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Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts On My Female Characters

Today, a Year 7 girl returning a copy of Wolfborn asked, "Miss, are you a writer?" - making sure I was actually the author of the book she had just read. When I said yes, she smiled and told me how much she had enjoyed the novel, adding, "especially the girl". It was not just a bit of egoboo, but it made me feel good that finally someone had said they liked my heroine, Jeanne. I have had far too many reviews that have said they liked the book, but not Jeanne, or that the romance was "tacked on".

It wasn't. Jeanne, daughter of the werewolf knight, Geraint, was strong, but vulnerable too. She wanted her father to be rescued and returned to his rightful place, but knew that if and when he did, she would lose the freedom of the forest where she had been brought up and be a castle-bound knight's daughter. And Etienne, the boy from whose viewpoint the story is told, made a huge sacrifice for her at the end, after making his love for her clear all through the story. If that's "tacked on", all I can say is, please, reviewers, go find a nice YA vampire romance. This book isn't for you.

One or two reviewers got it, and made me cheer.

This made me think of my female characters in general. When I wrote Wolfborn, I had fun with the wife of the werewolf knight, who had betrayed him. I deliberately gave her the soppiest name I could think of -  Eglantine, with a nod to Chaucer's Prioress. I ended up feeling a little sorry for her. She had a history, having discovered that a boy she had cared about and nearly married was a werewolf. Mind you, when I wrote a short story based on that incident ("Midwinter Night", published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, issue #54, edited by Simon Petrie) I went back to being unsympathetic toward Eglantine, indicating that it served her right to end up married to a werewolf after she had betrayed her previous fiance, though it would be best for her new husband if she never found out. But she was limited in many ways; still, I gave her a chance to make a better life for herself at the end of the novel. I just couldn't make her a total villain.

Geraint's first love, Sylvie, Jeanne's mother and the local wise-woman, was meant to be strong and was in some ways, but had made some mistakes in her life and never quite gotten over them. I have a confession to make: there's a scene between her and Geraint, late in the novel, which was inspired by one in that lovely movie Ladyhawke, which I was watching while working on the edits. She's tougher than Eglantine(who isn't?) but she lost her family at a young age, due to what she was born, and had to grow up fast, alone in the forest. Only near the end of Wolfborn does she find out what happened to her family.

Of course, she wasn't completely alone after a while. She had a teacher, Lysette, who doesn't appear in this book but is the heroine of the one I'm working on - minus a publisher for the moment, but sooner or later I will feel confident to offer it around. She gets a mention, because my editor wanted to make a sequel possible, but that hasn't happened - there was a shakeup in the company and the Woolshed list and I no longer know anyone in editorial at Random House Australia. On my own, I went back to a prequel I'd already been working on.

Alys is Eglantine's waiting-woman and the wife of the castle's steward. She is the real chatelaine of the household, a woman who knows her domestic tasks well and performs them because Eglantine won't; she never had to, as a spoilt child who went straight from home to court to marriage. Alys is a more traditional woman than the others, but she isn't weak or passive. Women who ran such large households couldn't be. In some ways,  they were like hotel managers who also had to look after the whole estate. Etienne mentions that before his birth, his mother once had to defend the household from invaders while his father was away. Alys doesn't do that, but without her, some of the vital things that happen in the book wouldn't have happened.

Lysette is the heroine of my as-yet unfinished novel set in the same universe, at an earlier date. She is the result of my wondering what would happen if you were born a werewolf in the peasant class. Mostly, they'd be likely to be killed, of course, as soon as they were caught raiding the flocks, but Lysette has to escape from a bunch of local louts, having turned into a wolf for the first time in their presence. After that, she meets a Merlin-like wizard she accidentally releases from a tree, and travels the country with him, searching for a long-lost prince who had gone missing when the wizard's previous apprentice had locked him in that tree.

I've found myself getting Lysette to make a decision, late in the novel, that will not make me popular with girls, hence the fact that I'm still working on it. The problem with prequels is that there are some things you can't change. And one of them is the fact that the romantic interest of the book is a long-lost king and they don't usually marry peasant-girls, let alone werewolf peasant girls. And we know what happened to her later, anyway. Help!

I'm starting to understand why there are so many YA novels where the girl has to choose between two or more boys!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, but are intrigued, I have read from both Wolfborn and the manuscript, The Sword And The Wolf, on Youtube, there's a Wolfborn sample chapter on this web site and you can always order a copy from your local bookshop or library.


Sarah Allen said...

Wow, I love hearing authors talk about their characters in such detail :) I'll definitely have to check out this gorgeous book.

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Aw, thanks, Sarah! Why not read the sample chapter? It is mostly a set-up chapter, but it will give you some idea of what the story is all about, introducing most of the main characters, including the book's main villain. If interested, you can get it on Amazon, both as print and ebook, and iBooks, and as a print book on several others. The bookshops probably aren't stocking it right now, as they have a tendency to stop stocking books after a few months, but you can order it in. Let me know what you think.