Sunday, 5 April 2009

Heroine Addiction

Just over a month and DEVIL'S KISS will finally be on the shelves. If any of you can make the Crystal Palace Festival on Saturday 25th April, there'll be a few advanced copies there at the Bookseller Crow on the hill bookshop. I'll be there too so do say hello. Details are here:
Which brings me to ... the why.
Why a girl heroine?
The simple answer is that I have daughters, so it was probably a given that I'd write a female lead. However, very early on I was told, in no uncertain terms, that boys wouldn't read my book. Girls read boy heroes, no problem, but boys don't read about heroines.
Is that true? Hmm ...
It was Northern Lights that first inspired me to be a writer, and we've got a classic heroine in Lyra. What's interesting is how she portrays classic 'feminine' atributes. She's quick-witted and has intuitive powers. She's the brains of the outfit. It's Will who's the warrior, a standard sexual stereotype.
I wanted to turn this over for DEVIL'S KISS. Billi is the warrior and Kay, the boy, is the witch. Kay was as interesting to write as Billi ever was (but I'll save that for another discussion). I think I always 'knew' Billi. She's based on the 'reluctant' warrior, the Hector rather than the Achilles (sorry, I had to get my usual Iliad reference in) and very much inspired by historical warrior women. The two most famous would be Boudicca and the Rani of Jhansi. Both were forced to take the role of military leaders and found themselves naturally gifted at it.
That's Billi.
There's something terribly glamourous about the fantasy of war, for men especially. I can't comment particularly how women feel about it but so much of our literature and our entertainments are tied up with the image of a man with a gun or sword or whatever. I'm a total liberal and very anti-war (up to a point, if I must be honest) but still there's something about the idea of being a warrior that doesn't go away.
Billi doesn't have that. She's not conned by the glamour or the comraderies of the warrior cult. She knows its a dirty job but she's got to do it. That's why the relationships in her life get so much space in the book. The action is violent, extreme and intense and (I hope) demonstrates the emotion damage that violence brings, but it doesn't occupy that many pages. But Billi pays a heavy price for being what she is, a warrior and a killer. What drives Billi is her feelings towards Kay, towards her father and the other knights close to her. Without these conflicting emotions your character is a psychopath, something that is easily ignored in the typical 'kill and quip' style of Hollywood entertainment (and why Bourne is superseding Bond in today's 'modern' sensibilties and why Quantum of Solace was such a disappointment after Casino Royale). This emotional conflict was so much easier to write using a female protagonist, even if it means half the population won't pick up the book.
But this self-reflection on the nature of being a warrior isn't exclusively female. The early Fleming Bonds definately have it. Bond knows, deep down, he's something incomplete, and the Sharpe novels often have brief moments when Sharpe realises the dirty business he's in, but does it because he can't do anything else. He manages by being, ultimately, cut-off from his actions, and we've seen what happens to warriors like that, they loose what it is to be human.
The villain of my book is picked for that very reason. He's defined by blood and war, blinded by his own nobility and righteousness. I wanted someone who could be the ultimate 'good guy'. But in being the very best, he has become the very worst.


Gareth said...

Nice blog, Sarwat - thanks. A lot for me to think about especially on the damage violence does.

Keep it coming.

Jon M said...

Can't wait for DK to come out and should be there on 25th as it's Marathon weekend! I'm not convinced that you have alienated half of the readership by your choice of protagonist though.