Katniss and Arya Stark: The age of gender-equal storytelling

Hurrah! Quality storytelling is taking over our screens/book-shelves and bashing threadbare clichés of male-driven action and female helpless emoting.

We’ve come a long way,

Just watch Game of Thrones’ latest great battle, the Battle of Winterfell, and see how far we’ve come since the Lord of the Rings’ Battle of Helm’s Deep (2002). In the Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptation, there was not a single female fighter, and women and children cowered in caves while male characters became heroes.

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Season 8 of Game of Thrones (HBO)

I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but the Battle of Winterfell boasts of several key female heroes, drenched in blood and giving their all and more. In fact, it is female characters (some very young, some very old) who carry the most satisfying story beats.

Similarly, in the Marvel Universe franchise, things have moved on since the first Avengers movie where poor Black Widow brought a ridiculously tiny gun to a fight against an invading alien armada.

Thankfully, these days are gone, and dystopian and epic fantasy stories are now rich in strong female leads, from Katniss Everdeen to Divergent’s Tris, and Arya Stark. These are the ultimate underdogs: female, young, pretty and broken inside.

Susan Collins brought gender-equal stories to the fore with her Hunger Games book series.

And it makes the stories better!

The longer the road to becoming a hero, the better the story. Gender equal storytelling allows for subtler and more authentic character arcs. Characters meet their toughest challenge based on their inner qualities and experiences, not on their gender. Some women are good at fighting, others at strategising, and some men do better hiding at a safe distance.

This generates a wider range of emotions and increases the sense of suspense. The more varied the characters, the more unpredictable their next moves.

I am currently reading ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, and the book starts with 15 year-old girls discovering their latent power to ‘electrocute’ those who cross them

They go from victims to oppressors in the space of a few chapters, and soon display predatory behaviours that our society still attach to men.

This debunks the myth that, given the upper hand, women would use their power to better ends than men. 

Such generalisation is deeply unfair to men who have historically been responsible for most advances in social justice (with notable exceptions of women’s suffrage and abortion).  

When I started writing the Skyriders’ Trilogy, I was keen to depict a truly gender-equal society, with a long tradition of interchangeability between men and women.

I decided that each book would feature a deeply flawed female protagonist. Efalaa, Sili and Vidris are not easy to like: they are selfish, brutal and sometimes manipulative. At the end of their stories, they are stronger and wiser but still far from ‘nice’. And why should they be? Women do not need to be nice, no more than men need to be brave.

Free of stereotypes, this new generation of female heroes surprises and empower us, and we – male and female viewers/readers alike – cannot get enough of them.


Valentine’s, check. Now what?

Top 12 date ideas for a whole year of romance

Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Valentine’s. But I do love a good date night. 

Ever since a cringefest of a date, aged 20, where my then boyfriend and I sat awkwardly in a row of tables for two, I have avoided manufactured photo-opportunity romance.

I’m not fussed about big gestures, lavish gifts or super-organised surprises. On the 14th of February, like every other day, I like my husband to be nice to me, share a joke, not mention the laundry piling up, and give me a hug or two. That’s all.

But what I do love is going on dates. I like looking forward to spending time with him and doing something out of the routine. This year, we’re going to take turns to organise a monthly evening out for each other. I’ve got a ton of ideas, which I’m happy to share with you as my darling hubby never reads my blog!

Picturehouse Cinemas are all over the country.

1.Theatre or opera broadcast at your local cinema: all the best London shows at small town prices with fuss-free car parking and home by 11pm! We’ve seen some fantastic stuff at our local Picturehouse cinema, including La Traviata at Glyndebourne, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with Daniel Radcliffe, and more recently National Theatre ‘I’m not Running’ by David Hare. See the Picturehouse website for what’s on near you.

2.Pub quiz: wherever you live there will be pub that does a weekly or bi-weekly quiz. These are normally enormous fun, especially as the number of pints is inversely proportional to the number of points scored in a round.

Above mentioned husband and I met at a pub quiz in Newcastle. He was impressed by my know-it-all confidence; I was impressed by his kindness as he took the trouble to make conversation with my very shy friend. We have been to many quizzes since, school fundraisers, village events, but a one-to-one over a pint and a music round (my absolute worst) still ranks high in my dream date scoreboard.

3. A picnic somewhere unusual: Living as we do in Henley-on-Thames, we have more than our share of opportunities to display our refinement by eating on car parks out of a Waitrose hamper (or Fortnum and Mason, if you’re more flushed than us!). This is normally the highlight of the Regatta weekend and/or the Henley Festival the following week, and/or the 80’s extravaganza Rewind Festival… You get the gist. Now we’ve done all of the above several times, I rather fancy parking over a motorway bridge and playing ‘beard or no beard’ (copyright, Matt&Millie Phillips 2018) a hilarious game in which you guess the next driver’s facial hair by the fleeting sight of their car. (Trust me, it’s funner than it sounds!)

4. Games night: As a family we enjoy playing board games such as

Scrabble, Blackjack, Kingdom Builder or the London Board Game, but for a couple date night I would recommend something a bit different. Cards Against Humanity is hilariously rude, and Vertellis is a great conversation starter. And of course, if you’re drunk enough, and the children particularly deeply asleep, strip-poker!

5. A charity event for a charity close to your loved one’s heart: Choose the charity your Valentine would love to support but never finds the time and check their website for events. My poor hubby recently lost his mother to Vascular Dementia and his father to Prostate Cancer so either would touch his heart. But you could also go for smaller charities, like the ones I support myself. See the charity page on this website.

6. Royal Observatory or similar: Nothing’s more romantic than gazing at the stars together, and wracking your brains for the names of various constellations. You can also make up your own, which is by far the best fun! Virgin does a package-for-two to the Royal Observatory (see here). Perfect for those who work in Canary Wharf.

7. Late night museum: Most museums have a late opening night, normally much quieter than normal. You can soak up some culture (frankly when you’re on a date, it doesn’t matter what you look at, as long as you do it together), while having a leisurely stroll through beautiful buildings. This year, I fancy going to Friday Late at the V&A in London, but here’s a link to some other options

8. Horse racing: Now that equine flu is last week’s news, going to the races is back on the fun dates menu. We are lucky to live near Ascot, Windsor and Newbury, but there are so many horseracing tracks around the country that you cannot fail to find one to suit. Make sure you have a little money to blow!

9. Escape the room: These are so hard, but so much fun! You get locked

inside a specially designed and furnished room where a series of devilishly hard clues and puzzles will lead you to the key to ‘Escape the Room’. All in 60 minutes. Yes, you will bicker, perhaps even argue, but you will feel proud of yourselves if you find your way out. (If you don’t, you will have had a frustrating, miserable time, but can spend the rest of your evening blaming your partner for their shortcomings!). Red Bull has this list of the UK’s 11 most exciting rooms.

10. Spa evening for two: a quick treatment, a turn in the sauna and/or in a floatation pool (see here the one I’m planning to go to). What’s not to like? And if at the end you do not feel fully relaxed, you can still chill at home with two glasses of cognac. (Guaranteed good night sleep.)

11. Play pool: Why is it that once you turn 25 you never play pool again? I love playing pool, and my husband is annoyingly good at it. The challenge will be to find a place where we won’t be made to feel our mid-forties selves just don’t belong. (Any tips appreciated!)

12. Go Kart: Normally more of a lads-only activity, but I just cannot wait to demonstrate to my very own backseat driver my – so far unacknowledged – Senna-esque driving skills. There will probably be an full-throttle argument in the car on the way home (and I can guarantee that he will be driving – as well as sporting a stress-induced facial twitch)! *Heart-eyes* Check out this website to find a track near you.

My husband and I take turns organising monthly dates so this list will last me until 2021! Even if you don’t have time to take a whole day or evening to spend together, just meeting at the pub wearing your Sunday best can give you a pleasant thrill.

Life is short, don’t take your loved ones for granted. Put in a little effort: the smile on his or her face will be your reward. And if your relevant other is a sour, surly, never-pleased so and so, go on a date with your best friend instead!

(No affiliated links, the items linked are just things I like and personally would recommend.)

With Love,


#NaughtyorNice List tag

Here are my answers to a fun seasonal tag about reading and books, created on Twitter by @JennieLy.

I was tagged by Shannon T Mc Gee (thanks Shannon!). This is my first time being tagged like this, so I hope I’ll do it right!!

Now let’s jump into it. Have you ever…

  • Received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) and not reviewed it – NO

I don’t do many ARC, and those I do I care about, so no I’ve never not followed through.

  • Have less than 60% rating on Netgalley – ?

No idea what Netgalley is. I will go and check it out as soon as I finish this post!

  • Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review on your blog, but never followed through – NO

I don’t do reviews on my blog yet. If I did promise, I would do it even if it was ages later. Continue reading “#NaughtyorNice List tag”