Holding out for a She-ro. Creating a strong female protagonist…

Recently, a lovely reader contacted me having read my blog post Holding out for a Hero. She was interested in how writers create male protagonists and her comment made me realise that all my male characters are there to counterbalance or enhance a female protagonist. So, she asked me, how do you decide on the characteristics of your female leads? Now there’s an interesting question.

Clearly, I look at traits I admire in women I know, so that fiction can imitate real people, flawed, adorable and beautiful souls. It’s a good place to start.

In The Lady of the Loch, the character of Agnes Fitzgerald in 1306 is pivotal. She is feisty, brave, outspoken and this is reflected as her story unfolds. She meets Cam Buchanan – she sees him swimming in the loch and her first response is to challenge him. They are attracted to each other immediately but their relationship will only progress on Agnes’s terms. He is a warrior of Robert de Brus and her equal; she shows immense courage as the story unfolds. Her determination and resilience are reflected in the modern characters of Leah and Zoe Drummond, both in terms of their life choices and their subsequent romances. So, my leading ladies have to be independent and gutsy. They live their lives on their own terms. They discover new strength and the capacity to become even stronger.

In The Highland Hens, the main character Mimi is 88 years old. She lives in the past – she was a dancer on the stage – and her journey is one of self-discovery and the realisation that she has so much to live for, not just friends and the three sons who adore her, but her joie de vivre and her capacity to love again. Jess, who becomes Mimi’s carer of sorts, has no desire to love again however, and her journey is one that starts with new independence and leads to the acknowledgement that she has so much to offer others.

My female characters are almost always on a journey of self-discovery; life is a journey that leads us to new people, new places, new experiences. In The Witch’s Tree, Selena discovers that from an old hurt a new trust can come, because she has the courage to move away from her past and look for new horizons. Grace, however, lives in 1682 where her horizons are limited and, although she is full of love and compassion, she is a victim of others who hold prejudiced and privileged positions. In Grace’s case, my heroine is a beautiful soul whose journey is one of sadness and loss. When paralleled with Selena, the modern protagonist, we see Grace’s life as one where superstitious gossip can cause so much harm.

Most of my female characters are strong women seeking new experiences. In The Golden Girls’ Getaway, actor Vivienne, opera singer Gwen and ex-nurse Mary leave London in search of adventure in a motorhome, with just a map and mischief for company. The friends in The Golden Oldies’ Book Club take off to France, where they develop strong friendships and throughout the ups and downs of the story, they are loyal and supportive to each other. This is another important factor for me in my characters’ relationships; community, camaraderie and kindness are central.

My heroines aren’t actively looking for love, but they have the capacity to give and receive it. Evie in A Grand Old Time meets Jean Luc in a pub in the south of France and calls him Mr Grumpy. Barbara in The Old Girls’ Network is an unhappy spinster whose life is dull; it takes homeless Bisto to bring her out of her shell and embrace her true warmth. In my next novel, The Silver Ladies Do Lunch which comes out in June, three friends who’ve known each other since primary school and are now in their seventies meet their old teacher, who is ninety, for fun lunches in fab locations. The outcome is again one of strong women with firm friendships, and their realisation that they share a past but can look forward to rewarding futures, despite their difficult current circumstances.

In short, I think my female protagonists are ordinary women who find extraordinary strength, courage, resilience, loyalty and kindness within themselves. They are feisty and independent – my leading ladies are rarely at a loss for words despite life’s ups and downs. While the men they may meet may deserve them and are mostly honourable and good, the women have the capacity to go it alone when they need to, but are always grateful for the solidarity and strength of the other women and men who support them.

My characters learn through the pages of the story to enjoy life, to accept who they are, to become better or happier people, to realise what they want and not be afraid to pursue it. There are adversaries, of course, people who stand in their way; there are problems and pitfalls, some of which are insurmountable, but the women in my books learn how to move forward, and they wholeheartedly believe they deserve second chances, happiness, love, a future. They are seldom judgemental or negative; I like my characters to have a positive outlook, at least by the later stages of the book.

These women she-ros are ‘every woman’ – they are like you and me, they’re not perfect, yet they have so much unrealised potential. They are unafraid of challenge and change. And they have the capacity to care, to love and be loved.

My leading women are fun, interesting, intelligent, loyal, they have a sense of humour, they get into scrapes. They’d make really good friends….

I hope you’d want to hang out with them. That’s why they are in my books…


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