Thursday, 11 July 2013

Pink wellies and cigarettes

"I didn't know ladies could smoke!" my young son once exclaimed sotto voce after watching a (female) friend light up in the garden. Until that moment, he had only ever seen his grandfather smoking a pipe. His reaction made an impression on me: I realised that children form some pretty fixed ideas about gender from an early age. This was about the same time that he started objecting to wearing his sister's hand-me-down wellies.

Such startling observations are not infrequent in our household. After my sister-in-law finished her maternity leave and went back to her job in social work, my daughter remarked, "Gosh I didn't know mummies worked!" It was a galling moment. How had I managed to bring up my daughter in such ignorance? There followed a long lecture on a woman's right to work. 

A pair of pink wellington boots
Why can't boys wear them?! 
© Brookebecker |
A few weeks ago I attended a session on 'new feminism' at the Britmums Live conference. It was comforting to hear The Sunday Times journalist Eleanor Mills confessing that her own daughter had asked if a woman could lead a political party. "I feel we are stuck and in some ways we are going backwards," says Ms Mills, whose aunt, Barbara Mills, held the post of Director of Public Prosecutions in the 1990s. Ms Mills worries that her generation has become complacent about feminism and the hard-fought battles for sexual equality.

While I was researching my current novel, I came across a 1970s group of women who named themselves the Pussy Cat Club. This was a group of housewives who didn't agree with sexual equality and believed a woman's role was to serve and pamper her husband. One member told a BBC reporter: "[Women] want to be equal with the men, well it's not meant to be. They are completely different, their emotions and the way they're built." 

It was a striking (and nauseating) reminder of how far we have come since the birth of the Equal Pay Act in 1970. But, although attitudes have changed and women have learned to value themselves on par with men, there are still problems to overcome. As Kat Banyard of the UK Feminista movement puts it: "Scratch society and you expose vast inequalities."

In a recent blog, my friend Cathy Newman, presenter of Channel 4 News, reveals how she once challenged a senior executive at the Financial Times (where she worked previously) over pay. Cathy had discovered that a more junior, male reporter was being paid £10,000 more than her. The executive told her, "You don't have a mortgage or a family, what do you need the money for?" 

The nub of the problem, I believe, is women like me who choose to put their careers on hold to bring up their children. I feel passionately that choice should be enshrined in any feminist tract, but I also acknowledge that women dropping out of the workforce reduces our visibility and the pool of high achievers who reach the top.

There are no easy answers, but I do resent the government's campaigns to get new mothers back into work. Such policies devalue the choices made by stay-at-home mums and their commitment to looking after children full-time. Instead, more effort should be put into welcoming these women back into professional life once their children are older and less dependent. I know an army of mothers who would love to work flexibly during school term times, and yet this potential labour force remains overlooked and unaccommodated.

Ms Mills believes now is the "real time to rehabilitate feminism". I couldn't agree more - the fight goes on and each of us is responsible for shaping our society and weeding out prejudice. How we apply these principles to the thorny realities of life is challenging, but we can start by opening our children's minds to equality and choice. Pink wellies and cigarettes might not be the solution, but I hope my daughter and son will learn that gender should never be a barrier to anything.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Why can't I say no?

I took to my bed this week. After 10 days of frenetic activity, my body went on strike. Exhaustion had set in, along with a temperature. There was no way out: I had to retreat to the cool, white space under my duvet. And so I lay there, racked by the knowledge of everything I needed to do - and couldn't do. Even as I popped some painkillers, I was calculating how long it would take before analgesia set in so that I could answer a few emails in bed and possibly put on another load of washing.
Clock and pills - sick of modern life and time pressures?
© Captainzz |

This is modern life for the middle-aged. Somehow we can never find the pause button. Whether we go out to work or 'stay' at home, we fill our lives to the nth degree. Was it always like this? Did the ladies of Jane Austen's era drill their needles through their embroidery, scribble a few letters before luncheon and then gallop down to the Assembly Rooms to gossip about the Dowager so-and-so? Possibly, although I suspect our time-pressed routines have more to do with the advent of technology and modern child-rearing, than any innate need to rush through life.

Ironically technology was once heralded as a panacea to reduce hard work and long hours. Back in the 1950s, Winston Churchill believed that the proliferation of machines would eventually "give the working man what he's never had - four days' work and then three days' fun". Quite clearly Mr Churchill never anticipated the power and stealth of the smartphone. As well as fostering a culture of 24/7 working, the small screen also feeds our addiction to online gaming and social media. In any spare moment, my husband is either concocting his next move on Wordfeud or checking stocks / emails on his Blackberry.

Add children to the blend and you're sunk. Running small lives, as well as your own, pretty much mops up any spare time. Someone wise once told me there are three main elements in life, but if you want to stay sane, you can only accomplish two of them well:

  • Work
  • Family / children
  • Social life

I persist in the belief that I can just about manage all three to varying degrees, until my body gives out and shouts STOP! 

Apart from physical collapse, there is one other solution: taking a holiday. For a few weeks a year, we cease working and can (if we choose) turn off the social flow. For once, we actually allow ourselves time to relax and reflect more deeply on life. Mr Churchill's three days of fun might never come, but thank God (or the state) for holiday entitlement. It may yet save us from mental overload.

Right! All I need to do now is squeeze in a visit to the gym, organise picnic food for the weekend, dash out another 500 words of my novel, do some ironing and then trot down to my kids' school for the summer production this afternoon... Someone please pass me the Nurofen!

"The key to any good family saga is to create characters the reader will care about, family secrets that will be solved eventually but aren't immediately obvious, and a setting that makes interesting reading. This novel scores on all points..." 
- 5* Amazon review, June 2013

My book, A Sister for Margot, is now only £1.99 / $2.99 on Amazon!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Move over old boy

When I was at school, people used to talk about the old boys' network. Last week, I decided that women have finally put the old boys out to pasture. After spending two days at the Britmums Live conference in London and a night with the women's group Hub Dot on Regent's Street, it struck me that women are uniquely gifted at forming connections. Whatever the medium - parties, families, work or social media - women seem to have an instinct for nurturing the network.

Kirsty Allsopp open the Britmums Live blogging conference
Kirsty Allsopp tells Britmums
she is "neurotic" about helping out
at her sons' school
At the Hub Dot event, Nell Gifford, founder of the wildly popular Giffords Circus, told us, "The best thing women do is start families." She believes growing a "work family" and having children derive from the same "strange instinct". 

This might explain why Britmums has become a phenomenally successful community of 5,000 parent bloggers, who are predominantly mums. Susanna Scott├╝ber-blogger and co-founder, opened this year's conference by telling us it was all about the community - laughing together as well as supporting each other through illness and bereavement. 

Women blog for all sorts of reasons: some struggle with being a stay-at-home mum and are looking for an outlet; some have found the kind of popularity online that eluded them at school; others just want to reach out. Award-winning blogger Mummy Barrow, who has nearly 6,000 followers on Twitter, said the kind of tweet that elicited the biggest response was: "Who wants a cup of tea?" She clearly has the knack of bringing in followers from the cold.

At the Hub Dot, any mention of children was left discreetly in the background. "This is about celebrating female qualities and showing that business can be done in a different way," said Simona Barbieri, part of the team behind the Hub Dot. These were polished, career women looking to help each other and form connections

Guest speaker Lulu Guinness, the handbag designer, told us that when she started in the fashion business nobody helped her. "I have always maintained I wanted to help people," she said. "Many girls have worked for me and I'm very proud when they have got fab jobs somewhere else."

So whether it's volunteering at the school fair, reading a bedside story or tweeting to a thousand followers, ladies, take pride. We are the glue that holds our societies together. We don't need cigars and we don't need a London club. Go forth and network!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

FREE novel: Sister for Margot

My novel, A Sister for Margot, is FREE to download on Amazon this week for three days only. This is your chance to load up your Kindle (or ipad) with a relaxing summer read! Escape the good old British drizzle with a few balmy days in Ibiza, wartime romance and a mystery to unravel. The book has been rated four stars (out of five) on Amazon with fifteen reviews. On Goodreads it scored 4.4 out of five.

Free days:
Monday 24th June, Tuesday 25th June and Wednesday 26th June. Visit the Amazon page and 'buy' as normal. The price will be £0.00 / $0.00 and you won't be charged!

A Sister for Margot
In a seaside theatre, with Hitler’s bombs raining down, the actress Maud falls in love for the first time. She dreams however of seeing her name in lights and part of her resists getting embroiled in an affair. But she can’t fight her feelings forever.
Forty years later in an English suburb, Margot is on the brink of divorce and depression after losing her sister in a tragic boating accident. Her orphaned niece Ruby is sent to live with her grandfather in Ibiza, and develops a morbid fascination with the past. Rattling the family skeletons will unearth a secret that touches all of their lives. 
In this debut novel, Emma Clark Lam writes a compelling family saga that examines the themes of wasted potential, sibling rivalry and romantic love. Three generations of women struggle to find their niche, while challenging the taboos of their time. Clark Lam’s forte is her vivid characterization – the three main characters continue to live with you long after you have finished the book. Underpinning the whole story is the cycle of life, with all its associated emotions of loss, grief and renewal.

Click here for more information
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When you have read the book, I would really appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Thanks so much,
Emma x

"This was such an enjoyable read and the quality of the writing was what made it so. I could not put it down as the plot was so meaty with so many twists and turns." -- Amazon review December 2012

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The seductive fairytale

Review: Pretty Woman (1990)

I have been indulging myself this week. My husband was away at the weekend so I sat down to watch one of my favourite, feel-good films: Pretty Woman. For two happy hours, my teenage years of 1990 - the year the film was released - came flooding back. The soundtrack alone transported me to a wistful era of adolescent heartbreak, experimental outfits, thick eyebrows and endless daydreaming. At the time, my family lived in Oman and I vividly remember cruising along desert roads in our 4x4, watching the goat herds at work, with Wild Women Do belting out from the tape-deck. 

I confess that I saw the film at the cinema three times - twice
Julia Roberts at the world premiere of her new movie "Mirror Mirror" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood. March 17, 2012 Los Angeles
Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts a star 
© Featureflash |
with friends and once with my mother!
  Evidently I was not alone: the film was one  of the highest-grossing romantic comedies in history. When I sat down to watch it yet again on Saturday night, I feared that I might have outgrown this Hollywood fairytale, but no! I was caught up in its charm once more, delighting in a script I knew embarrassingly well ("I'm a safety girl... I appreciate the whole seduction thing you've got going on here, but let me give you a tip: I'm a sure thing" etc). 

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Time travelling

Hidden in a dark corner of our kitchen was a time capsule disguised as a milk carton. We discovered it behind a cupboard a few weeks ago when we ripped out the old kitchen as part of our house renovation project. It took some dexterity, but we managed to fish out a photo of the house's previous owners with their first child, particulars about the house sale and some newspaper pages from November 2002. The capsule had been collecting dust for more than 10 years, waiting patiently to deliver up its cache to a citizen of the future.

Front page of The Telegraph on 3 November 2002
Remember Angus Deayton's fall from grace?
In the grand scheme of things, a decade is not a long stretch of time, and yet the front page of The Telegraph on November 3, 2002, spoke of a distant past. In personal terms, this was the era of my youth, pre-offspring, newly married and still wrapped up in my career. On the front page, Victoria Beckham had just escaped a foiled kidnap plot, while Angus Deayton, host of the news quiz Have I Got News for You, faced public disgrace.

More significantly, Saddam Hussein was still in power and - as The Telegraph reported on that day - he was allegedly instructing his security officials to bump off Iraqi opposition leaders in Britain, with the help of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi. Strange to think that the last decade has been dominated by these two men and their different legacies. Efforts to quell their regimes have re-shaped the Middle East and altered the course of so many lives.

Our milk carton ran the gamut of human experience - its cargo included personal, public and geopolitical stories. But for all their prominence in 2002, at least two of those stories have become less important with time. As author M. L. Stedman writes in her novel, The Light Between Oceans:

"Years bleach away the sense of things until all that's left is a bone-white past, stripped of feeling and significance."

So we pass away and time kicks over the traces. On the face of it, it is a depressing thought, but there is also something liberating about our inconsequence. What most of us achieve (or don't achieve) during our little lives is largely irrelevant. It took a dusty old milk carton to remind me that I should worry less about future accomplishments and more about enjoying the moment in all its transience. 

We are planning to deposit a time capsule behind the cupboards in our new kitchen. Does anyone have any ideas as to what to include in the capsule? Let me know in the comments box.


"I found A Sister for Margot thoroughly absorbing. The story had all the elements to keep me gripped: family saga over three generations; wartime background; strong characters; different locations and a mystery in the background that ties the story together." - Amazon review

I would welcome more reviews of my book on or!