One of the delights of writing historical fiction inspired by real people is that these people come alive for me as I write. My research tells me the sort of life they lived and some days it’s like a movie in my head. I can hear their voices. I can see their life unfold behind my eyes. As my female characters go about their daily routine, I too light the fire, scrub the clothes and cook meals in my mind the same way that they once did – but there is a lot more to their lives than the mere mundane in the stories .
Most of my characters have skills, some hold secrets, and still others cope with tragedy and disaster beyond the norm, but the one thing they had in common was, they all had fortitude. Grit and determination were a necessary part of coming to a new country. Bit by bit, families raised their standard of living, learnt new trades and new ways of doing things, and developed a new way of life. There was more freedom, but often more hardship. These are the stories I tell.
Nevertheless, it is hard sometimes not to put modern attitudes and beliefs on the shoulders of these women, whose primary purpose in life was to look after their menfolk, keep a tidy house and raise the children. My characters (as did those whom I researched) did much more than that. They were entrepreneurial women in their own right, or had unusual occupations. While they were supported by the men in their lives, home-life came first. Society demanded it. I have to remember that when I am putting words in their mouths.
Slowly the barriers were broken down and women were allowed to be better educated, to qualify as lawyers and doctors, to lead the charge against discrimination and battle for the right to be heard. Bit by bit, women were able to show they had as much intelligence, and were as capable as their menfolk. It took time.
Unfortunately, despite all the advances, even today I am still sometimes astounded by the patronising attitude shown by some towards women. It shouldn’t be happening. Individuals have the right to choose how they manage their work life, their home life and their family life. As writers, we have a responsibility to show that everyone can, and should, live their life to the best of their ability.
We never get a second chance at life. Live it while you can.