This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Canada, which closed in 2021.

List For Women: An A To Y List For Modern Life

Is there any topic too 'dangerous' to be covered in a book? Not according to 'The Book For Dangerous Women: A Guide To Modern Life,' a new pocket-sized encyclopedia listing everything from childbirth to 'househusbands' that encourages every woman to 'live as well as you dare.'

Clare Conville, a literary agent in the UK, wrote the book with journalist friends Liz Hoggard and Sarah-Jane Lovett, drawing on their own experiences to observe, advise and poke good fun at themselves and other women.

"We would meet once a week every two weeks and talk -- about everything from divorce to how to be a good cancer buddy," Conville explained to The Huffington Post Canada. "And I realized that women, whether it’s mothers, daughters, sisters, friends -- they all talk about the same things, and it can range from the very local, funny things to the very serious."

SEE: Excerpts from "The Book For Dangerous Women," with some of their A to Y of advice. Story continues below:

The Book For Dangerous Women

Drawing from the feminist movement of the '60s and '70s, the book attempts to illustrate what life means for a woman today, and how things have changed, for better or for worse, since more choices came into play.

"I think [the most challenging thing for women today is] how to be true to themselves but also find fulfillment in work and love and support their families," said Conville. "The liberation movement was defining for women and I think we are all living with the consequences of that, both good and challenging."

The only topics that posed an issue among the three women were online dating and cosmetic surgery. Conville is against cosmetic surgery, but her fellow writers felt it was an individual's choice, so in the end they included it, along with the advice to read Naomi Wolf's "The Beauty Myth."

And as for Internet dating, Conville admits with refreshing honesty, "Liz thinks it’s very positive and a very good thing to do, for Sarah-Jane, it was just something she would never do, and I just sit somewhere in between. I think it’s a good idea but it’s not something I would do, probably because I’m too lazy really."


The essence of allure is to be in a private relationship with oneself. Allure is an ageless quality that combines sexuality with ancient wisdom, secret confidence, inner depth and the ability to remain still in a busy room.

Contemporary ideas of beauty and the overexposure of models and actresses in newspapers and magazines means that it is rare to see a famous person who looks alluring. There are just too many lightbulbs flashing in the background. The woman in the street, on the other hand, has every chance to develop these qualities.

Be Warm

Happy people aren't especially lucky or beautiful but they connect well to others and as a result they tend to have rich personal relationships. In adolescence we assume nihilism is cool. But as you get older, warmth becomes a seriously hot property. Stop worrying whether people will find you weird and intense. Other people are generally nicer tahn you think. And if they're not? Your goodwill combined with good behaviour is the best form of body armour.

If you insist on maintaining your ice-cold froideur, you will eventually become an empty fridge. If you reach an understanding that it doesn't matter what people think about you then you have become entirely free.


Nowadays it's socially acceptable to have a glass of wine or dabble in illicit substances but should one piece of bread pass your lips you know that you will be damned for all eternity.

Boring though it is to have to admit it, and although in theory we don't believe in dieting, ditching the carbs does help knock off the pounds. This basically means doing the Atkins without doing the Atkins. Or doing a sort of Atkins, but with a tiny bit of carbs on the side. It still works.

Carbs are also addictive, so the less you eat them, the less you want them. This will help you keep the weight off once you have lost it. So let's reframe the idea of 'dieting' as 'slightly changing the way you eat' and we'll throw in some super-foods too for good measure. Why the hell not?


You are, of course, over the affair. you are out with friends, it's a Friday, and you are boldly looking forward to the future, but after the third drink the small voice of doubt creeps in. Maybe it was my fault? Maybe I need to tell him how much I do love/hate him? Is he with somebody else? is he missing me? It wouldn't do any harm to make the call. And so on and so forth ... by closing time doubting Thomas has turned into a huge green glittering snake exhorting you to eat the apple.

Before you know it, you are hitting speed dial. At this point, your BFF will attempt to ascertain what is going on and then try to wrestle you to the floor, grab your phone and throw it in the nearest river -- and not without reason, because she has spent every spare waking moment of the last three months listening sympathetically to your outpourings of rage and grief and that promise that you will never, ever speak to him again. But it's too late, the die is cast, you make the call. Even as you are doing it, you already know somewhere in your heart that when you wake up in the morning, whatever the outcome, you are going to absolutely hate yourself. There is only one solution: it's tough but mercifully simple. When an affair is over delete all phone and e-mail addresses from all relevant technology and keep it that way. He can always find you again if he wants to.

(The) Ex

Oh the ex. The ex is only really the ex when you simply don't fancy him anymore. Of course, he probably won't ever believe that to be the case and he will fondly (or otherwise) imagine that you will carry a torch for him until your dying day. But now he has run off with the au pair, someone else can do your dirty work, and gradually the love and agony you feel will turn to anger and hatred and probably end up as ambivalence. If, however, the very sound of his dulcet tones has you running to the vodka bottle, just steady yourself, make a written note of the things you wish to relay to him pertaining to the children in words of no more than two syllables and sentences of no more than ten words. Then have a stiff one.

Female Comedians

A great female comedian is like an unexploded bomb in a handbag. She might go off at any minute -- voicing extreme rage -- or she might apply her lipstick and play nice. From Tina Fey to Amy Sedaris and Chelsea Handler, the best writer-performers find a way to say the unsayable. From cancer to suicide and disability, no subject is too sacred. Women and gay men -- who routinely see themselves caricatured on TV -- respond to the raw power, the amorality of the great female comedy performer. They make us howl, they make us blush ('I can't possibly admit I do that'), they make us rightly furious. But dear God they make us feel better about ourselves.

Girl Crush

It could be your boss, or Alison Goldfrapp, or that fascinating woman at the library. It's like a mini love affair. You quote her all the time, start watching the DVDs she recommends, and wonder out loud if it's 'too soon' to ring her. You both want to be her, and be her best friend. Usually nonsexual in nature -- sorry boys -- but no less thrilling.

Handwritten Letters

Letters were once the only way to conduct long-distance relationships. We waited weeks fo them to arrive from pen pals or boyfriends who had gone to India in their gap year, kept them scented and beribboned in our knicker drawers (surely what they were invented for) and in return poured our hearts out onto paper-thin airmail letters or Basildon Bond writing paper -- and practiced our best italic handwriting with beautiful fountain pens.

Sadly, in this new age of mass communication letters have lost some of their importance but, as much as we all adore instant messaging, is anyone seriously backing up e-mails and tweets for posterity, apart from those rather frightening corporations in Silicon Valley? Are we convinced that the expression of our hearts and souls will not all be reduced to memory sticks? We still fantasize about long discursive letters. They're part of our emotional history. So go and find that dusty bottle of ink and get weaving.

Letters excel in conveying a true message. Whether it's a thank you, a love note, or for saying you are sorry in a way that is hard to ignore: for putting across the tricky, difficult, private or loving. Still feeling cynical? Go tot he penultimate scene in Persuasion and you will change your mind.


Sometimes we just know someone is not to be trusted, or that a particular flat or house will make us happy for the next twenty years.

Feminine instincts are women's natural way of knowing. In a male-dominated work world, they are often perceived as inferior or too subjective. But we should listen to that gut feeling that something is totally right -- or wrong. Thinking too much can actually lead you to make the wrong decision. Like a computer, the rational brain has limitations. It can handle a certain amount of information at any given moment, but if you give it more than that you can overwhelm it.

It turns out that in what scientists call our 'internal supercomputer,' emotions that emerge from our unconscious minds tend to reflect more information than our rational minds.

The best times to trust your emotional, intuitive thought process are in situations in which you've had a lot of experience, such as buying a car or getting married.

Listening to your heart doesn't involve doing more, but doing less -- so set your mind free.


"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.' - Carl Gustav Jung

If Freud is for the first half of your life, Jung is for the second. His interpretations of archetypes, myths and symbols are rich, informative and filled with non-judgemental insight into the stories of our lives.


Cycling, walking, going on the Power Plate, cross-training or swimming.

You've got to do everything you can to look after these babies, as they are they lynchpins of your skeleton. The key is to keep the supporting muscles strong, to keep the kneecap in place, and able to remain supple and agile. Slinky knees can be yours. When in doubt, take up tap dancing.


"Punctuality is the courtesy of kings." -Louis XVIII

There's nothing grown-up about being late. It wastes other people's time and goodwill. To the very punctual your lateness is a mark of arrogance. To your therapist, lateness is a sign that you are surreptitiously stealing time from other people, thus testing their loyalty. But punctuality freaks need to be flexible too -- no one should be bullied into a deadline they can't meet. If you are the punctual type, use the extra time to catch up on other things or maybe just dream a little.


It is probably not until you actually experience or witness what it is to be a mother that you begin to realize what they do and go through. Whatever you mother is like, or was like if she is no longer with you, the chances are that she tried to do her best for her babies, as all mothers do. Her maternal instinct would have compelled her to walk through fire, take the food from her own mouth, sleep on cardboard and know no fear in order to feed and clothe her children. The concern that a mother has for her young is monumental. She only wants the best for you.

So now it's your turn -- buy the chocolates, bring the flowers and pick up any clothes and books you think might suit her. Be thoughtful and call with news. She's probably even got a mobile phone and is into texting and e-mailing in a sort of Morse code. Good for her and lovely for the grandchildren. Invite her to stay, it's your turn to take her out now. Try and work out how many hours you can rub along for without going into meltdown on both sides. Remember all the squillion selfless things she's done for you, and try to make her happy.

New People

Every six months or so the old address book needs oxygenating and new people need to be brought in. New people will keep you on your toes by offering fresh insights and unlikely experiences. Breezing new people into your life from all walks of life and from all nationalities is a great way to keep young, open-minded and full of zip.

Office Wife

It's quite flattering. A gorgeous man in the office who is happily married turns his attentions to you. Soon you are telling each other everything, going for lunch every other day and gossiping about work colleagues. All fine and dandy, but rest assured that he doesn't talk about you at home. Make sure you are still socially available to others.

Public Displays Of Affection

It can be extremely irritating to be forced to watch people oblivious to the external world exchanging bodily fluids six inches away from your nose. You probably long to shout 'Get a room!' The rule of thumb is that hand-holding, hugging and general loving closeness is okay -- anything else is too much but you must forgive first-time Romeo and Juliets everything.


You will have to sometimes stand in line and it is a drag but it is also our continued ability to queue that makes us proud to be human. Carry a slim volume of verse or a short but perfectly formed novel (The Turn of the Screw, The Great Gatsby, To the Lighthouse) with you at all times. This will ease the pain and distract you from the melee.

Role Models

Angelou, Maya; Blaise, Immodesty; Del Conte, Anna; Mantel, Hilary; Minogue, Kylie; Mirren, Helen; Parton, Dolly; Queen, the; Rowling, J.K.; Smith, Patti; Streep, Meryl; Suu Kyi, Aung San; Swinton, Tilda; Thompson, Emma; Westwood, Dame Vivienne)


Don't do yourself down. It's pointless and can become embarrassing and irritating for those around you. As much as you put yourself down they will politely feel the need to build you up and frankly that's not their responsibility.


Yes, they are occasionally embarrassing and a bore on the makeup front. When we cry the body releases toxins -- such as the stress hormone cortisol -- so you always feel better afterwards. Tears can melt the sternest of hearts and they can even incite an unexpected crush. True, it's hard for most of us to cry and remain photogenic. Lucky people can shed a single, graceful glistening tear while their already perfect bone structure is heightened by a becoming flush, but most of us are chaotic, 33-hankies-a-day softs.

As a rule of thumb try to avoid crying at work, unless in exceptional circumstances. Dig your nails into your palms. Take deep breaths. Walk around the park -- or have secret convulsions on the stairs.

When you witness a fellow weeper -- never more than five feet away in a big city -- be compassionate. We've all sat on night buses next to a stranger sobbing (bad date, bad boss, bad everything), and felt anguished that we didn't intervene. Pat them kindly on the shoulder. Reassure them it's okay to have big, messy emotions and hand over some tissues. We all need to have a really good cry from time to time.

Urban Walking

You don't need specialist equipment -- just lightweight sneakers you can throw in your bag. Building 'active travel' into your day is far easier than going to the gym or the pool. You can do it in an art gallery, the park or while shopping. Or rather like the Grand Old Duke of York and his ten thousand men, you can march yourself to the top of the hill and march yourself down again.


Let's not get into the details but if you want to have a satisfying sex life into your fifties and sixties it may be that your partner will need to take some Viagra from time to time. It has been said that it is like making love to a diving board, but we suppose there are worse things.

Wet Wipes

Easily and cheaply acquired, they are probably hideously ecologically dodgy. However, from toilet seats (although we promise you won't get from pregnant sitting on one) to baby-sick to dog poo (and that's just the half of it), they are unbelievably and stupidly useful. If you have everything but the kitchen sink in your handbag, you may as well throw in a packet of wet wipes, just because you can.


Spread them reasonably, liberally, but wisely.

You're Only Young Twice

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."-Soren Kierkegaard

Stop procrastinating. Stop making endless lists. Or telling people at dinner parties how you're going to write a novel/move to New York/start that lavender farm. We've heard it all before. And it's boring. You're the only grown-up in the room now. Just give it a go.

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