Ask Jane (Agony Aunt)

* This was published by Open Book as part of my writer-in-residency appointment.

Hi, I’m Jane, and I’m the protagonist of Helen’s novel, Pull Focus. I’m taking over the blog today to answer questions readers may about me, or the book, or anything else.


What’s an Agony Aunt?

A woman who replies to reader’s letters, usually in a newspaper or magazine column, and gives advice.

What qualifies you to give advice?

Probably not too much, but here I am anyhow.

What’s Pull Focus really about?

I think it’s accessible. One word written after another in a mostly linear fashion. Granted, there are a few flashbacks thrown in, but we’re not talking a Kenneth Anger level of confusion.

I mean the novel’s themes. Meta narratives. That kind of thing.

Evidence of a master plan?

It’s a classic tale of love and betrayal. Power and powerlessness. A quest for redemption. The triumph of good over evil.

You’re describing all novels.

Bingo. But if you’re looking for polemic, try Das Kapital or any of the ‘late-stage capitalism’ tomes currently making the rounds.

I’m sensing a bit of attitude.

You may well think so, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Jane isn’t your classic female protagonist.

I’m not?

Well, you have more than a few faults. 

He among you who is without sin, let Him first cast a stone upon her.

Religion is one of your many unresolved childhood issues.

You know what Philip Larkin wrote about families:

Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can. And don’t have any kids yourself.

Quotes are a classic means of deflection.

I thought we were having a wee chat, not a psychotherapy session.


Okay, then. Yes, I’m a little private. No Oprah-level of sharing. Growing up in a house of untold secrets will do that to you.

Silence is survival?


Yet you get close to your lawyer in this novel. And especially your bodyguard.

Yes, I do.

How close?

You’ll have to read the next novel.

What’s your character arc?

[Sighs.] Trust.

I can see readers falling in love with Jane.

Thank you, she says modestly.

But I have a quibble.

Based on our conversation so far, that’s not a surprise.

It’s a subjective quibble.

Every human thought or feeling is subjective.

I’m not besotted by your voice.


You’ve been through a lot for someone in their 30s. Internally, you’re idealistic even if you doubt the world will live up to its best potential. Not jaded but not. . .

Pollyana? Unaware of the danger women face in this world?

. . .unburdened.

This isn’t fantasy.

Do you think things are getting better for women in the film business?

In many ways, yes. A spotlight has been shone so brightly that the same level of coverup of bad behaviour is no longer possible. More women have launched production companies and moved into positions of power as producers and executives. Higher levels of women are finding work on crews. Greater attention is being paid to the intersection of racism and sexism.

And the presentation of women in film?

It’s a fine line. You want to represent the true lived experience of women in any kind of art. And you also want to show that women are fighters. Are resilient. Are outside the limited stereotypes that we’re too often fed. The tough career woman with a cookie dough heart. The cheated upon wife who seeks revenge. The happy warrior overcoming obstacles. There’s room for flawed female protagonists who are, shall we say [ahem] tough and smart and darkly funny. . .

On a more personal note, how do I handle unwanted advances on the red carpet, or the green room?

There’s a red carpet for books? Do you mean the Gillers? 

Well, first off, avoid Russian directors. Secondly, keep the thumb to the outside as you form a fist – it’s too easy to break it otherwise. Go fast and furious at the bridge of the nose, under the chin to force the head back or straight into the windpipe. The forearm shank against the throat. A Louboutin brought down on the inner side of the ankle as necessary. 

You get the idea. Surprise is your friend.

Most of all, practice: the instinct to protect oneself eventually becomes deeply embedded. And if you really need to, hire a bodyguard. I have one I can recommend. DM me, and I’ll send you the deets.

Ask Jane (Agony Aunt)
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