One thing I’ve been asked many times is how I write such strong female characters. None of my heroines ever lie down or give in. They always at least keep up, but mostly surpass, my male leads. It took me a long time to actually realise I was doing it. I find it extremely difficult not to write a strong female character. Even the ones I need to be weaker always have some key strength, rather than just some paint-by-the-numbers cardboard cut-out female cliché.
Why do I write like this?
It has taken me a long time to understand (I never said I was smart) that I’ve always been surrounded by strong female role models. Whether it’s my sister, or mother, I’ve always had strong women in my life. None, however, are as strong as my maternal grandmother, nan. Singlehandedly she raised two children on her own, having kicked my alcoholic and abusive grandfather to the curb at a time when being a single mother wasn’t the done thing. All the while she kept her wicked sense of humour, her love of a good story and her mischievous ways.
A natural born storyteller, she could have a whole room wrapped in awe with one of her tales. It didn’t matter if you’d heard the story a million times (believe me, some of them seemed like it), she would always have you in stitches.
She died yesterday at the age of 95.
She packed a lot of life in. Her first child died at an early age, while at the dentist (I was given his name, David). She raised a son and a daughter singlehandedly, who gave her many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Steadfastly refusing charity, she worked most of her life supporting her family. After a lifetime of dreaming, she obtained her first passport at 76 and flew on her first plane to the UK – by herself. She gave up smoking in her 80s, after having taken it up at the age of 16. Mind you, fifteen years after the fact, she could still be seen sitting in her armchair, foot tapping away with her hand in the air holding an imaginary ciggie. She refused to go into a home (‘That’s for old ducks”) and looked after herself until her late 80s.
She was so supportive of my sister and I becoming writers, having never had the chance herself. The woman could spin a yarn. She used to tell sweeping epics to her young children off the top of her head, sometimes spanning weeks. She’d wanted to write, but never got around to it, it wasn’t the done thing for a mother to take time for herself. I often said the storytelling gene skipped a generation.
I now have two girls of my own. They will be raised in her spirit, knowing that they can achieve anything and to never accept anyone telling them what a female can’t do. They have inheriting strong genes with both their great grandmothers living well into their 90s, but there’s much more than that. They’re inheriting strength of character and an example of what a strong woman can achieve.
So, next time I’m asked why I write strong female characters, I’m pretty sure I have the answer.