“Women’s Fiction” In Australian Bookstores

This morning I finally made a trip to the mall to get a screw replaced in my sunglasses and woohoo! I’m no longer reliant upon duct tape, which means no one can possibly mistake me for Jack Duckworth.

Across the way from Specsavers is the best bookshop around these parts: Dymocks Belconnen, where you will find staff who really know their stuff. Such places are worth their weight in gold.

I popped into Dymocks not because I needed to buy a book, but because I read an article a few weeks ago in which two British women received a reply from the head of WH Smith, after requesting the ‘women’s fiction’ section be removed from all of the WH Smith book stores. They did not think women were a “minority or niche area”, and were “deeply offended by this condescending practice.”

I agree. There’s no need for a women’s section in the bookstore. While I acknowledge ‘women’s fiction’ might be a somewhat useful marketing term, marketers should keep it to themselves.

The letter made big news. It was reported in  The Telegraph and got comment in The Guardian.

That made me wonder about the local situation, because I couldn’t remember seeing a ‘women’s fiction’ section in Australia or New Zealand. If I’d seen one, it would have annoyed me.

That’s why I popped into Dymocks this morning. I was in a bit of a hurry, because I’d arranged to meet family members after picking up my glasses, and this arrangement had not included a ‘possible dalliance into a book store’. (Once I’m in one of those it’s hard to get me out.)

Nevertheless, the store was right there, so I ducked inside. A young man saw me glancing about at the store signage as if I were looking for something in particular, so he asked if I needed help. (Yes, I’m well aware that the phrase ‘young man’ makes me sound like an 80 year old woman.)

“Do you have a ‘women’s fiction’ section?” I asked.

A nearby male customer looked up from his book to glance at me. I must remember to lower my voice in such situations.

The young man thought about this, then, “Well, we do have a health section.”

“Nah, I’m not after a health book,” I said. (By now every man in the store thought I was looking for a how-to guide on menstruation and ovulation.)

“We do have books for women,” he continued, “but they’re shelved in the literature section.”

“Good,” I said. “Excellent. Thank you.”

He was about to point me towards said literature section but I told him, “I’m not actually looking for a book. I just wanted to make sure you don’t have a women’s section.”

Okaaaaaaaaay, said his face.

And then I hot-tailed out of the store, because it sometimes happens that I feel a bit crazy even when, in my head, the reasons for asking certain questions are perfectly legit.

This was one of those occasions. But I did leave a very satisfied customer.

Disclaimer: I have not visited every single book store in Australasia, so it’s quite possible there do exist ‘women’s literature’ sections in other book stores that I don’t know about. Let’s not go there.

bookstore privilege

Pathetic Fallacy – not actually an insult

For a wonderful explanation of this literary technique:

Pathetic fallacy is a poetic device where, for the purpose of creating symbolic value or another higher-order creative expression, we attribute human emotions to items which don’t feel emotions.

– see more from Edit Torrent.


The term ‘pathetic fallacy’ was coined in 1856 by a man called John Ruskin (an art critic). He meant it as an insult. For John, the most important thing about art was ‘truth’. He was getting a little sick and tired of art (and descriptions in books) which did not represent the ‘true appearances’ of things. He hated when poets let their ’emotions’ get in the way.

As an example of pathetic fallacy, John Ruskin offered the following:

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,

That dances as often as dance it can.

– from Christabel by Coleridge.

He said that was ‘morbid’. Of course, this makes almost every author of fictional prose and poetry throughout history ‘morbid’, including Shakespeare. Nowadays the phrase ‘pathetic fallacy’ is used in a neutral way.

But hang on. Isn’t that example above simply called ‘personification’? (When inanimate objects are described using the emotions and actions of people?)


This is straight out of M.H. Abrams, the literature student’s bible:

“Pathetic fallacy” is now used, for the most part, as a neutral name for a very common phenomenon in descriptive poetry, in which the ascription of human traits to inanimate nature is less formal and more indirect than in the figure called personification.

– A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th Ed.


Across all forms of art, Pathetic Fallacy is frequently used in regards to weather.

A character feels sad and it rains. (It happens in Chicken Run, but there are a million other examples.)

A character feels threatened and there’s a storm. (Storms tend to be more than just atmospheric.)

and so on.

by Paco CT


I really like this kind of pathetic fallacy. Especially storms. Love me a storm. (Except when a lightning bolt renders your TV aerial useless. Not a fan of that.)

But as mentioned by EditTorrent, when making use of this figure, we need to be careful of our sentence structures, and doubly careful about accidentally writing cliché.

That’s why it’s important to know what this is.

Blog Post Prompt: 10 Things I’ve Been Doing Recently

1. Eating this:

Because I read some more sensationalist scientific reporting this month which tried to make out that eating chocolate is good for us, and while my brain says ‘bullshit’, my heart say yeah.

2. Reading this:

I’ve already read it, seen the movie, argued about it online, got the t-shirt, but that was last year, and I need to have something intelligent to say about it this coming Wednesday at book club.

3. Browsing this site:

The Good Men Project, to balance all the female-centric blogs I also read.

4. Writing this:

Nothing much other than facebook updates, emails and minutes of meetings, to be frank. Also the odd blog post this month. A paucity of blog posts is always a good thing. It means I’ve been OTHERWISE PRODUCTIVE.

ie. Working on illustrations for something I wrote back in April.

5. Drinking this:

Because I happen to require the most expensive tea bag (by unit price) in the entire store. Not because it’s expensive. Because it’s dang GOOD.

6. Using this:

And lucky me — combined with hayfever I’m a prisoner during daylight hours, at least until this Australian summer is over. At least I might get some work done.

7. Watching this:

The entire first season of Lucky Louie, in one week. Not sure I’m proud of that, but hey ho.

8. Buying this:

Because there’s nothing quite as therapeutic as a good garlic crushing session. I never realised garlic juice was so sticky.

9. Listening to this:

Gotye’s latest album, which includes the song Somebody I Used To Know. While I love that song in particular, the entire album is excellent.

I also learned that Gotye is actually pronounced ‘Goat-y-eh’, which is unfortunate. For my favourite band I was imagining a pronunciation slightly more exotic.

10. Using this new word:

Crepuscular. Once I looked up what it means I kept seeing it everywhere.


How about you? What have you been doing recently? Here’s an easy template to copy and paste into your blog.

1. Eating this:

2. Reading this:

3. Browsing this site:

4. Writing this:

5. Drinking this:

6. Using this:

7. Watching this:

8. Buying this:

9. Listening to this:

10. Using this new word:

In Which We Contemplate the ‘Strong Female Character’

“Strong female characters” also doesn’t mean “weak male characters.” I’m a feminist. We want women to be equal to – not better than – men. Writers: When I say I want “strong female characters,” I don’t mean physically strong (though they can be that too).

Queries I never want to read: “Girl feels invisible. Meets hottest guy ever. Finds self-worth through his love. OMG he has a secret.”


BTW, a male protagonist who suddenly finds self-worth because a hot, confident love interest is totally into him is equally vomit-worthy.

– @sarahlapolla


Over at Google PlusChuck Wendig asked “What makes a strong female character?” and got some interesting responses:

  • Not fitting into stereotypes, of course. Being able to figure things out on her own. Being sexual without using her sexuality as a weapon or tool
  • Determination, just like male characters. The only difference is that a strong female character will use that determination to fuel her feminine qualities rather than turn her into a man.
  • I’d rather have an “interesting” character than a “strong” one, male or female.
  • For me, it’s the gender competition convention that really turns it cliche…As soon as it’s a comparison of ‘like a man’ (sex, drinking, karate), the strength component is lost to ‘trying too hard’.
  • Too many people confuse Strong characters with Tough ones.
  • I’m very bored with the “strong = kickass chick” stereotype, and so are a lot of female readers. That’s not a strong woman, per se, it’s a male fantasy (and sometimes a female fantasy, admittedly!).
  • What makes a strong female character is when you don’t treat them with kid gloves.
  • The ‘strong’ qualifier tends to fuzz the issue. What I usually mean when I use the term is ‘a female character who has her own agenda and exists for a reason that is not just to sleep with the hero, inspire him, and/or die so he can be sad.’
  • It’s hard to talk about A strong female character in isolation…One thing I look for in a story, or a writer’s body of work, is a variety of interesting female characters who are different from each other.
  • I’m not particularly interested in whether the character is a good role model…I just care about whether or not I like them.
Chuck also asks if ‘female’ is even a meaningful identifier in fiction.
  • Of course it is, inasmuch as being tall has anything to do with anything, or being French, or whatever.
  • That may depend on her back story and the relevance to the plot as a whole.

Why do girls need to read proactive female characters in fiction?

The answer may be self-evident, but I highly recommend a thought-provoking article in the Sydney Morning Herald, from the wonderfully cogent young adult feminist author Emily McGuire:

Although we wish the world was a safer place and should work to make it so, we need to prepare girls to live in it as it is. This seems obvious when talking about boys: of course they need to learn resilience and determination and rebelliousness against those who would hold them back or harm them. But we’re still so damn precious about girls. We pretend that passivity and fragility are innate, even as we expend a great deal of energy on instilling and enforcing them.

– Sugar, Spice and Stronger Stuff.


From Chuck Wendig’s thread, above:

Calling a character a “strong female character” in the first place comes from the older way of portraying women as helpless, weak, irrational, etc. It implies that seeing a woman who acts with strength is unusual. But trying to reverse that trend can be just as obnoxious. For an example of this, look at the women of the James Bond movies… Why is it that every single heroine we see from Victorian times just so happens to be the one-in-a-million who thinks that the entire way her society lives, from corsets to voting rights to how her husband acts, is hopelessly wrong? At that point, the character has become an anachronistic mouthpiece for the modern author’s personal beliefs, instead of a believable character who was raised in that society.

– Stevie Miller

See also: Thelma, Louise and All The Pretty Women by Carina Chocano, and a response to that at BlogHer: Are Weaker Role Models Better For Women?; Why one woman really likes loser women on TV. Carina Chocano also hates the phrase ‘Strong Female Character and explains why.

Maybe a strong female character is simply ‘a good person’.

But what on earth is that?

I think it’s dependent on being courageous, compassionate, respectful, which in turn generates respect, standing up for what you believe in and having the courage of your convictions, staying true to yourself, standing up for the underdog and yes, being a little bit proud and selfish every now and then. ’Cause no one respects a “yes” (wo)man.

– from What Makes A Good Person? by Scarlett Harris


See: 10 Legendary Bad Girls Of Literature from Flavorwire. Because it’s true: strong has nothing to with good, not for men, not for women.


Over at About.com you can find an aggregated list of links to more lists, of books featuring Strong Female Characters. I’ve also been on the lookout for such books myself, but been it’s a surprisingly slow process. Maybe I’ll start making use of those lists. I’ll post when I’ve read ten.

Like all women of strong character, she loved it when someone gave her orders; it was so restful.

“No,” said Charles, smiling at her disrespectfully. “Now, are you ready, my dearest darling?”

– from Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Related Links:

1. Characters To Channel For Confidence. (Good idea. Let’s not call them ‘strong’.)

2. Badass Lady Quotes from Persephone

3. Strong Women In Science Fiction and Fantasy Television, an MA thesis in PDF format from Feminist Frequency

4. Moments Women In Comics Are Awesome from Wired

5. Geek Feminism asks Where are all the strong female characters in dystopian SF stories?

6. Feminist Fantasy is a website which collects fantasy stories featuring strong female characters. Some of the fantasy stories are even matriarchal, which I’m sure would cause its own (interesting) problems. You can submit your own suggestions.

7. In Defence Of Screwed Up Female Characters. Men have always been able to poke fun at themselves; now it’s women’s turn, from Slate.

8. Emily Blunt Thinks Women’s Roles In Superhero Films Are Terrible, from The Mary Sue.

9. 10 of the Most Powerful Female Characters in Literature from Flavorwire

10. Favourite Female Heroine Characters from Book Page (though I’m pretty sure ‘female’ is superfluous in that blog title).

11. Picture books about female scientists, collated by Teach With Picture Books.

12. STRAIGHTENED CIRCUMSTANCES BLOG – Tim Hanley On Wonder Women and Women In Comics

13. Why I Write Strong Female Characters, by Greg Rucka, from io9

14. Getting Superheroines Right from Lit Reactor

15. A documentary: Wonder Women! The Untold story of American Superheroines.

16. The Myth Of The Strong Person from Psych Central

17. Film’s 14 Fiercest Females from Raindance Film Festival

18. The Best Literary Heroines of 2012 from Flavorwire

19. Female Writers Tougher Than Hemingway, collected by Book Riot

20. Rachel Weisz On Playing Strong Characters from Frisky

21. Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women, a good case at Overthinking It

22. How To Be A Strong Female Character (according to the Internet) from lessthanthree


24. From Terrible Minds: A strong female character is a character who happens to be a woman or a girl.

25. 10 Characters Who Got More Interesting After Being Gender Swapped from io9

26. This is a real world issue, but Blue Milk makes some observations about the myth of female strength and the real world problem with that assumption.

“It’s not that men are afraid of strong women, or fear of a person’s strength. It’s fear of the strength disparity.” – The Good Men Project

Gender Bias In Movies

In G-rated movies, 81 percent of the adults who hold jobs are male, and none of the women who do have jobs hold positions in science, medicine, law, business, politics, or the like.


Geena Davis is optimistic for the future. She expects better gender balance in movies for the next five years.

I’m not sure why she’s optimistic. I’ve been doing a bit of poking around on my own… This is what I found:

On How Movies Are Actually Doing A Worse Job (than they were before):

The Little Mermaid was a game-changer for Disney when it was released in the late eighties because, for some reason, it appealed to adults as well. Disney jumped on that, and produced a whole bunch of ‘children’s movies for kids’. These types of movies went really strong all through the nineties, but began to taper off. In 1998, Hercules was a dud (by Disney standards) and Kathleen McDonnell writes (in Honey, We Lost The Kids):

… though Pocahontas and Mulan did better, their more serious and female-centered storylines kept them from achieving blockbuster success. Around the same time, the company faced a new problem — competition — as other studios tried to scramble onto the family-film gravy train and began to borrow the Disney formula.

– from Honey, We Lost The Kids: rethinking childhood in the multimedia age.

The ‘Animation Wars’ were between Disney and Stephen Speilberg’s Dreamworks, of course, symbolised most clearly by 1998 releases of Antz (Dreamworks) and A Bug’s Life (Disney).

McDonnell doesn’t go into why it might be that ‘female-centred storylines’ make less money at box office, partly because that’s not what the book is about, and partly because it’s a given.

Then I came across this:

Hollywood Insiders Admit Hollywood Hates Women is a response to the New Yorker profile of Anna Faris in the April 2011 issue (which I haven’t read); and this review of Bad Teacher, which, like me, questions what it means to be a strong female character:

Here, a “strong woman” means a lazy, lying, scheming, slutty, and obstinately materialistic one, whose sole redeeming virtue is her hard body (which the camera shamelessly ogles, as if the men watching need their hand held to look at an actress’s ass), who is so delusional that she thinks her ostentatious assholery is rock-star sexy, and whose delusions are essentially validated by narrative resolution.

In 2007, Warner Bros Producers No Longer Doing Movies With Female Leads. Was this just vicious hearsay, or have they done just that?

Surely, surely no one would do that. Why risk alienating half of your viewing population?

But then I went to Wikipedia and took a look at the movies Warner Bros have produced since 2007. I then followed links to the plot summaries of those movies, and I’m saddened to report that Warner Bros seem to have done exactly as they said they would.

Here’s a list of the films they’ve made since the beginning of 2008.

I’m going to do a bit of a mind bender on you this time: Pink ones star men; blue ones star women. (Black ones star both female and male leads, or else I haven’t seen the film and can’t work out from the synopsis whether a male or female takes the lead.)

I don’t expect anyone to actually READ this list – just look at the colours.

The Bucket List – Blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers and billionaire hospital magnate Edward Cole meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. 

One Missed Call – Beth Raymond is terrified by the deaths of four friends (Taylor, Brian, Leann, and Shelley), three of which she personally witnessed, after they received chilling phone calls apparently from themselves in the future, showing the exact time of their deaths.

Fool’s Gold – Benjamin “Finn” Finnegan is a treasure hunter looking for a treasure from a Spanish galleon, known as the Aurelia, that was lost at sea with the 1715 Treasure Fleet.

10,000 B.C. – In 10,000 BC, a tribe of hunter-gatherers called the Yagahl live in a remote mountain range in the Urals and survive by killing woolly mammoths. D’Leh, a young hunter (m), has a companion named Evolet (f), an orphan who was found by the tribe.

Broken Angel – A young Turkish girl comes to America in search of the life she saw in the movies and on TV.

Chaos Theory – Frank Allen is a professional speaker who lectures on time management and he lives by example by perfectly maximizing his efficiency through scheduling and planning his own life down to the minute. 

Speed Racer – Speed Racer is an 18-year-old whose life and love has always been automobile racing. His parents Pops  and Mom run the independent Racer Motors, in which his brother Spritle, mechanic Sparky , and girlfriend Trixie are also involved. 

Death Note – The series is about Light Yagami, a young man and college student whose life undergoes a drastic change when he discovers a mysterious notebook, known as the “Death Note”, lying on the ground. 

Get Smart – Maxwell Smart, an analyst for the top secret American intelligence agency CONTROL, yearns to become a field agent like his friend Agent 23 whom he idolizes.

The Dark Knight – In Gotham City, the Joker and his accomplices rob a bank used by the local mob as a front for money laundering. Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon decide to include new district attorney Harvey Dent, who is dating Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart Rachel Dawes, in their plan to eradicate the mob. 

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 – The movie takes place three years after the first one, during the summer after the Sisterhood’s freshman year of college. Bridget is on the soccer team at Brown University. Lena is attending Rhode Island School of Design. Tibby is a film major at NYU. Carmen is attending Yale.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Separatists control the majority of the hyperlanes, leaving Republic forces stranded in different parts of the Outer Rim. Jabba the Hutt’s son Rotta is kidnapped as part of a plot to make the Hutts join the Separatists. Meanwhile, a fierce battle is taking place on the crystalline planet of Christophsis between the Republic’s small clone army and the Retail Clan forces. With the help of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the clones steadily advance on the Separatists’ forces, gaining the Republic an early victory. 

Hold Up –

Nights in Rodanthe – While picking up his son and daughter for a weekend visit, Jack tells his estranged wife Adrienne that he wants to move back home. Adrienne says she needs time and space to think. Adrienne drives to Rodanthe, North Carolina to a friend’s bed-and-breakfast for the weekend. The house is rustic, romantic and right on the beach and partially in the surf at high tide. There is only one guest for the weekend, Paul, a surgeon. A storm moves in and the two team up to protect the inn. They dine together, share stories and eventually turn to each other for emotional comfort. A genuine romance is born.

Body of Lies – Roger Ferris is a CIA case officer in Iraq, tracking a terrorist called Al-Saleem. He meets Nizar, a member of the terrorist organisation who is prepared to offer information in return for asylum in America.

Death Note: The Last Name – The series is about Light Yagami, a young man and college student whose life undergoes a drastic change when he discovers a mysterious notebook, known as the “Death Note”, lying on the ground.

RocknRolla – In London, the British mob boss Lenny Cole rules the growing real estate business using a corrupt Councilor for the bureaucratic services and his henchman Archy for the dirty work. The main characters are introduced in Archy’s opening voiceover (who acts as the narrator). A billionaire Russian businessman, Uri Omovich, plans a crooked land deal, and London’s crooks all want a piece of it. Other key players include the underhand accountant Stella  and ambitious small-time crook One-Two leading a group called the “Wild Bunch”.

Yes Man – Los Angeles bank employee Carl Allen has become withdrawn and preoccupied with his personal life since his divorce from ex-wife Stephanie . Routinely ignoring his friends Pete and Rooney for hangouts at their local bar where Stephanie regularly visits, he has grown used to spending his spare time watching DVDs alone in his apartment, and has an increasingly negative outlook on life. 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – In 2005, Daisy, an elderly woman, is on her deathbed in a New Orleans hospital. Daisy asks her daughter, Caroline, to read aloud from the diary of Benjamin Button. In 1918, a boy is born with the appearance and physical maladies of a very elderly man. The baby’s mother dies shortly after giving birth, and the father, Thomas Button, abandons the infant on the porch of a nursing home. Queenie and Mr. “Tizzy” Weathers, who work at the nursing home, find the baby, and Queenie decides to care for him as her own.

Gran Torino – Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a retired Polish American Ford factory worker and Korean War veteran, has recently been widowed after his wife of 50 years, Dorothy, passed away.

Chandni Chowk to China – Sidhu is a lowly vegetable cutter at a roadside food stall in the Chandni Chowk section of Delhi. He longs to escape his dreary existence and looks for shortcuts with astrologers, tarot card readers, and fake fakirs, refusing to believe in himself despite his foster father Dada’s best efforts. 

Slumdog Millionaire – In Mumbai in 2006, eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik, a former street child (child Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, adolescent Tanay Chheda) from the Juhu slum, is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and is one question away from the grand prize. However, before the Rs. 20 million question, he is detained and interrogated by the police, who suspect him of cheating because of the implausibility of a simple “slumdog” knowing all the answers.

Under the Sea 3D –

Watchmen – In the 1930s and ’40s, some of the vigilantes formed a group called the Minutemen. Decades later, a second generation of “superheroes” attempts to form a similar team called the Watchmen. Various historical events are shown to have been altered by the existence of superheroes, such as the John F. Kennedy assassination and the Vietnam War. The American victory in Vietnam, due to the intervention of the godlike being Dr. Manhattan , leads to Richard Nixon’s third term as President following the repeal of term limits in the United States. 

Observe and Report – An anonymous flasher exposes himself to shoppers in the Forest Ridge Mall parking lot. The head of mall security, Ronald “Ronnie” Barnhardt , makes it his mission to apprehend the offender. He is assisted by Charles  and Dennis , and the Yuen twins, in his efforts.

Terminator Salvation – In 2003, Doctor Serena Kogan of Cyberdyne Systems convinces death row inmate Marcus Wright to sign his body over for medical research following his execution by lethal injection. One year later the Skynet system is activated, perceives humans as a threat to its own existence, and eradicates much of humanity in the event known as “Judgment Day”.

The Hangover – Celebrating his impending marriage to Tracy , Doug and his friends Phil , Stu , and Tracy’s brother Alan  travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, staying at Caesars Palace.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Harry is shown bleeding in front of the Ministry of Magic, which took place after the second to last scene of the previous film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Lord Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds and has chosen Draco Malfoy to carry out a secret mission. Severus Snape accepts Bellatrix Lestrange’s challenge to make an Unbreakable Vow with Draco’s mother, Narcissa, to protect Draco and fulfill the assignment if he fails.

Orphan – Kate Coleman and her husband, John, are experiencing strains in their marriage after their third child was stillborn. The loss is particularly hard on Kate, who is also recovering from alcoholism. They adopt a 9-year-old Russian girl, Esther, from the local orphanage. While Kate and John’s deaf-mute daughter, Max, embraces Esther almost immediately, their son, Daniel, is less welcoming.

Whiteout – US Marshal Carrie Stetko has been working in remote Antarctica for two years, since a betrayal by her partner in Miami that killed him and nearly killed her. She is finally planning to leave, but first is called upon with her friend Doc and pilot Delfy to retrieve a body spotted in a remote area.

The Informant! – Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s, blows the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics at the urging of his wife Ginger. One night in November 1992, Whitacre confesses to FBI agent Brian Shepard that ADM executives — including Whitacre himself — had routinely met with competitors to fix the price of lysine, an additive used in the commercial livestock industry.

Shorts – The movie starts before the logo with a pair of twins who decide to have a staring contest. The game throughout the course of the movie as a running gag. Both brother and sister lose because their mom snapped her fingers in front of their faces, causing both to blink at the same time. As they wondered who won the game they began a new round, which starts the logo and begins the film.

The Firm – Becks is the leader of the West Ham United football firm, that travels up and down the country to fight other firms. Dom is a normal teenage lad who hangs around with his mates, and one night they go to a nightclub, where his friend Tel walks into Becks and after the two share words, Tel is headbutted in the face by Becks.

The Invention Of Lying – Mark Bellison is an unsuccessful lecture-film writer who is assigned to write about the 13th century, a “very boring” era. One night he goes out on a date with the beautiful, charming and wealthy Anna McDoogles.

Where the Wild Things Are – The film begins with Max, a lonely eight-year-old boy with an active imagination whose parents are divorced, wearing a wolf costume and chasing his dog. His older sister, Claire, does nothing when her friends crush Max’s snow fort (with him inside) during a snowball fight.

Goemon – As a child, Ishikawa Goemon’s entire family was assassinated for political reasons. His mother (Ryo) sent Goemon off moments before she was killed herself. Running away with his caretaker, they were attacked by bandits, but he was saved by Nobunaga Oda who offered him a chance to become stronger. Goemon followed Nobunaga and he was assigned to Hattori Hanzō to train him in the ways of the shinobi (ninja) along with Saizō.

The Box – In 1976, Norma and Arthur Lewis, a financially strapped couple, wake to find a package on the doorstep. Inside the package is a locked wooden box with a button and a note that reads: “Mr. Steward will call upon you at 5:00 pm”. Promptly at five, Steward, a middle aged, facially disfigured man, arrives.

The Blind Side – For most of his childhood, 17-year-old Michael Oher  has been in foster care with different families throughout Memphis, Tennessee. Every time he is placed in a new home, he runs away. His friend’s father, whose couch Mike had been sleeping on, asks Burt Cotton, the coach of Wingate Christian school, to help enroll his son and Mike. Impressed by Mike’s size and athleticism, Cotton gets him admitted despite his abysmal academic record.

Ninja Assassin – Raizo is raised by the Ozunu Clan to become the most lethal Ninja assassin in the world. As a child, Raizo (being an orphan) was taken in by Lord Ozuno and is enrolled in severe brutal training to become the next successor of their clan. The only generosity he ever receives was from a kunoichi named Kiriko (f), with whom he develops a romantic bond. As time goes on, Kiriko becomes disenchanted with the Ozunu’s routine and wishes to abandon it for freedom. One rainy night, Kiriko decides to make her escape and encourages Raizo to join her; however he decides to stay.

Invictus – After 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela is released in 1990. His immediate challenge is “balancing black aspirations with white fears”, as racial tensions from the apartheid era have not completely disappeared.

Sherlock Holmes – In 1891, London detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner and roommate Dr. John Watson race to prevent the ritual murder of a woman by Lord Henry Blackwood (Mark Strong), who has killed five other young women similarly. They stop the murder before Inspector Lestrade and the police arrive to arrest Blackwood.

The Book of Eli – Thirty years after a nuclear apocalypse,Eli (Washington) travels on foot toward the west coast of the United States. Searching for a source of water, he arrives in a ramshackle town built and overseen by Carnegie (Oldman), who dreams of building more towns and controlling the people by using the power of a certain book. His henchmen scour the desolate landscape daily in search of it, but to no avail.

Edge of Darkness – Edge of Darkness follows a detective Tom Craven investigating the murder of his activist daughter, while uncovering political conspiracies and cover-ups in the process.

Valentine’s Day – It’s Valentine’s Day in Los Angeles, florist Reed Bennett proposes to his girlfriend Morley who accepts, much to the surprise of Reed’s closest friends Alphonso and Julia Fitzpatrick. Morley changes her mind and leaves Reed later in the day. Alphonso tells Reed he and Julia knew it would never work out between him and Morley, and Reed wishes they had told him.

Cop Out – James “Jimmy” Monroe and Paul Hodges, cops working for the NYPD, are celebrating their ninth year together as partners. After failing to capture suspect Juan Diaz and for causing a disastrous neighborhood shootout and beating up a child, they are suspended without pay. 

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? – Puneet is a screenwriter in Mumbai who is currently working on a film with director Bollywood Ranjeet. He lives a happy life with his wife Munmun, son Ayush and neighbor Pappu who is leaving for holidays now.

Hubble 3D – a  documentary film about the Hubble Space Telescope repair mission. (Out of this discussion because no decision required when of which fictional characters to represent on the big screen.)

Clash of the Titans – The story is very loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus. The story resumes with a fisherman by name of Spyros finding a casket, bearing a baby still living, clasped in the arms of his mother’s corpse, afloat in the sea. Spyros and his wife, Marmara, raise the baby as their own and name him “Perseus”. Years later, Perseus is fishing with his family when they witness from their ship soldiers from the city of Argos destroying a statue of Zeus. The Gods, infuriated at this desecration, unleash the Furies — flying beasts who pursue mortal sinners. The soldiers are attacked and slaughtered by the Furies.

The Losers – The Losers are an elite black-ops team of United States Special Forces operatives, led by Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and formed by Roque (Idris Elba), Pooch (Columbus Short), Jensen (Chris Evans) and Cougar (Óscar Jaenada), who are sent to Bolivia in a search-and-destroy mission on a compound run by a drug lord. While painting a target for an upcoming air strike, the Losers spot slave children in the compound and try to call off the attack, but their superior, codenamed “Max” (Jason Patric), ignores their pleas.

Sex and the City 2 – Set two years after the first film, the film begins with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) meeting up with each other at a shop in New York which turns into a flashback to how Carrie arrived in New York City in 1986, then met Charlotte in 1987, Miranda in 1988, and finally Samantha in 1989.

Splice – Genetic engineers Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) hope to achieve fame by successfully splicing together the DNA of different animals to create new hybrid animals for medical use. They have just created the second in a pair of identical hybrids; the new male specimen, Fred, is intended as a mate for the original specimen, a female called Ginger.

Jonah Hex – During the American Civil War, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) served as a Confederate cavalryman until his commanding officer, Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), a General for the Confederates who is obsessed with the fall of the Union, ordered him to burn down a hospital. Hex refused, and was forced to kill his best friend, Turnbull’s son Jeb. After the war, a vengeful Turnbull and his right-hand man, Burke (Michael Fassbender), a psychopathic man who often takes pleasure in those he kills or torments, tie up Hex and force him to watch as his house is burned down with his wife and son inside.

Inception – Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perform illegal corporate espionage by entering the subconscious minds of their targets, using two-level “dream within a dream” strategies to extract valuable information.

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore – At a satellite base in Northern Germany, a worker named Friedrich (Fred Armisen), delivering secret codes finds a Cocker Spaniel puppy outside his office. He brings the puppy inside, showing her to his Bloodhound, Rex. Rex senses something is wrong with the puppy and starts to bark at her, making the worker take him outside. Both are locked out of the office. Rex looks in the window seeing the puppy taking pictures of the top secret documents and later revealing to be Kitty Galore (voiced byBette Midler), an evil female hairless cat. Rex turns out to be a dog agent and reports to HQ.

Flipped – Flipped is a 2010 romantic comedy drama film…In 1957, when second-graders Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and Julianna “Juli” Baker (Madeline Carroll) first meet, Juli knows it’s love. But Bryce isn’t so sure. Girl-phobic and easily embarrassed, young Bryce does everything he can to keep his outspoken wanna-be girlfriend at arm’s length for the next six years, which isn’t easy since they go to the same school and live across the street from each other.

Lottery Ticket – The film takes place over the Fourth of July weekend as Kevin Carson (Bow Wow), tries to avoid losing his lottery ticket worth $370 million. Kevin lives in the Fillmore Projects with his best friend Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), a small-time unemployed hood, his religious grandmother (Loretta Devine), and college-bound Stacie (Naturi Naughton). On his way to Foot-Locker, they come across the neighborhood bully Lorenzo (Gbenga Akinnagbe) who tells Kevin to hook him and his boys up with three pairs of new Jordans each. 

Going the Distance – is a 2010 romantic comedy film…Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a 31-year-old woman who is having trouble pacing her life. She is still in grad school and she recently got a job as a summer intern at a newspaper in New York. While out with a friend at a bar, she meets Garrett (Justin Long) who interrupts her game of Centipede. The two then drink together and end up at his place where they smoke from a bong and have sex while Garrett’s roommate Dan (Charlie Day) “DJs their hook up”. 

The Town – Four lifelong friends from the dangerous streets of the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown—Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert “Gloansy” Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond “Dez” Elden (Owen Burke)—rob a bank, wearing skull masks to avoid identification and also carefully destroying any trace evidence. They also take as a hostage Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), thte bank manager.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – Soren (Jim Sturgess), a young barn owl, lives in the forest of Tyto with his family: his father, Noctus (Hugo Weaving); his mother, Marella (Essie Davis); his older brother, Kludd (Ryan Kwanten); his younger sister, Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria); and Ms. Plithiver, (Ms. P.) the family’s nest maid, a snake. Soren enjoys hearing stories of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mythical group of warrior owls, who once saved all owlkind from the evil “Pure Ones”. His elder brother, Kludd, however, thinks Soren soft-headed for believing in such stories. One night, while branching, Kludd pushes Soren and loses his balance, too; and they both fall to the ground where they are attacked by an animal resembling a Tasmanian devil. They are then kidnapped by two owls, Jatt and Jutt and taken to St. Aegolious, the canyon home of the evil Pure Ones.

Life as We Know It – is a 2010 comedy-drama film…Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is the owner of a small Atlanta bakery, and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel), known as “Messer”, is a promising television technical sports director for the Atlanta Hawks, who will have sex with almost any girl he meets. Both are godparents of Sophie Christina Novak, the baby daughter of their friends Peter and Alison , who decide to set them up on a date. However, Holly and Messer have only two things in common: their mutual dislike and their love for their goddaughter. After Peter and Alison die in a car crash, Holly and Messer learn that their friends have named them Sophie’s joint guardians. Holly and Messer must put their differences aside and move into Sophie’s home to care for her.

Hereafter – The film tells three parallel stories about three people affected by death in similar ways – all three have issues of communicating with the dead; Matt Damon plays American factory worker George, who is able to communicate with the dead – who has worked professionally as a Clairvoyant but no longer wants to communicate with the dead; Cécile de France plays French television journalist Marie, who survives a near-death experience during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami; and twins Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren), British boys touched by tragedy when Jason dies.

Due Date – Peter Highman is a high strung, type A yuppie on his way home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be present at the birth of his first child, a scheduled C-section, with his wife, Sarah.

FireBreather – On the last day of the war between humans and Kaiju, a woman named Margaret Rosenblatt (voiced by Dana Delany) and a 120 ft dragon Kaiju named Belloc (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) fall in love, and have a son named Duncan. Sixteen years later, Margaret and Duncan (voiced by Jesse Head) are moving into a new house as he gets ready for his first day at a new school. However, Duncan fears that his orange skin and appetite for coal with make others think of him as a freak and a prime target for bullies.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – The story follows Harry Potter on a quest to find and destroy Lord Voldemort’s secret to immortality – the Horcruxes.

Yogi Bear – Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) are two brown bears who have a penchant for stealing picnic baskets from visitors to Jellystone Park, while park rangers Smith (Tom Cavanaugh) and Jones (T. J. Miller) try to prevent them from doing so.

The Rite – Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), disillusioned with his job as a mortician, decides to enter a seminary school and abdicate his vows upon completion, thereby getting a free college degree. Four years have passed, and Michael is being ordained to the diaconate at the seminary. However, after ordination, he writes a letter of resignation to his superior, Father Matthew, citing a lack of faith. Father Matthew (Toby Jones), apparently wanting to talk Michael out of his decision, attempts to catch up to Michael on the street.

Unknown – Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Liz (January Jones) arrive in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. Upon arriving at their hotel, Hotel Adlon, Martin realizes his briefcase was left at the airport. He takes a taxicab driven by Gina (Diane Kruger), but on the way to the airport, the cab crashes off a bridge into the river. Martin is knocked unconscious upon impact, but Gina saves him from drowning before fleeing from the scene to avoid the police, since she is an illegal immigrant from Bosnia. On Thanksgiving day, he gains consciousness at the hospital after being in a coma for four days.

Hall Pass – Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are best friends as are their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate). They are both unhappy with their sex lives and missing the old days when they were single. Realizing this, their wives talk to their friend Dr. Lucy (Joy Behar) and decide to give them a “Hall Pass”: A week off from marriage during which they can have sex with other women.

Red Riding Hood – Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives in the village of Daggerhorn, which is on the edge of a haunted black forest. As a child, she developed an affinity for hunting and sneaking out when she was told not to for a boy who she grew to love, a woodsman named Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). Despite her feelings, however her mother Suzette (Virginia Madsen) and father Cesaire (Billy Burke) disapprove and instead promise her to wed Henry (Max Irons) the son of the wealthy blacksmith Adrian Lazar (Michael Shanks).

Sucker Punch – In the 1960s, a 20-year-old girl nicknamed “Babydoll” (Emily Browning), is institutionalized by her sexually abusive stepfather (Gerard Plunkett) at the Lennox House for the Mentally Insane after she is blamed for the death of her younger sister. Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac), one of the asylum’s orderlies, is bribed by Babydoll’s stepfather into forging the signature of the asylum’s psychiatrist, Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Gugino), to have Babydoll lobotomized, so she cannot inform the authorities of the true circumstances leading to her sister’s death.

Arthur – a remake of the 1981 film written and directed by Steve Gordon. It starsRussell Brand in the title role, with Helen Mirren, Jennifer Garner, Greta Gerwig and Nick Nolte in supporting roles.

Something Borrowed – an American romantic comedy film…Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a single, talented attorney working in a New York law firm. After too many drinks on her 30th birthday, Rachel grabs a cab with Dex (Colin Egglesfield) and playfully reveals she has had a crush on him since law school. The problem is, Dex is also her best friend Darcy’s (Kate Hudson) fiancé. They wake up in bed together the next morning to Darcy calling both of their phones. Dex sneaks out and they do not have time to speak about what happened between them. What Rachel thinks is a one night stand, is actually the beginning of an emotional roller coaster once Dex tells Rachel he is in love with her.

The Hangover: Part II – Two years after their escapade in Las Vegas, Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), Doug (Justin Bartha), and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) are traveling to Thailand to celebrate Stu’s impending wedding to Lauren (Jamie Chung).

Green Lantern – is a 2011 superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. The film stars Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett and Tim Robbins, with Martin Campbell.

Horrible Bosses –  is a 2011 black comedy film…Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) and Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) are friends who despise their bosses. Nick works at a financial firm for emotionally abusive Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) who dangles the possibility of a promotion to Nick, only to award it to himself. Dale suffers sexual harassment from his boss Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) who threatens to falsely tell his fiancee (Lindsay Sloane) that he had sex with her unless he actually has sex with her. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – The story continues to follow Harry Potter‘s quest to find and destroy Lord Voldemort‘s Horcruxes. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, alongsideRupert Grint and Emma Watson as Harry’s best friends.

Crazy, Stupid, Love – Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) gets the surprise of his life when he learns that his wife Emily (Julianne Moore) cheated on him with a coworker, David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), and wants a divorce. After moving into his own apartment, Cal begins frequenting a bar night after night, talking loudly about his divorce, until he attracts the attention of a young man named Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling). Jacob is a womanizer who successfully beds women each night, although a young woman named Hannah (Emma Stone) recently rejected his advances. Taking pity on Cal, Jacob agrees to teach him how to pick up women.

Final Destination 5 – is the fifth installment to the Final Destination film franchise and stars Nicholas D’AgostoEmma BellMiles FisherArlen EscarpetaDavid Koechner, and Tony Todd.

The Last Circus – In 1937, a “Happy” clown is forcibly recruited to serve in the Spanish Civil War, where he massacres an entire platoon with a machete still in costume. In 1973, near the end of the Franco regime, the clown’s son, Javier, follows in his father’s footsteps to become a clown, but he is too miserable to be funny and is instead relegated to play the part of the Sad Clown. There he is repeatedly humiliated by the Happy Clown Sergio for the entertainment of others. Javier later falls in love with Sergio’s gorgeous acrobat wife, Natalia. A love triangle ensues between the three of them, and the two clowns engage in a horrific battle with one another.


1. While Warner Bros are still producing a few films starring women in lead roles, these tend to be either tried and true stories (e.g. Red Riding Hood – which is actually about a girl in search of a boy), or spin-offs from stories which have already proven successful (e.g. Sex In The City 2), or new romantic comedy films which, by requirements of their plots, are about women finding men, and are therefore about men, even though they star women.

2. I think there would be a public outrage if Warner Brothers (and other big Hollywood players) inverted what they were doing, and started making this many films about women, with the odd token man.

3. In film it’s easy to miss how few new stories are produced about women (women in their own right, not about women’s existence in relation to men) because there exists a fairly high proportion of romantic comedies which at first glance seems to even the balance somewhat. We also see women in films which are not romantic comedies. In non-rom coms, women most often appear as somebody’s mother/love interest/wife/victim. So the problem is not the lack of women in films, because they are there – the problem is lack of stories about women, for women.

I do hope Geena Davis is right. I hope movie producers realise that women would be more keen on going to the cinema if only they were producing films about us. There’s a very good reason why my husband is usually more keen on going to the movies than I am. The movies are made for him.

However, I doubt this imbalance will improve in the short term because film makers are relying more and more upon revenue outside box office revenue e.g. computer game spinoffs. My hunch is that women buy far fewer computer games than men.

I hope I’m wrong.

BTW, Hollywood knows Hollywood movies fucking suck. From Jezebel. And here he is again.

Related: Women’s Stories And The Oscars from Feminist Frequency, in which we learn exactly how many woman centred movies win this big award.

Picture Books In Which A Child’s Imagination Takes Over


A lot of books in this category begin with a strange creature turning up on the doorstep. Sometimes the adults can see this creature, but sometimes only the children are able to see it, and the Cat in the Hat is a good example.

Oftentimes, when the adult can see the creature,  I wonder if the child characters are looking at the same thing as the adult characters, because there are times when my toddler tries to draw me into her imaginary world and I do act the part, but I remember being three and slightly confused about the demarcation between real creatures and toys (specifically a monkey puppet, brought to ‘life’ by my older cousin who made it talk and the uncle who gifted it, who had it smoking cigarettes and drinking beer). Many of my stuffed toys were assumed to have real feelings, while I only partially acknowledged that other humans had the same feelings that I did.

In many picture book stories (especially those involving teddy bears), this developmental stage is milked. (A teddy gets lost and feels lonely, for example.) As the parent of a toddler who owns an overly-precious teddy, I wonder at the wisdom of promoting this idea. I rather prefer books in which toddlers learn other people have feelings. This sort of storyline seems more likely to teach empathy, no? And this household doesn’t need another great upset after Teddy Number Two gets lost. Still, I can see the appeal of such stories, because my toddler loves books which feature teddy bears and other stuffed toys as protagonists. Oftentimes it’s not clear whether an animal character is an actual animal or a stuffed toy or simply a figment of a child’s imagination. This is part of the charm.


A boy sees monsters all around the house. Each monster has a poetic sounding name which allows readers to revel in the language.


It seems Dr Seuss really warmed to the theme! A boy is told to keep his eyes peeled on his way home from school, but also to ‘stop telling such outlandish tales’ about what he saw.

The boy continues to see outlandish things on Mulberry Street, and even has his own wagon hitched up to the back of some circus procession by the time he gets home, but he relays none of this to his father, instead telling him that he saw ‘a plain horse and wagon’. This line is such a great comedown after the outlandish tale, and makes a perfect closing sentence.

This book would make an excellent introduction to a middle grade class of students about to write their own ‘tall tales’.

From Mental Floss: The Quick 10: Stories Behind 10 Dr. Seuss Stories.


It’s the Bear by Jez Alborough

A mother takes a little boy for a picnic in the woods. (Eddy has his Teddy, named Freddy.) The mother goes back to the car for the forgotten blueberry pie. Eddy is scared of bears, but his mother tells him not to be silly. While she’s away he hears a big voice, ‘I smell food!’ and a huge bear arrives on the scene. (The bear is clutching its own teddy.) The boy jumps inside the picnic hamper . The bear sits on that and gobbles up all the food. Wondering what’s for dessert, he looks inside. The huge bear is as frightened as the boy. The mother comes back and doesn’t notice the huge bear, not until the boy points it out. At this point it becomes less clear that this is all in Eddy’s mind, because the mother sees the bear and they go running back to the car. She drops the blueberry pie, and the bear eats it up.

The illustrations of the forest are beautifully detailed. I recently read this 8 times in one day at the request of my two year old, who loves it. She grabs my arm when the little boy realises his mother’s gone missing.


This would be another fantastic choice for a child who loves teddy bears. It is a series of vignettes, reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh, except instead of a little boy we have a little girl whose only companion in life seems to be this huge grizzly bear, who sometimes plays the part of playmate, sometimes female caregiver (with an apron), sometimes a grandfatherly role (dancing with her in the moonlight while wearing a bow-tie.) Of course I can’t say any of that without gender stereotyping! But in fact this is part of what I love about the book.

I also love the stories themselves, which make me go, ‘Awww’, and I can’t wait to show this one to my daughter when she gets home from her grandparents’ house.

Minty and Tink by Emma Chichester Clark

A little girl (Minty, about four) goes shopping with her mother. A little bear talks to her from the shelf. She asks her mother if she can buy it, and they go home with it. Minty loves the bear, who talks back. But it turns out the mother bought the little bear to give to Minty’s baby brother for his birthday. Minty doesn’t want to part with it, so suggests any number of her old, dirty and broken toys. Mum says no. The next day, on the baby’s birthday, baby is given the bear and tries to put it straight into his mouth. Both Minty and Mum dive in to rescue it. Dad says Minty better keep the bear after all because the baby might choke on it. Minty has prepared a huge, colourful banner saying ‘Happy Birthday’. Her parents think this is marvellous and Minty gets to keep her bear.

Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

The story begins: “Billy used to be a bit of a worrier.”

When he goes to bed, Billy worries about all sorts of things (hats, clouds, giant birds). His parents reassure him, but still he worries. (The illustrations in real life are rendered in colour, whereas the scenes where Billy withdraws into his own mind are pen and ink sepia or blue tone overlay.) Finally he spends the night at his grandmother’s, who gives him a worry doll. There’s an explanation after the end of this story that worry dolls are a Guatemalan tradition which have spread around the world. Billy sleeps well for a few nights, but then starts to worry that he’s worrying the dolls with his worries. So he deals with this by making worry dolls for the worry dolls, and so on and so forth.

Circus Play by Anne Laurel Carter

A child has a house that is very popular. The neighbourhood children come to see his mother doing circus tricks in the living room. They all sit around and watch as a replacement for the TV. The story turns into a very tall story, as the mother flies around the world and all sorts. The boy gets involved as a trapeze artist, and enjoys the limelight. He expects the children will turn up again tomorrow to watch him.

My Favourite Places by Martin Bailey

This is a clever book of few words, in which a boy goes outside to play. He plays in his natural environment (up trees, piles of shingle, in the bushes and so on) but on each intervening page we see that in his head he is actually mountaineering, on a pirate ship, on an African savannah etc. He ends up going home for tea. This book was published 2008, so is contemporary. Just once, therefore, I’d like to see a picture of a MAN dishing up dinner, not a woman – or two women in this case. Perhaps the boy has lesbian parents. Perhaps it’s me who’s unenlightened.)

A similar book is Let’s Escape, by Mike Dumbleton. This time a boy is in bed and imagines various scenarios in his head, probably as a means by which to fall asleep. These kinds of books open up wonderful scope for conceptual artwork and this book, illustrated by Kim Gamble, delivers on that front too.


An imaginary friend turns up thinking it’s Ted’s birthday. They play together and get into all sorts of mischief. (Drawing on walls, flooding the house.) Dad is really angry. (There’s no mother in the story.) The imaginary friend takes off to the park, Ted joins him. At the park, the monster says that he used to play with the father, before he got so busy and boring. (The underlying message is that adults have no time for children these days.) The father comes to find the boy, finds a childhood toy and remembers the imaginary friend. After that the father seems to have reclaimed his boyish imagination, and in the final few pages we see the father, monster and boy doing fun things together. (I wonder if this book was paid to advertise Monopoly and Twister. These games feature on quite a few pages.)

The illustrations are very appealing for their execution and humour. The imaginary thing in the story has a button sewn on for a belly button, which is just one detail that amused me.


I’d say this book is aimed at children a little older than toddler age. My toddler seems a bit scared of it. The images are indeed a little intimidating – dark and sinister – testament to the artist’s skill.

But like Tony Diterlizzi’s book above, the child sees a creature nobody else sees, and the message is that all sorts of strange things happen in this world, if only we take the time to see them. Shaun Tan writes on the inside cover flap:

I guess you want to know what this book is about, just be reading this cover flap. Fair enough too; time is short, lives are busy, and most smart, thinking people have better things to do than stand around looking at picture books about some big red thing being lost in a strange city…

Unlike in Diterlizzi’s book, though, there is no revelation, no character arc for an adult who suddenly learns to ‘see’ again, like a child. Instead, the child takes the red thing to lost and found, and the world goes on pretty much as usual. The boys sees that sort of thing less and less, and we realise he’s growing up and losing the power of his imagination… or whatever you call it.

The images are partly conceptual technical drawing, part collage, which seem to be mostly cut-outs from an out-of-copyright textbook about heat engines and applied thermodynamics.

This book has also been made into a short film, which won best short film in 2010. I’d love to see it.

Here’s Shaun Tan talking about the themes and how he came up with the concept.


The illustrator is Nick Sharratt, whose name is as recognisable as his artwork, with its thick, dark lines and signature colour palette. (I recognised him from Jacqueline Wilson books.)

The girl must have been watching too much Get Smart, because she decides she’s going to be a spy. Problem is, no one understands her secret code. Her mother joins in the game by dressing up and pretending she’s also a spy, so mother and daughter end up having a great bonding session with cookies and milk in bed.


Margaret Mahy is a master of this type of storybook. In this classic, first published 1975, a boy is followed home by a hippo, then many hippos. A local witch is summoned to fix the problem. The humour of this story lies mainly in the pragmatic approach to the problem’s solution; no one is particularly surprised that such a bizarre thing is happening. The father is so anxious to get the problem solved (because the hippos are damaging his lawn – not because hippos are the most dangerous animal on the African landscape) that he doesn’t listen carefully to the witch. Sure enough, the boy is next followed home by a lot of giraffes.

Coming back to Mahy’s books, I feel a bit ripped off, because I was born after this book was published, and I grew up in New Zealand (where Mahy lives) and for some reason I never grew up with her books. Instead, I was surrounded by the work of Enid Blyton and a whole lot of Disney stuff, yet something tells me that had I been introduced to these stories at the right age, I would have been entranced by the magic.

I did meet Margaret Mahy in person, at a Young Author’s Conference in Nelson. She was wearing the wig of a clown and told us that she’d been a terrible liar as a child. She used to pretend she was a farm animal, and even ate grass once to prove the point.


How annoying to be an author, called Stephen King, and not be *Stephen King* and thus required to include your middle name. I’m reminded of the Michael Bolton character from Office Space, the movie. I’m sure it’s not quite like that…

I digress.

In this book, Patricia has many imaginative thoughts which she tries to share with the adults in her life. But the adults will not listen to her. Except for her grandfather, who is the only one with time to hear what she says. You can guess the moral, and who the moral is aimed at. Not the child reader, I suspect, but the adult. The story might well provide comfort though, to a child who feels unheard.


I wasn’t taken by the title of this book. I thought it was going to be about an unlikeable boy who learned a lesson about gratitude, but that’s not what this story is about at all. It’s about a cheeky but likeable kid who goes on a flying-carpet-like adventure while wearing the jumper knitted for him by his gran. He still thinks it’s ‘yukky’ at the end of the story, which is refreshing because moralistic character arcs can get a bit tiresome after a while.


When I was a kid I used to fantasise about a fairy coming to wake me up in the middle of the night. Naturally, I grew wings and went flying with her. That’s what happens in this book. When Lulu wakes up she tells her mother all about it, and the mother thinks it’s all a dream. Lulu, of course, is convinced it really happened.

But this isn’t just a book about a child’s fantasy; it’s a moral lesson for the parent reading it, because we’re told Lulu’s own mother is too busy doing housework such as disposing of a dead mouse, and caring for the new baby to drop everything to sit down and help make Lulu a fairy dress at her first whim.

By the end of the book, the mother has realised the error of her ways and we see mother and daughter sitting down together to make Lulu her own pink fairy dress with wings. Because that’s what real quality time is all about.

Spending time with your children is a very good thing. But perhaps I’ve read one too many children’s books in which I’m given a lecture about being in the moment with my child. I’m a stay at home mother, and I do wonder if working mothers are even more susceptible to vomit inducing moral lessons such as this one, or if I’m particularly susceptible. It would also seem that stories which fit into this broad category (the child’s imagination taking over, that is) are particularly ripe for this particular moral lesson. But in this age of ‘helicopter parenting’, in which children are given too LITTLE free time and freedom to engage their own imaginations, is it really necessary?


Something arrives on James’ doorstep – something inside a paper bag, and without any explanation or questioning, James’ toy elephant is the one who puts on her glasses and checks it out. It turns out to be a toy rabbit (unnamed in the story, but clear from the pictures.)

The photo realistic paintings in this book suit the fantasy, because in James’s world, his stuffed elephants are as real as his actual pet dog. We see the huge stuffed elephant at the park with him, for instance, in a Winnie the Pooh type of world. I wondered if the pictures had been creating using photo references of a boy and his dog, with the stuffed animal creatures added in later.

Perhaps photo realistic illustrations are best suited to stories in which a child’s imagination takes over. It got me thinking, anyway.


This one’s for all the pirate loving children out there. A boy plays pirates in the bath. We first see that he’s in a bath, but the rest of the illustrations have us fully immersed in the boy’s imagination. We don’t see the bath again until the end of the story, when Jack laughs at the ridiculous things his imaginative pirates have got up to.

There’s something about the cartoonish illustrations in this book which give it a homemade feel. Sure enough, it’s published by a small New Zealand publishing house in Nelson. Go indie!


This is a classic ‘tall story’. A red headed boy is quiet by day, but at night (as he falls asleep) he imagines he is a superhero.

I never went through a superhero phase myself, but I imagine that lots of kids do, given the enduring appeal of Superman, Spiderman and suchlike. (Maybe if girls had better superhero role models, we might go through this phase too?)

The illustrations in this book invite the eye to linger, with details providing humour.


Published in 1984, I remember this story from my own childhood. But I didn’t remember it at all until I came across the book again.

I grew up near the sea, and one of the beaches had particularly foamy surf, and I remember picking it up and being awed by it — I also remember taking conch shells home and listening for the sea inside. I’m quite sure this book was influential.

With the sound of the sea inside the shell, the little boy (perhaps three?) imagines the sea comes out of the shell and fills up his bedroom. He has a great time playing in his room until his parents come in and wonder why he’s not in bed asleep. He gets into bed, and next time they go the beach he’s not at all scared. (I can’t help but feel that a little sea fear is a good thing!)

As in many picturebooks in which a child’s imagination takes over within the context of day-to-day family life, the boy finds a little pile of sand in his bedroom — proof, to him, that the sea had occupied his space.

I’m sometimes slightly annoyed by this technique — why must children need proof of the power of imagination? But a small pile of sand may well have fallen out of the shell itself, and so manages quite nicely to tie this ‘evidence’ back into the real world. I prefer authors to do that rather than fabricate something impossible.

The Best Time I Got Flashed And Fainted

I was browsing an out-of-copyright medical book recently, as you do, when I came across the image above. At first sight it looks like someone after they’ve suffered a fright, but in fact it’s a diagram of veins and arteries and things.


I like this medical diagram very much, because it’s the first one I’ve ever seen that makes me laugh out loud instead of squirm. I’m one of those unfortunates who cannot stand that stuff. You know: needles, blood oozing out of injured things, eyeball injuries, gall stones kept in jars (Whyyyy?), that sort of thing.

Even after writing that paragraph, I’m having a visceral reaction, and I’m not going back to proof read it, so if it’s riddled with errant apostrophes it can bloody well stay like that.

(This week I’ve been listening to a Cormac McCarthy audiobook, so if anything, I suspect it’s littered with ‘ands’.)

I never used to be like this. As a kid, I took delight in running up to my mother and showing her a wiggly tooth. My mother had a gross-out reaction to this and all things similar, and had been known to keel over. I never quite managed to make her faint. She banished me from the room before that ever happened. I suspect it was Dad who dealt with the tooth fairy stuff. (Though lord knows why he kept all our teeth, in a jar in the pantry. I guess Mum never found that, but I did, ruining my illusions of magic forever.)

But for some reason, I ended up the same as my mother. I’d love to know if my adult aversion to green juice squeezed out of bugs and wiggly teeth etceterah etceterah can be put down to the behaviour modelled by my mother, and subconsciously adopted by me (regardless of how much I hate being like this), or if I have a ‘gross-out gene’ which only manifested itself once I’d passed the middle childhood phase of laughing at poo jokes and catching caterpillars. Whichever the case, I am the way I am.

I didn’t realise how bad I’d got until I decided to go for a career change back in 2006. For reasons which should require little by way of explanation, I got jack of supply teaching in East London and decided to try something completely different.

I was living at an Earls Court hostel by that stage, and had met a few young women who stayed at the Hostel between ‘carers’ jobs. This meant moving in with an elderly person – usually at an estate in the ‘country’ (though the British idea of country is quite different from the Down Under one – better news), and driving them around to do their shopping, preparing their sausages and mash for tea, keeping them company over Coronation Street, that sort of lark.

Compared to the lifestyles of many of my fellow hostel dwellers, I was already living the life of an elderly person, so I figured this would suit me down to the ground. My stay in London was also drawing to a close, and I’d even started to speak with a distinctly Australian accent (as opposed to a New Zealand one), which was a clear sign that I wasn’t really having a ‘British’ experience at all. In fact, I counted the English friends I had made on one hand. If I were to move into a small community, I figured I might meet some real life English people. You don’t meet many of those in Earl’s Court.

Perhaps I was romanticising the idea of looking after an elderly toff. It probably wasn’t going to be a bit like Emma Thompson’s life from Remains of the Day, nor even like Kelly McDonald’s from Gosford Park. Mainly because it wasn’t wartime. Also, mainly, because I’m not a famous actress.

But I somehow got an interview, somewhere in London. I can’t remember where the interview was held, but I do remember getting up very early to be there, then standing on a street corner, conspicuously gripping a tattered copy of the A to Z, trying to work out which way up I should be holding it. I remember being startled by a huge, dishevelled man with gooey eyes who approached me from behind and asked me – me – for directions to a nearby attraction.

“I don’t know,” I replied, looking pointedly at my A to Z.

“For god’s sake!” he spluttered, in perfect received pronunciation. “Doesn’t anyone in London speak ENGLISH anymore?”

(Further proof that I wasn’t, in fact, living in 1930.)

I found the interview place and got the job.

This required a training day at their office in Godalming the following week. I’d never made it down to Godalming, which I’d heard was a beautiful place. I was also ecstatic that I’d finally managed to break out of teaching! Thus far, I’d been turned away from every office job I went for. “Sorry,” the 22 year old recruitment agent would say. “I see from your CV that you’ve only ever been a school teacher. Office work is different from school teaching. Why don’t you do more teaching?” (As I said above, in London why should this require explanation?)

Godalming was indeed beautiful, but I don’t really remember it for that. I remember it for keeling over not half an hour into the training session.

Because if you’ve ever had to care for an elderly person, helping them out of the shower and whatnot, you’ll know that looking after your back is Old People 101, so our very first lesson of the day was on back care, specifically avoiding slipped discs.

The woman running the course was a lovely lady, but I didn’t appreciate her analogy between spinal injury and jam donuts. Without going into anymore detail — I’m having a visceral reaction here — I was told I looked pale. I said I was fine. Mind over matter, mind over matter. It was suggested I sit by the window. Someone turned on a fan. The woman went on and on, and all I could hear was the ringing in my ears getting louder and louder — just like on the movies. The people got further and further away…

Next thing I remember is lying on the floor — inexplicably — on the other side of the room. Every woman in the room was hovering over me. When I woke up, first thing I thought of was an alien abduction scene, except these were fellow immigrant women, not greys. And there was no probing whatsoever, just someone loosening my sandals and another one fanning my face. They looked concerned, not evil. I wondered how long I’d been down there. I wondered if I’d said anything embarrassing, like what used to happen when I was a sleep-talking teenager at overnight birthday parties. I tell you, it’s most concerning when you realise you’ve been inappropriately spread-eagled on the floor, completely out to it in a room full of strangers.

I apologised profusely, for whatever I had or had not done.

It was agreed that I should probably leave the training session for now. I was escorted into the boss’s office and offered a second cup of tea. (The English answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.)

“Such a shame,” he said. “We had high hopes for you.”

“Oh.” And it slowly dawned on me that I wasn’t cut out for looking after the elderly. “I guess I can’t be fainting all over the place,” I conceded. “What if the old person was to cut themselves? I might have to put a plaster on. Or worse.”

The boss nodded sagely. “You seemed to have a… a fit,” he said. “I think you should see a doctor, in any case.” (Good luck trying to get a doctor in Earl’s Court, but that’s another story.)

He gave me a lift to the station in his mini van, even though it was only a two minute walk.

I’ll always regret not spending the rest of the afternoon in Godalming, though, because it was a beautifully picturesque time of year and, as you might imagine, I never had the occasion to go back. Instead, I took the first train back to Earl’s Court and moped around the hostel for the rest of the day, losing at Black Bitch with the fellow funemployed until dinnertime, when I remembered I’d run out of ready meals.

It was right on dusk when I left the hostel, and I’m sure I was contemplating my future source of income as I put my head down and headed towards Tesco.

I’m only telling you this story because you might think I’m a pansy for fainting at nothing and I would like you to know that there’s plenty in life which washes right over me.

I wasn’t five minutes from the hostel when a man emerged from between two parked cars. He looked about thirty. Even though it was clocking off time, and even though the population density of inner London is really quite high, there seemed to be no one else on the street at that particular moment.

He spoke to me with the rapidity of a public service announcement.

“Sorry, ever so sorry to bother you, but it’s my stag night and I, you know, I have to do these WACKO things hahaha and I was just wondering, if you wouldn’t mind, you know, just taking a picture of me, specifically my cock, on my phone… if it wouldn’t be too much trouble.”

I shrugged and took his phone. Then he unzipped his fly, got it out and I took a photo, badly. “I’m not sure I got it,” I said. “It didn’t flash.”

“Never mind, that’ll do,” he said. “Thanks so much.”

Then I gave him back his phone, he thanked me again and I went on my merry way.

Obviously, I wasn’t doing any thinking at all when this happened, but I’ve since had time to mull it over. And I have concluded that my experience of living in a hostel — specifically, sharing a room with three young men — engendered in me a blase attitude towards The Weird and Wacky in a way that nothing else can. When you’ve stepped over poo on the stairway, spent mornings reaching under some hippy’s crotch to turn off his mobile phone alarm, because he’s still too stoned to hear it himself, and when you’ve had to put your head in a pillow because some people are having sex on your top bunk, and when you’ve just lost a job on your first day of a new career for fainting — fainting, of all things — over a description of a jam donut, taking a photo of a strange man’s penis doesn’t really bother you, to be honest.

Especially when the man in question looks normal (in all OTHER respects), ie. dressed in a suit, with clean, well-groomed hair, and nary an anorak in sight. (Until I went to England I thought ‘anorak’ simply referred to a wet-weather garment, but I soon learned it more frequently refers to a person.)

Nothing else memorable happened that day, even though lots of bizarre things happen all the time in hostels all over the place, but two bizarre things happened TO ME, on that very same day in 2006, and that is rare. Sadly, that was probably the most interesting day I had during my Big Overseas Experience, and those two things might be the only two things that have ever happened to make me into anything approaching… worldly.

The subject of flashers and perverts came up just the other day, as a matter of fact. I was sitting on the porch with some girlfriends, swapping stories of nothings and almosts.

“I think I had someone flash me once,” I offered, and retold my sort-of-tale. “Maybe you ladies can clear something up for me,” I continued, because I’ve been mulling over this one for a few years now. “Do you think it was really his stag night? I mean, he could’ve been making up the story about the stag night. Maybe he just wanted some woman to take a picture of his penis. After all, he was on his own, it was a Monday and he had a boner.”


And after the laughing subsided:

“Who says BONER? How old are you? 70?”


“Why? What does everyone else call it?”

“Not that, anyways! Boner! Oh lordy… Oh my god…” and so on.

So I’m none the wiser where that’s concerned. But I did meet me a real life English person that day. In Earl’s Court! He wasn’t the elderly toff I’d hoped to meet, but he did have a very nice phone.


Related: Are you ever too old to stay in a hostel? from Lonely Planet

You Know You Live In Smalltown When

When you buy a secondhand copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled from Saint Vinnie’s and you recognise the maiden name of its former owner, scribbled on the frontispiece. You meet later, of course, while out on a stroll. You discuss it.

When you tell Cathy you saw Meryl driving down Woodleigh Avenue, and Cathy says, “Oh yes, she would’ve been off to the Friday Morning Coffee Session.”

When you’re in the town next door, bitching about the huge noisy Saint Bernards and aggressive rottweiler who bark incessantly from the house next door, and your friend’s mother says, “Oh god, I know exactly where you live.” (And she does.)

When you pull out into the main street regardless of the car coming for you at high speed, because you recognise that car, you know its driver, and the driver’s weekly routine, so you know the car is going to turn into your street anyway, regardless of the fact they’re not indicating.

Because nobody indicates when you live in a small town.

When you meet your neighbour from two doors down going into the supermarket. Coming out of the supermarket, you encounter the woman in the white Tarago, who tailgated you on the highway, even though you were doing the speed limit. You remember her for passing you dangerously at the first opportunity, then tailgating the next car ahead. You remember her for slamming on her brakes for no apparent reason. You also remember her for her long, blonde hair. She still has the long, blonde hair, and this time a car load of kids because she’s just picked them up from school. You’ve just finished loading a week’s worth of groceries into your car, and there she is, backing out, coming closer and closer… Is she going to stop? No. The fuck she’s going to stop. You yell ‘Hey!’ and bang the back of her car with your arm. Miraculously, this seems to work. She gets out and asks what damage she’s done. You tell her she hasn’t actually done any damage because she didn’t actually hit your car. She was two and a half centimetres from hitting your car. “Oh, did you bang my car with your arm?” she asks. You say yes, you did. “Thank god,” she says. “That’s much better than actually hitting another car.” You look more closely at her paintwork and determine that she knows all about these things. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “Don’t worry about it,” you say. “See you round.”

And you know you bloody well will.

All wits about you.



Top 10 Remote Small Towns from Smashing Lists

On General Paranoia and Notes On Your Windscreen

Does anyone else interpret compliments on your haircut as attacks on your previous hair?

– @studiesincrap

Follow @foreign_words on Twitter if you’d like a daily untranslatable word from around the world.

Another thing we need a word for: the fury and relief you feel when you realize your windshield has been fliered instead of parking ticketed

– @studiesincrap

Sometimes, when my husband hasn’t ‘forgotten’ his towel or let his membership expire accidentally on purpose, he spends his lunch hour at the gym. The gym is very close to his workplace, but this is Canberra and even two buildings next door to each other are still a fair hike away from each other, and lunchhours are the same length all over the world. So my husband gets into his white Toyota Corolla (ex-fleet) and drives to the gym, where he swims or lifts some weights. He goes to the gym with his workmate Muzza. Muzza is a tall Samoan from Auckland, and no more gym-bunny than my reluctant husband.

They park in the expansive gym lot, and most often on the empty side, which means you’ve less chance of getting a ding in your door. Since they both belong to the gym, one of them swipes his card at a little machine as they drive in. This issues a parking slip which they then display on the dashboard.

Usually, they spend half an hour on a machine, shower, then go back to their office where they cut database code at a large telecommunications company. Their day rarely gets more exciting than that. I know this because I ask, every evening when my husband gets home. I say, “How was your day?” and he mostly says, “Good”, or “Boring” and sometimes “Annoying” or “Stressful”, depending on how much work is on, and who’s stuffed what job up.

But every now and then my husband comes home with something out of the ordinary: a funny something that happened in the men’s toilet, or a display of poor driving on the highway, or an especially delicious lunch.

Then there was The Windscreen Note, which I think is his best story yet.

That was left for them at the gym carpark. No one else was there when they arrived, apparently, and the carpark had barely filled up again by the time they left. They glanced around and saw no one. They’ve no idea who left it, who saw them arrive, or what they did.

Sure enough, he’s still trying to work it out.

And if you’re really bored one day, you might try leaving cryptic notes on other people’s windscreens. This one has certainly provoked a lot of soul searching. I just wish someone would leave me a cryptic note. I love a good Nancy Drew.

For More On Paranoia

Killer Blueberries, from Scientific American. (For once, an article which is NOT about how blueberries are going to make you live until you’re 130, though if they do, I’m sweet. I eat those little bastards every day. Better look after me teeth.)

Holiday Gifts for the Truly Paranoid.