Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Wadjda is the first feature length film made by a female Saudi Arabian director. Restrictions meant that Haifa al Mansour took five years to make the film and often had to work out of the back of a van because she wasn't allowed to mix publically with the film crew.

The result though is a wonderful film, beautifully made and acted. The story is a simple one, Wadjda, an 11 year old girl, wants to buy a bicycle so she can race with her friend Abdullah. But girls aren't supposed to ride bikes and Wadjda's family won't buy her one. Desperate for the cash, she enters the school Koran reciting competition. Meanwhile her father is looking for a second wife as Wadjda's mother can't have any more children and he wants a son.

The film gives huge insights into the restrictions Saudi society places on women and how young girls, full of natural curiosity and talent, are gradually cowed and moulded for a future with very narrow horizons. It isn't at all a heavy worthy film though, the characters are engaging and there's a lot of humour in the story.

Wadjda is showing today and tomorrow at Filmhouse, Edinburgh.

Friday, July 19, 2013

How Not to Write a Novel

Any aspiring novelist would do well to read How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. The book includes 200 mistakes to avoid if you want to write a novel that people will want to read. It focuses on mainstream, commercial fiction, but most of the rules apply whatever the genre of novel you want to write.

Starting with Plot and covering character, style and creating a fictional world, the book shares great advice and extracts from imaginary bad novels to give the reader a very clear idea of what doesn't work in a novel.

I have to admit I disagreed with their prohibition of animals in novels. Their point of view seems to be a pet should only be mentioned in passing and then basically ignored. Obviously badly done, a pet can become an over sentimental indulgence in a novel, but, if done well a pet can become a significant character in a novel and can really add to the reader's understanding and empathy for the human characters. I've read many novels with good pet characters (the best being Elsa Morante's amazing novel History, which I reviewed here.)

Apart from that though, great advice and it's very entertaining too. I found myself having to stifle my laughter more than once while reading this on the bus.

How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman published by Penguin

Friday, July 12, 2013


Hannah Stephenson over at the Storialist is running a competition for photographic responses to lines from her poem Kettle Shriek, which is the title poem from her forthcoming collection.

Here is my photo which responds to the first line of the poem 'In the Kettle the Shriek'

 yes, it's silly (but Hannah said silly was okay) and it would be better if it were a real mouse in there or a giant spider, but in those cases I would have been shrieking for real and unable to take a photo!