I have a number of books I love to read and read again, and while thinking about who I’d like to talk about for this blog bit, I realized that at least four of them have very strong, very odd, far from perfect female characters.
There’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, (Ken Kesey) which makes me cry from the first line, “They’re out there.” Nurse Ratched is so powerful, so determined, she threatens to take over the novel as well as the lives of the men in her ward.
‘Rebecca’ (Daphne du Maurier) , to me, has two strong women. Well, three, but Mrs Danvers is such a parasite on Rebecca’s energy I don’t want to count her. Rebecca, never seen, still fills me with the desire to be like her; that long hair she tosses back carelessly, the freedom of her decisions, and the way she truly doesn’t care what the world thinks. The narrator, never named, while appearing weak, is truly strong. She doesn’t falter in her love for Maxim (I love that name!), nor does she change in her character as she learns more about the power of Rebecca.
And there’s Vera Claythorn, of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None.’ This novel is a bit of a departure for Christie, I always think. It’s very different to many of her others, and doesn’t have one central detective. I first read it when I was about 13, and Vera to me was such a remarkable woman. She killed a child to try to win over a man, which is so horrendous it gives me an awful feeling in my stomach, but my God, to have the power of your convictions like that! To actually act on such a plan. I admired her because she was wild, she had a lover, and she was beautiful. It doesn’t end well for her; after one last brave act of self-preservation, it doesn’t end well. I hate that that happened, but I also admire Christie for seeing her story through.
Finally, ‘Like Being Killed’ (Ellen Miller) has Ilyana Meyerovich. I read this novel well after I wrote ‘Slights’, otherwise I would say I was influenced by it. Ilyana is similar to Stevie from ‘Slights’ in some ways. She’s funny, she’s abusive and she’s self-harming. Why do I like reading about her then? Because her voice is so strong, and her character so definite.
That’s what I like in my characters.
Creating the character of Stevie took a reasonable amount of letting go on my part. While I’ve always created unlikeable characters, this one was unlikeable for 100,000 words. At the same time, I knew I wanted there to be some empathy for her, or at least interest in her life and where it would lead her. So I didn’t want her to be single-faceted.
The details of her life are partly a collection of things I’ve heard and seen over the years. Things that have upset or offended me, or made me feel pity. I wanted her to epitomize loneliness, and that feeling of being left out of something you can hear happening; the party next door, the group of people in the office across the hallway.
I also wanted her to be strong, and to be very sure of herself.
The letting go part came in the things she does and says. I had to stop myself from censoring her, and from having her make the kinds of choices PEOPLE make. She doesn’t make those choices. It was hard; there is a scene where I have her terrify a group of children and it seemed very, very wrong. It is very wrong, but I had to do it. It was what she would have done, and it led to a couple of vital plot developments.
At the same time, it was a lot of fun. She and her sister-in-law have a very adversarial relationship, and Stevie enjoys stirring Maria up.
Stevie is the sort of person you’re happy you don’t know, but I think I would have been friends with her.
Kaaron Warren’s short story collection The Grinding House (CSFG Publishing) won the ACT Writers’ and Publishers’ Fiction Award and two Ditmar Awards. Her second collection, Dead Sea Fruit is published by Ticonderoga Books. Her critically acclaimed novel Slights (Angry Robot Books) was nominated for an Aurealis Award, made the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Awards, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly First Novel Award and won the Australian Shadows Award fiction, the Ditmar Award and the Canberra Critics’ Award for Fiction.
Links to my wordpresspage, http://kaaronwarren.wordpress.com/
and follow me on Twitter, Kaaron Warren