our sat nav, the thing that allows us to check our bearings and understand how we are feeling, and when that happens, when we know what we are thinking, feeling, we become calmer, more open and less, you’ve guessed it, lonely. Basically, writing enables us to find ourselves so we are open to others.

So, if you’re a writer and feeling a bit lonely, perhaps a bit down in the dumps, then I urge you to write. Get down on the page how you are feeling, what is bothering you. The second you do this, everything will fall into place. Sure, it may be the last thing you feel like doing, but trust me, it will help. Write it all down – anything – and then stop, breathe. Re-read what you have scribed and know that these words are there to help you, help connect you to the world, to people – and even to your own stories and characters.

The great thing, too, is that when you write like this, you can carry on your day, meet up with friends say, go to the cinema, with a clear conscience, knowing that you have got your daily shot of writing under your belt.  You can be present, open, happy. And never, ever, truly, alone. Happy writing 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

Why do mags use girls not women in their shoots..?

midlife

Sometimes I don’t half feel old. Like, really haggard. You know that feeling when everything seems to conspire against you and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and you get a right shock at the age of the person staring back at as you realise it’s actually yourself your looking at? Yeah. That.

I say this because the other day I was reading a copy of Grazia, the fashion mag, and there was a picture of a girl in the beauty section. I use the word girl because I swear she was about 12 or 13. She was being a model for ‘blusher’, how you can look, ‘rosy cheeked.’ Well, if I was 13 again, I’d look rosy cheeked, too, and probably a bit more awake while I was at it. Ok, so sure, everyone these days looks younger than they are – people off to University seems to look 15 not 18, junior doctors look like should still be at

Grazia - at least having Jen Aniston means there's someone in it closer to my age..
Grazia – at least having Jen Aniston means there’s someone in it closer to my age..

school. And it doesn’t help when my daughters sit at the dinner table and count how many lines they can see on my forehead – I kid you not. You can only imagine how fabulous that makes me feel.

But, devastation aside, what’s the score with the girls in women’s mags? I googled for this column, the average age of a Grazia reader, and,  according to Bauer Media, ‘Grazia has a highly targeted demographic of 25-45 years.’ So that’s not 13 then. I’m (cough) 42, so even by my shabby maths standards, that sits me still in the Grazia demographic arena, so why the young pics? Can we not just be women? Do we have to have youth pressed upon us at all times, as if that is the bee all and end all? And so what is in store for us magazine wise as we age? Stenna stair lift shoots? Saga holiday spreads? All because we are in our 40s?

You hear it all the time – banish wrinkles, cream that take 10 years off. Sure, the pressure is on the chaps, too, but they can rock a haggard look and it gets called sexy. Just take a ganders at Hugh Laurie, wrinkles and all fronting the L’Oreal men’s campaign. Bloody hell. If I fronted a beauty campaign, the media would think it was for an old people’s home.

To be fair to Grazia, it isn’t just them guilty of using very young models in their pages. So, to all mags of Britain and indeed the western world, please, youth is not everything. Using young models all the time only makes us feel pants. We age – deal with it magazines, we have to. Let us age with beauty and a slice of dignity. And for god’s sake, whatever you do, don’t count the wrinkles on my forehead. We’ll leave that joy to my daughters….

What do you think? Post your thoughts below…

#fridayreads: My review of Husk by J.K. Messum…

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.

This week’s fiction gives you my review of Husk by J.K.Messum (Penguin £8.99)

Alright, I have to fess up here – I know Jamie. Okay, so not know him – I’ve never met him, as yet, but virtually, we have chatted, and by that I mean over social media. Let me assure you – I am not his stalker. We are, instead, friends via  the same literary agency we share, PFD.

So, you would think, given that bias, that any review I give herehusk would be coloured by loyalty to my fellow author, but you’d be wrong. Because, I cannot tell you how cracking this novel of Jamie’s is, I mean seriously rocking.

A kind of dystopian setting, it centres round Rhodes – and Rhodes is a ‘Husk’. A Husk, see, is, an illegal, controversial and highly lucrative job where people rent out control of their bodies and minds to the highest bidder. I know right? In the world the book paints, being a Husk is a sure way to gain a better life, but some of the people who rent out Rhodes’ body go too far and often he wakes up with scars. Cue a sinister story and clever plot.

Normally, this kind of genre is not for me, but I had to read Husk. Jamie won an award for his first novel, Bait (the Arthur Ellis Award For Best First Novel 2014), and I can see why he got the acclaim. I have no idea, even as a writer myself, how Jamie came up with this whole Husk, rent out bodies premise (maybe I shouldn’t ask…?), but boy what an imagination. Gripping from page one, no wonder it’s been optioned for an international TV series. Would be great on screen as well as the page.

So this Friday, go by Husk.  And if that hasn’t wet your appetite then Jamie’s cracking trailer made by publishers Penguin, no less, will…

How writing morning pages can increase your creativity – and keep you calm…

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about writing your morning pages…

I’m all for a morning page. Let me explain. See, every morning, well, for the past year really, I’ve been, upon waking and fixing a strong cuppa, writing with pen on paper whatever comes into my head. It could be about anything. The weather, the birds singing in the wall of ancient trees outside, how I forgot to put the bins out last night and will I have time this morning to do it – anything. Who knows what’s in this head of mine.

And that’s the thing – I don’t always know what I’m thinking and so writing my morning pages unlocks it all. It’s like therapy. I’ll often find that I may rise feeling a little angsty, say, but can’t place my finger on why, and then my pen will glide over the page and whatever is on my mind will go figure itself right out on the the piece of paper before me. It’s amazing. It’s like, without me even realising it, my head – purely through the simple act of writing – is getting to the nub of a) what’s truly bothering me and b) the solution required, and all this without me having to even try, to even put any real conscious effort in.

In the past, morning pages not only have worked through answers to whatever I need, they’ve also helped me tap into a creative writing source I never knew was there. Take the birds. My study desk in our new home faces onto a huge old window through which lays our beautiful, sprawling garden crammed with tall, ancient trees, busy, extended families of birds, and what appears to be a very active, cunning (but cute) pack of quick witted squirrels. And so, several times when I sit, cup of tea by my side, pen in hand, I find myself daydreaming about what I see, then writing about it. The birds, their chatter, the way they flit and scamper and tease the morning into awakening – you name it, it all just flows out.

The trick is not to over think it. Just write. Get your pen and paper first thing before the day has begun and see what trickles out. You’ll be surprised. The important point is, though, the time of day – it must be done in the morning, these writing off-the-cuff pages. See, by evening time the day is done and, instead of looking forward, solving, creating, night sees us becoming more reflective, looking back on the time passed rather than pointing our brains ahead at what’s to come. That, see, is where we find the answers.

Whether you’re a writer or not, I urge you to try morning pages. Pick up a pen and pad (and strong coffee…) and start scribbling down whatever’s in your head. As a writer it, if nothing else, means that, at least once a day you’re stretching your writing muscles, even if it’s only for ten minutes.

But, above and beyond that, I’ve found that, whatever your day job, morning pages are a way to keep life calm, to not only discover with delight a creative capacity you never knew you had, but to find the answers, deep inside the recesses of your brain that, in truth, you always had. It just took a pen to unlock them.

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

Calling all (big) kids: It’s time to bring back the conker…

midlife

Do you remember that Cadbury’s Fudge advert from years back where the kid is holding up a conker on a shoe lace but get’s distracted by his mum and a Cadbury’s Fudge bar? Ah, good times, right? I mean, yeah, the kid who the young cherub was holding his conker up against looked like the school bully, but apart from that, it was a cracking ad. The tune! The hazy, days-gone-by atmosphere! The big, fat school ties!

Conkers, see, then was all the rage.  Back in school, at break and lunch, we’d hide somewhere away from the eagle eye of the dinner ladies and their tabards (love that word – tabard) and when they weren’t looking, we’d embark on a game of conkers and hope we didn’t lose a finger. Or an eye.

I loved playing conkers, me, I mean really, really loved it. It was like dicing with death. Ok, not really, but it felt like that at the age of seven – the dinner lady threat, the fear of a loss of limb – it had it all going on. We used to put them in the oven, my brother and me. Yup, the night before, in they’d go, those nut-brown shiny conkers, to come out harder than ever. One stolen shoe lace later from my sisters shoes and hey presto, we were fight ready.

This, you see, was

In case you've forgotten - a handy guide
In case you’ve forgotten – a handy guide

the early 80s, when we were still a whisper from the seventies and its hangover of no health and safety, yet still an ocean of time away before even the slightest ripple of smart phones and iPads these school kids have today. Heck, we didn’t even have a land line, just an emergency 10p in my Brownie belt purse for the phone box down the road. It was the one next to the mobile chip van.

So I am troubled, yes troubled, to hear that this autumn there exist school children who do not know how to play conkers. A recent survey revealed that most school children in the UK don’t play conkers, with many not even knowing how to. And why? Because schools are banning the game due to fears of health and safety. So what, conkers is dangerous but an anonymous pedophile sashaying as a 11-year-old boy on Moshi Monsters is safe? And that’s the thing, that irony. It’s not just health and safety that’s driven the nail into the conker coffin – it’s technology, it’s phones, it’s iPads and gaming and social media obsession. Kids today play on their devices more than they even speak to each other face to face. Surely the consequences of that, the long-term social problems it will create, is far more dangerous than the threat of getting a bruise on the cheek from a swinging conker on the end of a frayed shoe lace?

The mighty good news is that adults are on the conker case. This week saw the Conker Champion (who knew?) crowned in Northampton and, according to Nicola Hunt, the Scottish championship judge (yes, there really is one), ‘In the 7 years we have been running the championship, we have seen more and more adults taking part – they’re just big kids.’ Well said, Nicola,

So, it’s time we told these kids what conkers is really about. Get those autumn limbs ready because my oven’s on, a lace has been nabbed from the nearest unsuspecting shoe, and I mean business. Finger nails, watch out.

By the way, for a trip down memory lane, here’s that Cadbury’s Fudge conker advert. All together now…

What do you think? Post your thoughts below…

#fridayreads: A poem about depression by my 17-yr old self…

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.

This week, in hail to yesterday’s National Poetry Day, and ahead of tomorrow’s World Mental Health day, I’m (bravely) posting a poem I wrote when I was 17. Let me say that again: when I was 17. I’m 42 now…

Back then, I was poetry obsessed. I remember I was going through a tricky social stage and was probably, now I recall it all, feeling down. So I did what I knew best and wrote – in this case, a poem.

It’s an account, a comment, I guess, on the hectic quality of life (even then before social media), of feeling down and how things can conspire, how that can make you feel.

Sure, the poem, as poems do, plays heavily on emotional elements, but

The original poem in my 17-year old self scrawl...
The original poem in my 17-year old self scrawl…

the premise is there. I’m quite proud, looking back now, that I was brave enough to put down my feelings – on what was what I now understand to be depression –  on to paper.  Thankfully, the feelings didn’t last for long as life moved on, but it was a tricky time – you know the score: friend troubles, exams, you name it. And writing, well, writing was my safety net. It caught me when I fell and helped me get back up on two feet again, ready to walk, then later run, to what ever lay ahead.

So, I’ll continue that bravery and share this with you today. Welcome to the mind of my 17 year old self. Gulp…

“Flight of the Dragon”

The gigantic blue sea dragon storm through the skies,

As he comes into my dreams and opens my eyes.

His head turns to my head and transfers my mind,

To make me think like all of mankind.

 

Helplessly I struggle and try to break free,

For the images that appear are not common to me:

An evil black shadow grabs at the dead,

And the blood that seeps out is no longer red.

A swooping green vulture tears at the poor,

And their possessions are robbed just as once before.

 

At this point I jerk and uneasily move around,

As my body floats up then falls to the ground.

But then on the ground large snakes appear,

And the blood in my veins is injected with fear.

They slide across my body and pierce my soul,

While their venom once inside me erodes a deep hole.

The hole pulls me through and caves me in,

Trapped in a battle impossible to win.

 

The sun then rises and fills me with hope,

As I struggle to sever the deadly sharp rope.

But just as my spirits begin to rise,

The sun turns to black to meet my demise.

 

I turn back and forth frantic for a way out,

And once panic sets in I begin to shout.

Then I hear a faint noise, and my adrenaline starts pumping,

As my meager hope of life rapidly start slumping.

 

I slowly look around, and from the corner of my eye,

I see an angry pound of dogs standing nearby.

The palms of my hands turn red raw,

As I pull at the rope more and more.

The dogs starts to move, slowly at first,

But I know that their anger is soon to burst.

 

Then quickly they pound nearer and nearer still,

As I am kept as their victim against my will.

I slip to the ground in hopeless despair,

As I tear at the ground and grasp at my hair.

 

Then through the darkness appears a light,

And for the first time ever I put up a fight.

I can see the vultures circling above,

As the dogs become quiet like the coo of a dove.

 

Then the gigantic blue sea dragon storms through the skies,

As he comes into my dreams and opens my eyes.

My sleep becomes steady and ridden of fear,

As I know that my dragon is no longer near.

And his head pulls from my head and leaves my mind,

And no longer must I think like all of mankind.