I’m a character person. I love characters, especially those who rise above what life has delivered them. And witty characters – I wish I could write them better – like the character of Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downtown Abbey played by the consummate Maggie Smith. But since I can’t write ‘witty’ well enough to please me, I’m left with those whom life dealt an average hand – like most of us.
I read somewhere recently that novels about the ton, the Lords and Ladies, and the Dukes and Duchesses, were the biggest sellers in historical romance. I suspect the readers of this genre are looking for an escape from their ordinary lives into a life that offers excitement and difference, even if it is in the past – in a similar way to what fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi readers seek.
Do you agree? Is that what you seek?
Whereas, I am more engaged by characters I understand – the women who changed their lives despite the rules of society holding them back.
In the late 1800s, a mere four or five decades after New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, life was harsh for many of its inhabitants. Most had fled their homelands in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England (amongst others) – to seek a better life. But the reality when they got here was a shock. The infrastructure was poor, and the buildings were mostly constructed of wood – something unheard of ‘back home’. Only in the cities were substantial stone or brick buildings to be found, and most of those were government owned or big business owners. In the smaller rural towns and backcountry areas, the newcomers forged whatever they could from the resources available, and learnt to survive.
They were undeterred by what New Zealand lacked in modern facilities, and set about building a new country, one far more egalitarian than what they had left behind. Here, there were no large landowners to tell them what to do, no ‘ton’, no moneyed interests, and no classes. Men were free to farm, to build, to work, to barter and exchange and to raise his family up from having nothing to being equal with his neighbour.
New Zealand was good to women during this time. In a world first, women were granted the right to vote in general elections in 1893. Despite arguments and objections, there were no violent protests and no one was thrown in goal. The first woman mayor was elected in Onehunga, a town south of Auckland, also in 1893, and in another world first The Old-Age Pension Act came into being in 1898.
I’m fascinated by the ordinary and not so ordinary heroines of those times, and admire what they achieved. Great-grandmother Isabel (The Cornish Knot), Brigid (The Girl from Country Clare), and Gwenna (from the Valleys of Wales) are just three of them – three of those ordinary, unknown heroines. The ones I read about in my genealogical research and choose to write about in novel form to hide their true identities. Because it is they, and their descendants who made this country what is today. I’m honoured to write their stories.
Are you a character person, or an action person?