The Out-Crowd

It was a post on – predictably – an internet forum that pushed me over the edge: a thread about choosing an area based on the schools available (yes, I know. I’m a mother, we whine about this stuff, get over it).

Don’t forget to look at your local community – you adults have to fit in too!

I’ll just be over there: in the corner, calming down again.


I get grouchy when it comes to the topic of “fitting in”, partly because I’ve spent a very long time being obstinate and trying rather hard not to be That Person. You know the one: the kid who falls over themselves pretending to be something vaguely similar to who they really are – but not who they actually are – and ends up with a little grey cloud of self-inflicted misery trundling around after them.

It’s worse at school than at any other point in life (see Mean Girls, She’s All That, The Craft10 Things I Hate About You… and preeeetty much every teen movie made, ever) but it starts younger than you think (take a close look at any nursery or reception class playground) and carries on a lot later (I refer you to Gill Hornby’s school-gate novel The Hive, and just about every *single* women’s magazine in the world).

What it boils down to is this: we spend our formative years as an adult trying to balance figuring out who we are with who we think everyone around us would like us to be, and what we need to be to not end up getting something dumped all over us on the school bus. And then, when we emerge from our cocoon as fully-functioning adults… we have to do it all over again.

To which I say: bite me. (more…)


Blinded by (sparkling) science

Stephanie Kwolek. Sophie Germain. Gillian Bates. Lise Meitner.


And this is how we’re planning to attract young women into the field of science?

I wasn’t that keen on science at school. My little heart sank at the prospect of double chemistry, almost as much as it did before PE. I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be, and – to be honest – that frustrated me. I also found it boring.

However, it bored me because I wanted to be in English class, reading Faustus or Hamlet (true).

Saying I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be was not because I’m a girl and am therefore only interested in lipstick and poncing round in a pair of sunglasses: it’s because I’m Thicky McThick when it comes to science and I still can’t do a simple titration or explain how a blast furnace works*. I can, however, quote you chunks of Shakespeare and Marlowe, and tell you exactly why they have the effect on us that they do. I can read Anglo Saxon, I can give you a detailed (and mind-numbingly dull) description of the differences between the Insular and Continental traditions of early Arthurian literature.

I did not need a pink-tinted video to entice me into this.

Neither did the women whose names I’ve given above.

Like me, they chose to study and work in the fields which interested them; the fields in which they felt their talents lay. I chose arts and humanities, they chose sciences. End of debate. Boys do it too, but apparently we don’t need to try and entice them to become doctors by showing a bunch of consultants knocking back the beers or playing football, do we? And yes, that’s just as mindless a stereotype as the one in the video.

My younger cousin is about to go to university, hoping to study genetics. She spends her free time shopping with her friends and (if her Facebook page is anything to go by) making innuendo-laden comments about Justin Bieber. She goes to parties. She has an unhealthy obsession with Primark. She’s also an Air Cadet. She’s probably one of the coolest people I know, and I imagine if you asked whether her choice of future career had been influenced by that video, she would laugh at you.

And then punch you. (Because we do share some genes, after all…)

We don’t need to Barbie-ise science to get girls interested.

We don’t need to pinkify it, sprinkle it with unicorns and glitter, or insist that yes, women in science can wear heels zomgwtfkthnxbai.

We just need to tell them that they can do anything they put their minds to.

Because they can.

Marie Curie.
Scientist; woman.

*Incidentally, my physics, chemistry and biology teachers were all women…


Warning: this is going to be super-spoilery. There’s just no way round it, so if you want to be… *surprised* by its eccentricities, then you might want to sit this one out. As blogs go, it’s also a bit long.

Make no bones about it, Skyline is not a good film. It’s not. I’m not even going to try and pretend it is… and yet, as I watched it, I found I rather liked it. I just don’t know why.

It’s hugely, hopelessly, massively flawed and there are several aspects of it which are just downright awful… and yet.

(If the trailer won’t load, by the way, you can watch it directly on Youtube here.)

We open with blue lights streaming down from the sky into Los Angeles. In a bedroom, a couple are asleep; disturbed by the lights, they wake up, she rushes to the bathroom to throw up (the first of the film’s subtle nods at character: have you guessed that she’s pregnant?) and off we go. There’s screaming from the next room as Charlie’s-Brother-From-Lost steps into the light, gets a bit sort of burned and then vanishes…

Our protagonist, Jarrod (who is genuinely the only character I can remember the name of, and that’s largely down to the fact I spent much of the film admiring variously his hair, his necklace or his tattoo, and that he’s Jesse from Buffy…) decides that yes, the clever thing is to step into the light too, at which point he also starts doing the weird burny-thing… and suddenly we cut to a tedious flashback of 15 hours ago.

The only purpose of this seems to be to establish that everyone in this film is pretty much a failure as a human being – with the exception of Jarrod, who’s really too bland to count as anything, and who has a habit of stroking his girlfriend’s nose to show his affection. (Remember that: we’ll be needing it later). Girlfriend is prone to bursting into tears and being a bit, well, beige.

Jarrod’s friend, who they’re in town to see, is supposedly a huge success (and lives in a penthouse which somehow later turns into an apartment on a floor of many…) but we never know quite what he does – however, it’s clearly enough to get him a Ferrari and an assistant with whom he’s cheating on his girlfriend. He’s also played by Turk-From-Scrubs. Assistant’s only purpose seems to be to give away the infidelity, and to scream a bit. Not-Turk’s Girlfriend is given a wasted kick-the-cat moment (“Get me a drink!” she snaps. And that’s it) and then sulks and pouts a bit. She smokes, too, which is clearly Hollywood modern-speak for A Bad Person.

Random helicopters fly overhead. “Homeland Security,” says Not-Turk. How the hell does he know? Why is no-one bothered by this? There’s a party. There’s a telescope hooked up to the television in the apartment, which is used to spy on the gay neighbours who are shocking because, y’know, gay, right? Charlie’s-Brother-From-Lost ponces about a bit; passes out. And then we need to meet the building manager-slash-concierge who comes to complain about the noise. The blinds covering the windows are electric. And everyone goes to bed. So. Got that? Awful people, tedious flashback, blah blah blah.

Back to the blue lights.


No Exit to Kansas

Settle down, everyone. Teacher’s back in the room. I hope there was no messing around while I was gone–I’ll be checking the cupboards later, you know.

I’ve been hamstrung time-wise by (a) two family birthdays, (b) yet another Random Virus, Probably Brought Home By Small Boy, And Which Required Tea, Stroking Of Hair and General Soothing Noises to see it off, and (c) finishing a book.

The latter has seen me spending the last few days getting up at somewhere between 5 and 6 in the morning to work–which thankfully, has paid off. After rattling round in my head on and off for just over a year, it’s done. Well. The first draft is, anyway. I’m not actually going to consider that for a few days.

So. While I was on hiatus, I finally managed to see Red Riding Hood.

Gosh. Now there’s a film that doesn’t know quite what it wants to say with its subtext… and ends up saying something rather icky as a result.

I also watched Labyrinth, for what must have been the hundredth time, because it is wonderful and funny – and if you look closely at the scene where they storm the goblin castle, you’ll see there are two pints of milk sitting on the doorstep. How can you not love a film which does this?


[and seriously, if you need a spoiler warning for Labyrinth, you really do need to sort that out. Go and watch it.]

There’s something about the way these films end that bothers me. I’m not the only one, either: during a recent Twitter conversation, someone pointed out that were she in Sarah’s position at the end of Labyrinth, there’s no way she could go back to the normal, everyday world. A heated discussion ensued in which several of us debated the merits of staying in the Goblin Kingdom as Queen (and which inevitably wound up discussing David Bowie’s costume. As you do) but the sticking point was this: in the midst of Jareth’s little speech, he asks her to “Let me rule you,” – which he promptly follows up with “Fear me. Love me. Do as I say.” That’s Jareth all over for you, isn’t it?

The thing, though, is could you go back? Yes, I know it’s all about Sarah taking responsibility for her actions and discovering her power as a young woman rather than as a girl–but… yeah.

Kingdom. Magic castle. Floating bubbles with ballrooms in them. Would you go back to the real world, or would you stay put and arrange for Jareth to fall off a high tower sometime soon…?

Red Riding Hood has a similar issue, but is much more frustrating. While Labyrinth‘s Sarah is essentially finding her own identity, Red… isn’t. She decides to take on someone else’s, and hole up in her grandmother’s house in the woods.

The problem here is that the narrative is actively set up to discourage this. It literally makes no sense. Everything we have been told in the lead up to those final moments is suddenly chucked out the window, for the sake of… what, exactly? The least satisfying film I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not kidding when I say I actually sat up and shouted at the television at that point. Really shouted at it. I probably would’ve thrown something if I hadn’t known my husband would take a rather dim view me hurling objects at the household electronics…

Here’s the thing (and this is uber, mega, massively spoilery).

We already know that it’s the last night of the blood moon, and that someone bitten will become a werewolf instead of dying. We already know that Peter is the love of Valerie’s life, and they were going to run away together. We already know that Peter has been bitten. We already know that Valerie already has werewolf blood, and that this would make her stronger than previous generations of werewolves were she to be bitten…

So why, why, do we then watch her letting Peter go with the promise he’ll return someday? There’s virtually nothing left for her where she is, and we can’t even assume she’s staying for her mother, because she takes herself off to live outside the village.

Simply put, why doesn’t she go with Peter? We could have had some kind of happy lupine montage: a pair of wolves running through the forest or something. The film’s general attitude to who was a good guy or a bad guy was so cavalier that it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference to a man v. monster debate–they were all as bad as each other.

Aargh. Look at me: I’ve got all cross again just thinking about it.

So, I’m curious. Have you seen Red Riding Hood? If you have, what did you think of the way it ended: did it make sense, or like me, would you really rather have left it with her eating half the village (they bloody well deserve it, if you ask me.)? Why can’t the girl join the monsters?

And what about you: if you were the protagonist in either of these films, would you go home at the end…?

Hot Zombie

Somewhat different from the Flaming Zombies I was drinking at the launch of “Ashes”, Ilsa Bick’s new YA book for Quercus on Monday, these zombies are another animal altogether.

I’ll explain.

Brighton being Brighton, we’re not exactly a subdued bunch in the city. Brightonians take most things in their stride (take, for instance, the awful homophobic itinerant preacher prowling the streets of town yesterday. He began howling at a gay couple walking past him, and they duly stopped, looked him up & down… and one of them responded with “You’ll never get me to turn, love. Not in those shoes,” to rousing applause from passers-by).  But I digress.

Yesterday was Beach of the Dead day. For the uninitiated, that’s our annual mass zombie-walk. I know. It’s hard to tell the difference between that and a regular weekend on the seafront – what can I say?

But yesterday, I was on my way home through town – not long before the walk (shuffle?) started, and I ran into a bunch of teenage zombies lurking outside Burger King. One of them was wearing a cardboard crown. Fair enough. However, what bothered me were the two girls in the middle of the group, who were adjusting their lipstick…

Yes, they weren’t just zombies. They were sexy zombies.

Now, maybe I’m getting cynical in my dotage… but isn’t this rather missing the point? Sexy zombies? Seriously? And let’s be clear – this wasn’t oh-my-god-these-girls-are-so-hot-they-even-look-gorgeous-when-they’re-part-of-a-horde-of-shuffling-undead. No. This was “Excuse me? I heard there’s a Britney circa-1998 video casting round here somewhere…” sexy.

Maybe I’m just not crediting them where credit’s due: perhaps they were channelling kids who were on their way to a fancy-dress party when they were attacked by rampaging monsters… It just seems like that option is, frankly, a bit meta.

I’m not saying you can’t have sexy monsters. Vampires are the old standard, despite being, y’know, dead. Werewolves, too: they’re all about the inner beast. Both have reasonable, logical justifications for bringing a bit of sexy back with them.

But zombies…?

Moar Wimmin

Comics. Women. Again.

I promise this’ll be the last time I beat this drum for, ooh, at least a week. Honest. Well, honest-ish.

Anyone spot that article in the Guardian about DC and female comics-creators? What does this tell us that we don’t already know? The really fascinating part is the article tucked away on the CBR site, with the audio of the exchange between a fan attending SDCC & Dan DiDio. What I love here is the comments, where everyone is chipping in with names of women DC should hire… big lists of big names.

I’m particularly gratified, too, to see a mention for Womanthology on there (you’ll remember me mentioning that a little while back. If you want to become one of the backers, there’s still time – but not much. They’ve more than reached their target and are now hoping to get enough copies printed to get them into libraries and schools across the US. It’s money well spent).

And, seeing as we’re on the subject, now seems as good a time as any to congratulate the amazing Lauren Beukes, award-strewn author & sloth-wearer extraordinaire, who will write for the Fables spin-off, Fairest. Highly, highly awesome. If it’s anything like her prose, it may just turn out to be the fairest comic of them all.

You see what I did there? Yep. Sorry about that. Still: go Lauren, right?

“Swords & Mutton”

While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Well done to the New York Times, and most particularly to Ginia Bellafante, who have between them managed to insult and – not to put too fine a point on it, anger – lots and lots of ladies with their review of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones.

A review is, of course, an opinion – and everyone is entitled to one. However, there’s a line between a genuine and honest opinion, and emptying the scorn-bucket:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

Thank goodness, then, for the fantastic response to this review posted on the Geek with Curves site – a response which manages to be entirely fair at the same time as being beautifully snarky when I would have exploded into violently pink femrage. And, for extra added bonus points, it manages to create a whole new genre: sword ‘n’mutton.

The series is hardly “boy fiction.” Where does this phrase come from?  Is it automatically for boys because there are swords and mutton?

So, NYT. You want to tell us we can’t like epics? You seriously want to say that women don’t care about fantasy – or the stories the genre gives authors scope to tell? That we’re only interested in this sort of thing if there’s a bit of shagging in it? Really?

Put it this way- in which woman’s company would you rather pass a few spare hours: one who’s read, followed, inwardly digested and understood the sprawl of stories like Lord of the Rings or A Song of Fire & Ice… or one whose favourite film was “Sex & the City 2“?

Thought so.

Pinch of Salt

I went all quiet again, didn’t I? Don’t panic: I haven’t been clobbered by yet more woe (although I have taken to walking along with one eye on the sky, one looking behind me and one looking at where I put my feet… just in case. You work that one out, because I can’t!) but instead I’ve been involved in a wonderful new project: Genre For Japan.

Driven by Amanda Rutter of Floor to Ceiling Books, the idea is to bring the genre community together to raise money for the British Red Cross’ Japan Tsunami appeal in the best way possible: by giving you a chance to buy Stuff.

And not just any old Stuff, either: thanks to the generosity of publishers, authors, agents and fans of SFF, this is Amazing Stuff. Stuff Which You Cannot Live Without, all with the genre fan in mind.

It’s humbling, seeing how many items have been donated, and also the phenomenal level of interest. If you spend any time on genre-focused websites, or you’re part of the same corner of Twitter as I am, chances are you know all about this already.

And if you don’t, the details are here.

Keep checking the site, too, as more information will be going up over the course of this week ahead of the auction launch next Monday. It’s an awesome cause, and there are incredible people getting involved. Please, please support us, and help us to raise truckloads of money for the Red Cross.

In other news, I watched Salt over the weekend. I was quite looking forward to it – when it was released, much was made of the fact it was a spy-action-chasey-shooty-thriller… but with a woman as the lead. And, let’s face it, there aren’t really as many of those as there should be: particularly given the main thread of the plot (without giving anything away) is a woman trying to outrun spies to protect her husband.

This is a neat reversal of the usual “spy races against the clock to save his impossibly beautiful, elegant, intelligent wife” – but boy, did it frustrate me. It wasted an opportunity to do something really interesting and ended up sort of making a hashed-up, mashed-up version of The Recruit meets Mission Impossible (perhaps not surprising, given that it was written by Kurt Wimmer and – if memory serves – was originally a Tom Cruise vehicle, rewritten for Angelina Jolie).

It could have said so many things about husband-wife relationships, gender-power balance, the role of women in dangerous places and jobs… but it felt like the rewrite went as deep as doing a search & replace, exchanging “he” for “she”.

And the ending just made me cross.

(Interestingly, my Other Half – sitting next to me and watching me seethe in the grip of femrage – laughed as discreetly as he dared, shook his head and said, “You’re getting worse.”)

And he’s probably right.


Suffragette poster

It’s International Women’s Day.

What does that mean, exactly – the whole “woman” thing?

What is it, to be a woman in the modern world? What’s our role, our purpose? What are our goals?

Well, presumably, to some people, that’s an easy question. And here’s the answer.

Yep. Sorry about that.

Believe it or not, I actually saw that on the flight back from New York last December. The cabin crew had to forcibly drag me back to my seat as I screamed “Make it stop!” And to anyone who points out that I could have just turned it off, I would answer: I already had… but like one of Lovecraft’s unfortunate protagonists, the horror had burned itself indelibly into my memory, where it lurks and gibbers unspeakable things.

And to others…




Keep the Choos. That’s what I’m talking about, right there.

And that’s even without mentioning Elizabeth I or Aung San Suu Kyi; without bringing up some of my own idols Jane Espenson or Sera Gamble or Tina Fey; without getting close to talking about Emmeline Pankhurst or Emily Davison

From the sublime to the ridiculous, from the banal to the brave, there are many, many inspirational women out there (the Guardian is running a fantastic feature on their website to celebrate. It’s worth a good long look).

And because it’s still as awesome as it was all the other times I’ve posted it, you get the Team Unicorn ladies again.

Just because I can.

Ladies! Be all that you can be – because you can be anything.


(apologies if the sound’s stripped from a couple of the videos, by the way. The joy of youtube, eh? Put something stirring on in the background, I would. This would do perfectly.)

The Special Hell

Disclosure: as everyone on Twitter is doubtless sick of hearing, I’m watching Firefly for the first time. I love it. And, while (virtually) shouting very loudly last night that no-one had told me Jane Espenson had been a writer on the show, I got a tweet back from her. In response to which I dissolved, gibbered and wibbled in an appropriately fangirlish way.

The “Special Hell” is not just reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theatre. Oh no. Chief among its inhabitants are the People Who Take A Packed Lunch Into Museum Cafes.

As someone who’s been spending a significant amount of time in museums the last week and a half– almost always with a small child whose chief utterances are: “I’m tired”, “I want to go home”, “I want something to eat” and the all-time classic: “I need to pee!”– I’ve developed a serious case of cafe rage. It began in the Natural History Museum with the father-and-son team taking up a large table as they chowed down on their Waitrose pre-prepared luncheon goods while I balanced a wriggling 3 year-old on a nine foot-high stool in the middle of a sea of broken glass.

That last bit might be an exaggeration. But only a little one.

And today? Today, at the British Museum, a young woman was nearly beaten to death by her own copy of Glamour. Christ alive, but if the editorial team have managed to dig out yet another “100 Sex Tips You Need to Know!” article (they’ve been doing this regularly since the magazine launched in 2001. What, do they have a team of gurus hanging out in the office?) then couldn’t you go and read it somewhere else? And as for the guy with the hiking boots, thermos flask and rugged stubble, trying to pick up French-student-with-long-hair-and-short-skirt by telling her that the walrus was extinct… don’t you have a mountain to climb? And, you know, jump off?

Sorry. It’s the cafe rage talking, not me.

What I was going to say was that I made it (with Small Boy, who was singularly unappreciative. This unfairness is compounded by the fact he got a scarab badge and I didn’t) to the British Museum’s “Book of the Dead” exhibition today, and it was stunning. Genuinely jaw-dropping. One of the exhibits is a still-rolled papyrus recovered from a sarcophagus; its wax seals still intact, its leather bindings complete… it’s never been opened. No-one knows exactly what’s in there, because whoever sealed it up died over 3,000 years ago. If that doesn’t mess with your head, nothing will.

I’m not saying that the ancient Egyptians pwn the Anglo-Saxons. Certainly not (and that’s only partly because I can’t speak ancient Egyptian) but boy, did they know how to do the afterlife. I think I must have been given a particularly grisly book on the Egyptians when I was little, as I distinctly remember having an imaginary pet Devourer around the age of 6 or 7.

Well, I would, wouldn’t I?

So go, if you have the chance. And then you, too, will know the joy of standing in front of a sarcophagus and desperately, desperately trying to stop yourself from saying in the quietest possible voice….

“Are you my mummy?”