The Black Hours

The Myth of the Feisty Woman #wwwblogs #womensfiction #histfic

boxing woman

My recent post about the portrayal of women of a certain age in fiction certainly seemed to strike a chord with many of you. So I thought I’d have another bit of a rant – this time about the way women are portrayed in historical fiction.

Now, I’m not talking about historical romance here, because to be honest it’s not a genre I read. In the historical fiction that I enjoy, there will be strong, likeable, intelligent female characters. These characters will often be inspiring and admirable. There are enough real historical women who have acted bravely and out of the bounds of convention after all. But, without exception, all of these women would have found it tough, and would have met resistance and hostility and often real danger.

So what really gets on my nerves in historical fiction is women who act rashly, or who are rebellious, or adventurous and who do these things without any consequences whatsoever. Women of upper class families who go out on their own, for example, without permission. And this is acceptable because after all, she’s a feisty one (god how I hate that word) and it’s all just a bit of a giggle.

And women who show no fear. Who stand up to adversity and discrimination and their fear, their anger, their frustration isn’t portrayed. I’m willing to bet everything I have that every single woman who stood on the gallows, accused of witchcraft was utterly, completely terrified. That every single woman who fell under suspicion and was arrested and tortured felt helpless. That every single woman who wanted more for herself than to be a wife or a mother felt totally frustrated and angry.

When I wrote ‘The Black Hours’ I wanted to show that what happened to these women accused of witchcraft was terrifying. In too many books and films these women stand up for themselves and are defiant. Would they really have been? Or would they have crumbled, and cried and begged for mercy? And wouldn’t you? I think we do a disservice to these women when we write their feelings out of our fiction. What I was trying to get across with Alice, and with Maggie, was that they were completely, utterly helpless. Alice had no agency at all. No one, absolutely no one, was going to help her. It would have done no good for her to be feisty. She just had to bear it and she just had to suffer.

I began reading a book the other week that was a best-seller. The author is well-respected and very, very successful. I’ll admit I had my reservations before I began. The book is set in France, during the occupation. In the opening scenes, a local woman, very young, very clever, very outspoken, is put into a situation that could end with her being killed. But she’s fine, because she’s strong, and brave and clever and beautiful and feisty. She stands up to the nasty Gestapo officer. And all is fine.

How utterly insulting to all the women who tried to deal with the occupation and keep their children safe in whatever way they could, but failed. What a judgement on those who weren’t feisty enough or pretty enough or brave enough. I wouldn’t be brave in that situation. I doubt that I’d even stand up for myself.

I know fiction is make-believe. I know that people can act differently in fictional worlds to how they act in the real one. But I also feel strongly that we owe it to the millions and millions of women that have suffered, that have been tortured and murdered and abused and vilified and subjugated, throughout history, to portray them honestly. A woman that confessed under torture to things she hadn’t done; a woman that betrayed someone because she was scared for her children; a woman that didn’t do all the things she was capable of because she couldn’t. Because not everyone was bloody Florence Nightingale (although she certainly had her share of the struggle). These women are part of female history too. So, if you’re writing historical fiction, please be authentic to these women; to how they would have been and what they would have done. And please, do remember: there weren’t many happy endings.

The RBRT Golden Rose Awards

I am incredibly pleased that my dark historical novel ‘The Black Hours’ is one of the contenders for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team’s Golden Rose Awards.

Plain Golden Rose

Writers often tweet (or even email) me to ask me to vote for their books in various competition. More often than not I’ve never even read their book. Needless to say, I don’t vote for them unless I have read and enjoyed the book in question. So this isn’t a request for a vote. It’s just to let you know that voting for the awards is open until Sunday 6th December, and if you have read and genuinely enjoyed ‘The Black Hours’ then I would be delighted if you could find the time to pop along to Rosie’s blog and vote. There are plenty of other books nominated too, so do vote and support your favourite.

The nominations were made by the book review team from books reviewed between January and October 2015

Voting will be open for one week only from November 30th to December 6th

You may vote for TWO books per category.

Please only vote for a book that you believe deserves an award.  We value everyone’s contribution and you are not required to vote in each category; it may be that you will vote for just one book if there is only one that you a) have read and b) deem worthy of the accolade of the virtual

 Golden or Silver Rose!  

Obviously, authors are asked not to vote for their own books.

Winners and runners -up will be announced on December 15th.

Thank you.

#AtoZChallenge: Q is for Quiet, Please!

For the A-Z challenge, I am posting writing and editing tips to help you improve and enhance your writing.

Q is for Quiet, please!

quiet

My novel, ‘The Black Hours’, deals with the rather nasty events of the 17th century English witch hunts, perpetrated by the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. In order to write the novel, I had to do a lot of research, and that research often took me to some fairly horrible places. I read things and now know things that I wish I didn’t.

When it came to writing the book, I wanted others to know all about the horrific things that had happened to REAL people, how they suffered and died in the name of religion, superstition and hatred. So, I duly included lots of horrific details. It was harrowing to write at times.

And it was harrowing to read. My first ‘beta’ reader was my son. Although he came back with lots of positives, he also said it was too much. There was too much horror. It needed toning down. The reader needed time to pause, to breathe, to recover.

I took his criticism on board, toned things down and then passed it, terrified, chapter by chapter, to my fellow MLitt students.

Again, the feedback was great and very positive. But there was still one common criticism. It was too dark, too horrible still. Could I tone it down? Give the reader a break?

So I did. The novel is still realistic (I hope), still contains the truth of what happened to many poor souls in that awful time. But there are also moments of lightness, of humanity, that I hope prevent it from being too much.

So writers, think about your readers. Yes, we know that action is important, that the plot must move forward, but if your book is fast paced, or dark, then do make sure to give your reader time to recover, to pause and collect themselves, to come up for air. Some time for quiet, please.