Since my first novel, Lagan Love, was published there is one question I have been asked a number of times: Was it difficult to write female characters?
I have often wondered at that. Is it because I am a man and therefore it is assumed that I would have difficulty in understanding women? Or is it because my female characters are so compelling that they engender amazement? I would prefer to think it was the latter but that would fan vanity and I have learned to be cautious about that.
I believe that good writers ‘create’ characters through observation. We meet all kinds of wonderful characters every day and, with a little bit of imagination, some of them can find their way onto the pages of a book. (This is another reason why we should behave ourselves with consideration for others because who wants to see their selfish, rude or indifferent, selves in public.)
However, most people would agree that men and women have difficulty in understanding each other. (I believe this is because women have a tendency to feel while men think or not think. This of course is a generality in lieu of a much longer discourse – perhaps the material for a future book!) Perhaps this is why we are inundated with one dimensional, or stereotypical, characters. Men in romance stories are too often cast in a mould; tall, dark, handsome, brooding or injured, but putty in the heroine’s long slender, manicured fingers – the stuff of fantasies – not unlike the large-breasted females who wear their hair tightly-bunned and frown through thick framed glasses until some guy unlocks their sensuous butterfly with a kiss.
While all of this is delightful in its own place – much like having delicate French pastries for breakfast – it can be fattening to the mind. Many of the women I have known in my life are far more interesting and I consider myself lucky in being able to see that.
My mother set me straight from the beginning. She was raised by her father who was a senior police officer during Ireland’s Civil War. He moved constantly so my mother was packed off to a convent school where she developed her brilliant mind. In the 1930’s she went to University – a feat in any country at that time and remarkable in Ireland.
How she met and married my father is another story but, after raising 6 boys single handed, she returned to her prime passion – intellectualism!
She ran with an interesting crowd too; one of Ireland’s most prominent female novelists, Ireland’s first female President and, for balance, two priests. One was a noted historian and the other a poet! What impressed me about all of this was how she could hold her own in any conversation. Nothing was beyond her and while my friends only got to see their mothers as cleaners, cooks and nursemaids, I saw mine as a power in the world.
From all of this I realised that women range from angels to succubi – if you believe in such things. They have all the complexities, virtues and vices,insecurities and assuredness, ambitions and considerations that you might associate with men – only for me, women are far more interesting.