Sunday, 21 October 2012


In today's Sunday Times, the second volume of  Brian Sewell's autobiography is serialised. One section is about his help to Anthony Blunt when the press had just discovered that he was one of the "Cambridge traitors."  I read Sewell's words with revulsion.The controversy about the Cambridge spies is old history now, but I remember it well - and also, its background. For growing up in the 1950s, one was  permanently conscious of the Cold War, and of the threat of Hot War, which would  inevitably lead to nuclear annihilation. I suppose we were afraid, though I don't remember feeling fear until I had children to protect in the 1960s; after that, of course, one lived in dread of nuclear war.   The Cuban Missile Crisis was one of the most terrifying periods of my life.
        The point of all this is that the fear was of something real - nuclear war.  The threat was genuine. And the people who secretly worked for the Russians  were not romantic heroes, and they didn't have the right to follow their consciences. One can forgive their behaviour when they were young in the 1930s, before everyone knew the full horror of Stalin's Russia, but they didn't recant or repent after the war. Instead they continued as  traitors to their country, to the people they knew, to  their families. They wanted to  destroy European civilisation, and near as dammit did so. 
          It's fine to look back  now it's all over and forgive one's enemies, but don't  ever look back and underestimate their culpability.  Anthony Blunt's  actions  were intended to bring the world he had grown up in  to a hideous end.
         Some people have suggested that his later life as an academic art historian and art adviser to the Queen  redeemed the crimes of his youth. I doubt if those who died as a result - admittedly indirect  - of his treachery would have agreed. In fact,  anyone old enough to remember the Blunt-fuss and the Cambridge Spies and Burgess and Maclean - in fact anyone for whom The Fifties Mystique  is the stuff of memory  - will take a view of their own. I'd love to hear what it is.

Thursday, 18 October 2012


A shamingly or shockingly long gap since my last post, partly (but only partly) explained by my being away on holiday for a while. Back in Cornwall now, in the wet wind that has become our default daily weather. Although summer visitors, usually confined to more prosperous resorts, are seldom aware of it, this is still almost the poorest county in the UK, and still qualifies (along with  Sicily  and Northern Portugal, for special EU subsidies. As has  been said, when England sneezes, Cornwall  gets pneumonia - which will be even more noticeable if the present government really introduces regional rates of pay in public service jobs, as it has threatened. When I was first involved, as a "quangaroo" - a member of quangoes - with the public services (NHS etc) there were regional rates of pay, which ensured  that nobody from more prosperous areas would ever apply to work here, because it meant a drop in salary. Do we want to re-introduce immobile and aggrieved workers in the public sector and a low (because uncompetitive) standard of work? Yes, says one feminist friend. The chaps, she thinks, will be leaving in droves  before they get stuck for keeps in a low-pay area, which will mean more public sector jobs going to women.
Which is not , I told her, what I'd call another triumph for feminism.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park is the new 3 parter on   ITV1. It features four women who, as girls, worked as code breakers in that ultra secret establishment. By the early 1950s the lives of these clever, ingenious women have dwindled exactly as I described in The Fifties Mystique. The dullness of domesticity, the deference to men, in fact all the least enviable aspects of women’s lives in that period, are neatly shown or hinted at. But  these particular women re-group and get going – in fact  they independently invent a theory of geographical profiling decades before it came into official use, and find the body of a murder victim when male officialdom had failed. The period detail seemed flawlessly researched – except for the usual  mistake: if you see a man wearing his hat indoors, you can be sure that nobody who actually remembers the period was involved in the filming.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


I don't entirely get the point of the current fuss about Stephen Leather and his "sockpuppets".
This story has been much discussed by writers since the crime writer  Leather admitted, on stage, to creating online fake identities to promote, talk about, and praise his own books. He even admitted to arranging discussions between these different personas to make the whole thing look a little more genuine.
Leaving aside the other accusations made against Leather (who, by the way, I've never met) I don't really see what's so dreadful about lying on line. It's an extension of what nearly everyone does: we use pseudonyms, invent false birthdays, give invented addresses, tick a box confirming that we have read the small print though we haven't even glanced at it.............and who has never contributed mendacious praise about  a friend's  new book? I love the virtual world but don't trust it, and  believe what I read only when a real person has published it  using his or her own real name.
Please tell me if I'm wrong - but also tell me why!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Lit Fest

If you want to talk, or  hear me talking,  about The Fifties Mystique, do come along to the Penzance Literary Festival this  Friday, 27 July, when I'll be doing just that in Trevelyan House, Chapel Street, at 2 o'clock.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sight and Sound

London 2012 Festival: ‘Peace Camp’, devised by theatre director Deborah Warner.Nothing to do with the 1950s  or feminism- but
I can't resist posting about Deborah Warner's "Peace Camp" which is going
 to appear on Godrevy Island next weekend. You can read all about it here:
It will be interesting to see Godrevy, which  has played a large part in my
 life, in this new guise.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Actual Murder

"Writing down lies" is what novelists are sometimes accused of doing. There's not much defence. "But we don't expect people to believe it's true" protested one of my crime writing colleagues, only to be told by another that that's exactly what she does want people to believe.
It's when the murderous imagination is confronted by reality that I have doubts about my  profession, and this week I have to confess that reading and writing fiction about untimely death has felt like a very improper occupation.
My husband's cousin, Perran Thomas,  serving  in Afghanistan, was one of three British soldiers who were  shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Suddenly those familiar scenes, the huge aeroplane, the flag draped coffin, the Last Post, ceased to be a familiar ritual on the six o'clock news, and became a personal human tragedy - the precise opposite of  Good Copy.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Next book?

We're invited to a Cornish version of the Buckingham Palace garden parties: the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall instead of the Queen and Prince Philip and  800 guests instead of 4000. It  takes place at Trewithen, one of Cornwall's most gorgeous gardens,  a local silver band plays and  pretty pavilion-like tents stand round the edge of the huge lawn. It would be perfection BUT - it's been raining for weeks, the ground is waterlogged or at least muddy and the forecast is dire. Frantic last minute changes: a different car park because the real one is  liquid under foot; different clothes - lots of women  have  gum boots or trainers on their feet and huge wedding hats on their heads, the whole ensemble topped by enormous umbrellas,   a sensible if not conventional look. When the royal party appear promptly on the dot, the Duchess and her lady-in-waiting are  equally unpredictably dressed in  buttoned-up Burberries.
              This isn't as irrelevant to my books as you might be thinking, because it turns out that the Duchess of Cornwall is a voracious reader and loves crime fiction. She's gobbled up the Scandinavians, is enjoying the Germans and Spanish and Italians and we have a little moment about detection in Venice, Florence and Sicily before she moves on.
               Royalty, crime stories, a silver band, tea and iced cakes and a lot of mud - it's an unlikely, even a surreal  combination. Perhaps there's a plot in it.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


I spent last week in a different world. At home in Cornwall, it's cold and  "the rain it raineth every day" - and has done for months. On holiday in Corfu, the sky was cloudless for a whole week, and on the day we left the temperature was edging up to the high 90s (fahrenheit).The island seemed as beautiful and peaceful as always, without evidence of unrest or political trouble - except for the fact that there were half the usual number of tourists.We would have enjoyed the relative emptiness if it wasn't so obvious that the Corfiotes need their visitors - or rather, need their money.
My friend Joanna Hodgkin was on the island at the same time and kindly let me accompany her when she spoke about her new book to Durrell enthusiasts. Books by  Lawrence Durrell, the first husband of Joanna's mother Nancy, and his brother Gerald Durrell, have attracted many visitors to Corfu and there was a good turn out to listen to Jo.
That aside, for  seven days we forgot "real life" - though my one reminder of it was very welcome - a kind review of The Fifties Mystique, published in The Jewish Chronicle,  by Rabbi and Life Peer Julia Neuberger.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

An unexpected compliment:

Image (20)

THE WEEK Magazine’s books of the week  page in the edition of 16th June – with The Fifties Mystique  as one of them!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Those of you who write probably have cuttings albums or scrap books, both of your own work and its reviews. I wonder what you do now that one can't always cut out and stick in a physical copy? As for the shelf of books with my  name on the spine, how does one add e-books to that? Perhaps I am unusually vain even to have, let alone to get pleasure out of the sight of  shelves containing books by me; and it could be that those who have been journalists all their lives never took the trouble to save  the printed versions of their work.

I do. There are cuttings albums for the weekly columns, think pieces, travel writing and book reviews. (Pieces other people have written about me are not stuck in an album but shoved into a box and not looked at again .)  So my question is about online journalism. Today for example, the tribute site to Reginald Hill set up by  Rhian Davies and Margot Kinberg published a piece by me:

Last week the online book review site, Bookoxygen, used my review of a brilliant novel Kingdom of Strangers by  Zoe Ferraris.

And then there are the e-books - two so far, Telling Only  Lies and A Private Inquiry.

Do other people value such intangible  assets? And if so, how do they look after them?


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Another silly idea

As if they hadn’t had to eat enough of  their  own words about the pasty tax and several other un-thought-through policies, apparently the Coalition government has announced its next  counterproductive plan: to remove oldies’ benefits from all but the very poor. Maybe fair enough, as concerns free TV licenses and winter fuel; but if they stop the bus passes, won’t we all just start driving again? Perhaps they haven’t noticed that there are enough cars in town centres already……….

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


I mentioned Mike Ripley last month in the context of my non-fiction book The Fifties Mystique. He is, of course, an expert on crime fiction which is what I mostly read, write and review. Congratulations to Mike for being involved with Ostara  - a newish firm which is republishing (on paper and electronically) books that shouldn’t be forgotten. My book, FUNERAL SITES, is the only one in  their “Top Notch Thriller” list that is by a female writer.  But now Mike is going to edit a new series called Ostara Crime. Nobody would be surprised to find that the first half dozen to appear were going to be by men. Contrariwise  it’s an almost  revolutionary act  to choose  only women authors for  a general list, and that’s the decision Ostara’s Crime Editor has made. Congratulations, Mike, and good luck……………….and while we’re on the subject, what about including one of mine?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

56 UP

Did it seem odd to contemporary viewers that the TV programme 56 UP was almost all about boys? A perfect illustration of what was taken for granted in the 1950s!

Monday, 21 May 2012

In case you’re in the neighbourhood…………….

clip_image002Waterstone’s Bookshop, Truro
As part of our Jubilee celebrations,
will be talking about the differences between current attitudes and those of the 1950s, as described in her newly published book

T H E   F I F T I E S   M Y S T I Q U E
Thursday 31 May at 7 pm
Further details: 01872 225765

Thursday, 17 May 2012


I’m so grateful to kind reviewers who have praised The Fifties Mystique even if they disagreed with its conclusions. Thrilling to be reviewed by my late mother’s heroine Katharine Whitehorn (in the Literary Review) and by the wonderful writer Penelope Lively in The Spectator.  Here’s the link:

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Vanity posting

Quoting my own good reviews is probably the equivalent of vanity publishing but I can't resist it in this case, since only crime fiction enthusiasts will ever see Mike Ripley's kind comments. He is an archaeologist as well as a crime novelist, and contributes a monthly column, Getting Away with Murder,  to Shots Magazine.


The vivacious Jessica Mann has written many a good thriller (one of my favourites being Funeral Sites – her feminist updating of The 39 Steps) and is the respected crime fiction critic for the Literary Review, but her new book is not a crime novel, rather a polemic and part-memoir.

The Fifties Mystique, splendidly published by Quartet Books, attempts (I think – but what do I know?) to explain pre-feminism to the post-feminist generation of women who have little or no appreciation of the situation of women in ‘the long 1950s’ which  can be said to have extended from 1945 (end of WWII) to 1961 (introduction of the contraceptive pill).
    Whilst Jessica goes out of her way to insist this is not an autobiography, the personal memoir elements of the book are the most intriguing and she never plays down the educational advantages she had, nor her flouting, deliberately or accidentally, of the social conventions of the day. All in all, this is a thoughtful, fascinating little book which ought to be on the reading lists of any university offering courses not just in ‘Women’s Studies’ but also  in sociology, history and what I would like to call simply ‘humanity’. In fact, it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Personally, I have to say that my interests lie more in the 450s than the 1950s, as wonderfully elucidated in one of my favourite books,Christianity in Roman Britain to AD500 by the distinguished archaeologist Professor Charles Thomas.
   This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows of my long interest in sub-Roman Britain – which, God knows, I’ve told enough people about – and Professor Thomas’ book is highly recommended. The fact that he is the husband of my good friend Jessica Mann is neither here nor there.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Blockbusters or Little Gems

A friend asks, how many words is my new book? 

I reply that it's only 60,000.

By contemporary standards that is terribly short. Most of the crime novels I receive for  review are at least twice as long and many of them three or even four times that length. Yet when I started writing crime fiction 60 to 70,000 words was the standard length, and I still think that's about right for all but the most complicated and elaborate stories. Almost all  of the novels I read would benefit, in my view, from tightening up. I wonder why it became fashionable to write and publish sprawling blockbusters many of which are too heavy to hold comfortably. When it became habitual to write them is obvious: as soon as people started using computers. Compared with writing by hand or using a manual typewriter, word processing is extraordinarily easy and presents an almost irresistible temptation to go on and on. Except to me: I often sit down to lengthen a book I thought I'd finished, find myself crossing out superfluous words and rearranging inelegant sentences, only to discover when I reach the end that it's even shorter than it was before.

So, short, sweet and elegant or sprawling, generous and long-lasting? Which do you prefer?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


It's not unusual for our  house to be plunged into darkness, either because there is actually a power cut, quite out of our control,  or because something has gone wrong with our frighteningly antique wiring. It nearly always happens on Sundays or  bank holidays, but it was peculiarly frustrating not to be able to access the Internet last weekend  when one hoped that reviews of The Fifties Mystique might appear.Connected again and able to turn on my computer this morning, I was thrilled to find a very long article in the Daily Mail by Liz Hodgkinson, based largely on the arguments in my book. Do take a look, and maybe add to the dozens of responses already posted.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Publication Day

Publication dates are movable feasts so copies of The Fifties Mystique   have been floating around for weeks. But April 26 was the official publication date and the book was launched at a party in one of London's most appealing bookshops, Lutyens and Rubinstein in Kensington Park Road, not far from Notting Hill. I do expect the book  to provoke controversy, so it's no surprise that there have already been lots of responses to an article by me in today's Guardian newspaper.

They make interesting reading. How lucky we are  to live in a world where this kind of discussion can be carried on with such immediacy and freedom; and where everyone can join in.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

“Good Intentions for a Bad Decade”

Rachel Cooke reviewed The Fifties Mystique  for The Evening Standard. She is writing a book about the 50s herself, concentrating on the professional lives of women during that decade -  so she naturally disagrees with much of my argument.  I don’t disagree with hers. There were indeed, as she says,  breathtakingly successful scientists and journalist, architects and lawyers – in fact my mother was one of those lawyers. “The fifties didn’t feel limiting to them” Cooke says, quite rightly for in comparison with previous eras, women were much more free. But  the fact remains that even the most successful women were subordinate in law and custom. They took it for granted, and so did everyone else concerned. We were pleased with what we could have and didn’t  think  about what we couldn’t. It’s only with post-women’s-lib hindsight that  I recognize the restrictions women  lived with when I was young, as would  any of  Cooke’s academics, journalists, architects and lawyers  who lived long enough to see them disappear. The 50s may not have seemed limiting at the time but in retrospect they certainly do.

Friday, 13 April 2012

1000 and counting.

Entry number one on page one of my journalism notebook records a roundup of romantic fiction for the Daily Telegraph. It is dated April 1986. Of course I had written a good many articles and book reviews before that, though irregularly and amateurishly. But in March 1986 I had appeared on a BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions panel beside Max Hastings who had just become the editor of the Daily Telegraph. By definition we spent the evening disagreeing with another. But at the end of it he said to me, “ Would you like to write for us?”
I had been a novelist since 1971 when my first book was published, and I felt then - and still feel - that writing novels is what I really do. Everything else - journalism, non-fiction, sitting on committees and so on - is enjoyable distraction. And in the case of journalism, enjoyable really is the word. In comparison with a long gestation of a novel, an article is written one day, in the paper the next, and in the case of the highly efficient Telegraph, paid for the day after. Quite soon I was writing for other magazines and papers too, and could accurately refer to myself as a journalist. I went to places and met people that would never have come my way otherwise. Interviews, profiles, travel writing, diary columns, think pieces - you name it, I wrote it.
And why am I mentioning all this now? Because I have just sent off an article which is numbered, in my journalism notebook, 1000. It's not objectively an enormous number, averaging out at 40 articles a year - a total which doesn't include the books I have written. But it's a kind of landmark for me, a moment to reflect how chance and luck and a single individual’s momentary impulse can transform things . Max Hastings has been my benefactor. With seven monosyllables, he changed my life.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The First Review

To follow Simon Parker’s kind author-profile in the Western Morning News, the first actual review of The Fifties Mystique has appeared in the online literary journal, BookOxygen. N.J.Cooper’s words are perceptive  and generous and I can’t pretend that I’m not thrilled by them! Her final paragraph reads:

The Fifties Mystique is an ideal corrective for any woman who looks with nostalgia at an era when she would not have been expected to pay her share of the bills and mortgage.  It should be required reading for any man who fantasizes about having a wife waiting for his arrival home, not only with a delicious dinner ready cooked, but also an eagerness to listen to his important conversation – and also for all the surviving husbands of those years who wonder why their wives are quite so angry.”

Friday, 6 April 2012

The first adjectives…………

The Fifties Mystique isn’t published until 26 April, and so far I have been sent  only my one, single copy. But  review copies were sent out last week and the first printed reaction appears today in The Western Morning News. It’s a huge relief that it’s a kind one. Not that it sets the tone for other reviews (which might all be dire! ) but simply that it makes a very good start. Simon Parker’s words represent   a weight off the  author’s mind:

The Fifties Mystique is an extremely engaging read: revealing, touching, informative and occasionally comic.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Taking arms against a sea of troubles…………..

Since I started writing this blog, the subject I've written about most often seems to have been the imbalance between men and women in book reviews and journalism.

So it's very exciting to find that somebody is doing something about it.

There is a  brand new online magazine called BOOKOXYGEN which “has a mission to help correct the imbalance in book journalism which sees some sixty percent of literary coverage written by men and devoted to male writers. At bookoxygen, the coverage is weighted sixty percent or more in favour of women writers and critics.”

On its site, writing and writers,  in particular novels and novelists will be celebrated. The first issue has just launched. (

Wish it luck!

Friday, 30 March 2012

Wherever you go………………..

Back to the same old question, asked this time in the USA, in an interesting, if not exactly surprising article from the New York Times.

The Second Shelf

On the Rules of Literary Fiction for Men and Women

Published: March 30, 2012

If “The Marriage Plot,” by Jeffrey Eugenides, had been written by a woman yet still had the same title and wedding ring on its cover, would it have received a great deal of serious literary attention? Or would this novel (which I loved) have been relegated to “Women’s Fiction,” that close-quartered lower shelf where books emphasizing relationships and the interior lives of women are often relegated?………………

and so on. Nothing new here, just further confirmation, if we need it, that we are not imagining the unfair  discrimination.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The finished copy!

I had always dreamed  of holding a hardback volume with my name on the cover, and that was one of the ambitions which, achieved, did not turn to dust and ashes. It was just  as gratifying and exciting as I had always imagined to unwrap the parcel containing the author's six free copies of my first book, a crime novel called A Charitable End.

Two dozen books and a lot of journalism later, you might think that I was immune to that naive emotion, but as a matter of fact I was thrilled the day before yesterday to be sent one advance  copy of The Feminine Mystique. I like the look and feel of the book. As for its contents………….. well, I don't expect many reviewers to share my opinions.

But one of the curiosities of modern publication is that the book seems to be available and can be bought on Amazon a good month before it’s  officially published, on 26th  April. It gives me a whole month to be nervous in!



Saturday, 17 March 2012


“Millions of teachers, nurses, civil servants and other public sector workers are to lose their right to national pay rates, the Chancellor George Osborne will announce in next week’s Budget.”


If I’d followed Katharine Whitehorn’s  sensible advice from many years ago, never to read anything in the newspaper which is in the future or conditional tense, I would not now be getting steamed up over the proposal to introduce regionally differential rates of pay.

I'm old enough to remember when salaries were lower in Cornwall, where I live, than in London  and other prosperous areas. One of the effects was to render the difference permanent, since nobody would move to a job that paid less than their previous one and   people who wanted to move away from the poorer area couldn't afford anywhere to live in a richer one. Far more noticeable was the fact that ambitious,  highflying professionals would obviously not move here for a  smaller salary. This had the inevitable bad effect on the  NHS and other professions.

In spite of generous European subsidies to Cornwall, which have certainly improved the environment and the economy in the last few years, it is still one of the poorest areas in Europe. If George Osborne's alleged intention is carried out, it will be put off the  ladder laboriously climbed during the last few years, and back to institutionalised poverty.

And what has this got to do with the usual subject of this blog? It's obvious: who are the majority of the nurses, teachers, public sector workers to be disadvantaged by this new policy? Answer: by a sizeable  majority, women.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


So I’m not the only one thinking  the 1950s are relevant just now. Have a look at this:


Actionaid UK’s message is: INEQUALITY IS NOT JUST A THING OF THE PAST – and to illustrate the point, shows those who look at their facebook page what life  would be like in that inegalitarian age, the 1950s. It’s amusing and also salutary. And it’s what THE FIFTIES MYSTIQUE is all about.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Cover

will look like this:

The Fifties Mystique
Jessica Mann
Pub Date: March 2012
ISBN: 978 0 7043 7255 9
PB • 196pp • 216x138mm • £12

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Bubblewrap Kids

Now that the Sunday Times has a pay-wall I can't direct you to an article in today's edition - but do want to mention a piece by Eleanor Mills called “ Just be glad, my little angels, you’re bubble wrap kids."

It's about what she calls last week's Internet and tabloid sensation -which passed me completely by – a “rose tinted eulogy" about the joys of an old-fashioned childhood in the 1950s. Since growing up in the 1950s is precisely the subject of my new book (The Fifties Mystique to be published by Quartet on 26th April) I'm fascinated to discover that the organisation sending out these inaccurate eulogies was the BNP!

Growing up in the 1950s seemed fine at the time and most of us were perfectly happy doing so  - but only because we didn't know any better. Who could now possibly wish to return to that era?  Wrong about this as about everything else, the BNP can't bear to think that (to use Eleanor Mills’ words) we are all in a much better place. But we are.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Fair shares

Did everybody else already know that unemployed people are being sent to work for free in supermarkets and high Street shops? It may be good work experience for some of them,  but it's an even better deal for their - I was about to write  employers. Beneficiaries would probably be a better word. Why on earth should profit-making commercial organisations be enabled to stop paying wages because their  workers are being paid by the DSS – ie, my taxes and yours?
And at a time of high unemployment why do we treat work  as either all or nothing? Isn't it ridiculous that the  employed workforce has to do  long hours every day of the week while the unemployed have nothing to do at all? Wouldn't it be more sensible for part-time work and job sharing to become the norm? Fair shares for all!

Taking my own advice

I recently  took my own advice.
Having sent an article on spec to Standpoint magazine,  which rejected it, I made myself boldly offer another. It  was accepted and appears this month.
Meanwhile, with (believe me!) uncharacteristic bravado, I posted off the first piece to The Oldie, which asked me to cut it to half the length, and printed it as the monthly “rant.”
The Standpoint article  is on a subject we have been discussing here, ie the male-female imbalance  in print. I suggest that women writers or women who aspire to anything else, shouldn’t treat rejection as a permanent state, and mustn’t let themselves be discouraged. .
Question: Why?
Answer: see above.

Friday, 10 February 2012


Lots of discussion about how to solve the problem of having too few women on the boards of public companies. Should there be a quota system, as there is in Norway? It would be difficult to enforce at present since nominations for board members are largely made through “ headhunters” - which means, companies specialising in Executive  Search. And the places  such companies search in are  similar big public companies, using the principle that new  recruits to boards should be at home in the world of big business. I rather think that may explain  what has gone so wrong with British industry, banking, and public life. Having spent much of my other – non-writing - working life in as a “lay member” of boards and committees, most of them quangos, I was in every case an   outsider, and to start with at least an ignorant one. And that was what made me useful to them, because I asked the questions which professionals either didn't think of or didn't feel able to pose. One chairman said that I and my questions were the grit in the oyster; irritating, unwelcome, but likely to develop into a pearl. For those simple questions – why are we doing it this way, what’s it for, how will it help, what does this mean? – often proved very hard to answer. And if you can't satisfactorily explain why you're doing something, then you shouldn't be doing it.

I can't help feeling that appointing outsiders to the boards  of banks or  public enterprises would mean that unanswerable questions are asked,  about bonuses and salaries,  early enough  in the process to make people think again. And where better to look for outsiders than amongst the women?

Friday, 3 February 2012


Isn’t it fascinating how bandwagons roll and balloons expand – and haven’t we all seen, only too many times, how ineffective they are, and  how temporary the effects?

Just now our familiar complaint, see above, of Not Enough Women, has expanded into Not Enough OLD Women. Actually at least as far as acting is concerned I don't think it's justified.  The Dames are drafted into almost every drama; we often see Judy Dench, Helen Mirren,  Maggie Smith and many,  many of their contemporaries on the screen. It's true that there are fewer older women in other programmes.  But the fact is that in the generation now in its 60s or older, there actually is a small proportion of women that made it to the top or near to the top of industry or politics or academia. Those who became used to being the token woman might like the chance to appear as the token old woman; at least those who are without a shred of vanity. Anyone else perhaps hesitates to display her  wrinkles on Question Time. It would be interesting to know how many women of the older generation are invited to make such public appearances and say no.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Publication date

Quartet Books have now decided  the publication date for The Fifties Mystique. It comes out on  Thursday 26 April (coincidentally, my husband's birthday.) I can't decide if I'm more excited or nervous, because nothing I have written before has been quite so provocative. I hope there will be discussions and arguments - but  not  fights and quarrels. Not, at any rate, with me!

Sunday, 29 January 2012


When I wrote about the  male/female  imbalance in book reviewing, several people didn’t believe it. So here’s a  count for today. In the literary pages of the Sunday Times, 15 men have written reviews, and 4 women. Eighteen of the books reviewed were by men, 6 were by women.

And this, believe it or not, was a better balance than in most weeks.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Spot The Soprano

Some people play a  game called Spot the Soprano. Tuning in to the Today programme, they count how many male voices they hear before the first  woman’s. Apparently  the norm  is 9  or 10. It is about six months since the producer said words to the effect that women were too wet or too weak for the macho environment  of Today. That is about  the usual time-gap between surges of synthetic press indignation  about the under representation of women in the media and public life. This week we have seen another and  the Today programme is  used as an example – as always -with details about its four male presenters and one lone woman. Is it because it's the only programme important or influential people listen to? As it happens I have been on  Today, most recently in 2010 when I was asked about excessive graphic violence in crime fiction. It certainly true that more people than usual said they  had heard me after that broadcast. But as a contributor I was a rarity, not simply as a woman but because I was not  talking about politics or business. As the producer confirmed, the type of people the programme presenters interview – senior politicians and chief executives - are predominantly men.

Of course the news media exist to reflect and describe society not to change it. It is those senior politicians and chief executives who shouldn't be all male, but until women break into their world in greater numbers, I expect the old men of  Today  still to be broadcasting when they are the even older men of tomorrow

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Taking my own advice

Back to the old familiar  theme: the shortage of women’s names in the media. As we all know and we’ve  all said before: it's partly because women are backward in putting themselves forward, and tend to take a rejection as personal and permanent, instead of professional and one-off. As we all know, it's quite easy to identify problems, much less easy to follow our own advice - but just this once I did, sent off a couple of articles on spec to editors who didn't want the previous ones and………………….. both have been taken. An unexpected double!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Call The Midwife

Call The Midwife is a brilliant programme, and was in fact a very good book or series of books. The world it described it was certainly of the 1950s but it was not one I was familiar with, even  though my school had a mission to the East End where girls with social work tendencies would go and help out.I imagine that they were carefully protected from any contact with scenes like the full frontal childbirth we saw on television. It  would be silly to suggest that teenagers in the 1950s didn't know where babies came from, or how they got there, but I'm pretty sure we did not know all the details of how they came out. It was not an era  of candid speaking or of letting it all hang out, so overprotected middle-class girls like me  didn't really learn the full facts of life until we were doing it ourselves. I didn't mean to suggest that ignorance is desirable. All the same, I'm not sure that close-up shots between the legs showing  a  midwife or doctor's view of a woman having a haemorrhage  is the ideal family viewing for  a Sunday evening!

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Maxine’s reply to my last post says it all – except for the fact that on her blog   she writes about crime novels by women that I have never even heard of! Having just looked at her most recent posts, I  can’t think why I was never sent  Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Nobodies Album,  or  books by  Inger Frimansson , Karin Altvegen or Diane Janes, to mention just a few of the women authors reviewed by Petrona. The fact that publishers don’t  send these books – or even press releases about them -  to reviewers like me, or to journals like The Literary Review, does explain the disproportion on my shelves and in my articles.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

2 steps forward, and one back

It’s back to an old grievance today: WHY do books by men receive so much more attention than books by women? Or, for that matter, works of art, musical compositions and everything else? I walked down Cork Street in London this week , where the galleries featured exhibitions almost exclusively of work by men; I arrived home to find an enormous pile of book parcels -as a reviewer of crime fiction for the Literary Review  I receive an average of 50 books a month  and have space to mention about eight or nine of them. Given that at least one third of crime novels published are written by women, why are almost all the books I am  sent  by men? It is one of life's little mysteries or rather, if one is a woman who writes crime novels, one of life's bigger  grievances!

Friday, 6 January 2012


The purpose of a new exhibition at The Women’s Library at London Metropolitan University is to contradict the idea that the majority of British women didn’t go to work until the second half of the twentieth century.

Which is all very fine and commendable – and true because most women have always worked, in paid jobs or in the home. In 1951 there were seven million working women in Britain, though as the curator points out, their work has consistently been unrecognised and undervalued.

What she doesn’t point out, however, is that nearly all of this work was menial and nearly all of the women were working class.

When Women's Lib came along, in the 1960s , it was founded by and for the sake of middle-class women, at first. However the demand for equal pay and its eventual achievement was to the benefit of all.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A universal problem?


Image (3)

This cartoon is from the New Yorker.

Is there a country in the world  where it wouldn’t be relevant?