Inevitably as a writer, the negative comments in reviews resonate more than the positive feedback. It is incredibly hard not to take them personally or, worse still, respond to the reviewer. However, one criticism of Curve has irked me more than the rest: the idea that Cass should be a stronger young woman in the face of what happens to her. That, in some way, she is wrong for her mis-placed blaming of Flynn. As I’m now in the depths of writing Heart, with Neve as the central character, I know I will be again opening myself up to criticism when it is published in the autumn. Again, I have not written a ball-breaking heroine. Deliberately.
I am a feminist. I believe that every woman, every girl, deserves to be treated with equality and respect. I believe that, if women had equal status in the decision-making spheres of government and large corporations, the world would be a fairer, kinder place to live.
But the reality for many girls is that they have not been brought up in a family or culture or education system that means they have a strong sense of self-worth by the end of their teenage years. Heck, I’m forty, with a decent career and a great relationship, but I still have self-esteem issues (you only need to read my last post as proof!).
When I shaped Cass and Neve, I consciously wanted to create Everygirls. Not strong heroines for readers to look up to and emulate from the outset. Real girls, with issues and worries, struggling to make sense of the world and what it does to them. I want readers to empathise with the situations that confront them, and the decisions they have to make in response. Sometimes they make mistakes – but don’t we all?
As a reader, I have always been drawn to the character arc as much, if not more than, as the narrative. I love the way Jane Eyre is shaped by Charlotte Bronte. The fact that it is Jane who, in the end, chooses to return and is, in many ways, the hero of the story, is a fantastic message for female readers. Yet she starts her time with Rochester very much lacking in equality and confidence. The events of the narrative drive her character development – we see her change and flourish.
Life isn’t easy, especially if you’re a girl. All we can hope for is that, when faced with what it throws at us, we are able to make the best decisions we can. If they prove to be the correct decision, great. If they don’t, that we learn from them with grace. I hope that my readers see that in Cass and Neve: girls like themselves just doing the best they can.
Like you are.
Like I am.