Archive for the ‘Role model’ Category

Housework rules! picture source:

No. It doesn’t.
[picture source:

I’m currently having a slight crisis of confidence in the protagonist of my work in progress, Kikimora.

Very loosely based on Slavic folklore, the story is set in 17th century Hungary and follows the life of a girl created by a grumpy magician for the sole purpose of terrorising the local miners and driving them away from his mountain home.

During the course of the story, Kikimora comes to empathise with the miners and question her duty to the magician, whom she thinks of as her father.

So far, so good. The problem I’m having is that for the first half of the book, Kikimora’s defining characteristic seems to be a great willingness to do all kinds of housework :-/ Rest assured, she has far more interesting things to do in the second half – but I’m worried my readers may have abandoned her in disgust by then.

This is in fact just one aspect of a greater dilemma I’ve been having regarding realism versus telling a good story.

While researching what would occupy the days of my 17th century characters I began to fully appreciate quite what a big deal housekeeping was in the days before fridges, vacuum cleaners, electric ovens, gas stoves, irons, washing machines, indoor plumbing, disinfectant, rubber gloves, antiseptic… You can read about the daily toil here.

Floors needed scrubbing. Pots needed scrubbing. Many households produced their own preserves, beer, cured meats. They kept livestock, which would need daily attention. Vermin were a constant nuisance, and had to be kept from the food stores. Much of the clothing would be homemade; holes would be darned; clothes which grew too tight would be let out. Firewood would be needed for cooking and heating the home.

My protagonist, Kikimora does not shun all this drudgery housework. She embraces it. Partly this is due to the folklore the story is based on – the original Slavic Kikimora was a household spirit, assisting respectful housewives in their daily tasks, and playing tricks on those who angered her. That’s the author reason. But the character’s reason for embracing housework is because it is the exact opposite of what she is supposed to do. She was created to be a monster. Her duty is to terrorise. But she’s really not that keen on her duty.

The heroine of my all time favourite book, Howl’s Moving Castle was also quite enthusiastic about housework, and I didn’t think any less of her for it. Personally I detest housework.* It is the quickest way I know to get sweaty, bad tempered and bring back to roaring life all the aches and pains my yoga, pilates, hot showers and regular (self administered) neck massage barely keeps at bay.

During the course of the story Kikimora makes up her own mind about what she believes and what she will fight for.

Ultimately I think I’m content with the feminist credentials of my protagonist. But what do you think? Am I over-thinking it? Is it even an issue? I’d love some opinions on the matter.

* I don’t count cooking as housework – though I know many people do. Cooking is creative. Cooking is enjoyable. Cooking garners praise, wonder and gratitude. None of these things are true of housework (especially gratitude, for some reason).

Pippi Longstocking

My extremely well thumbed copy of Pippi Longstocking. Yes, that is the pages all falling out of the middle :-S

I saw this post today about creative people providing positive role models for girls. It’s a new venture to showcase non-stereotypical products for girls. They don’t want pink things (unless they’re science kits), nor are they interested in things related to external beauty.

“Passive Princesses are an absolute No No but we are happy to showcase Bold, Daring, Adventurous, Self-Rescuing Princesses.”

I signed up, as a purveyor of self-rescuing heroines with maths skills, and it made me recall some of the interviews I’ve done during the course of promoting Darklands.

I’ve cherry-picked a couple of relevant pieces below.

In my very first interview I was asked what I’d wanted to be when I grew up. I had this to say:

I wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be Tarzan. I wanted to be Dracula. I wanted to be a mad scientist with sticky-up white hair. I wanted to be a pirate. I wanted to be a Viking. Eventually I realised that writing would allow me to be all those things.

And btw, it wasn’t lost on me that all my childhood aspirations concerned the male characters. Why? Because they got to do the interesting stuff. What did the female characters do? Stand around squealing, and then run away and trip over nothing!

I’d like to think girls do a bit better for role models now than they did when I was a kid.* But I guess things still aren’t great, or this initiative wouldn’t exist :-/

Zencherry at World Lit Cafe asked me a while back about the physical appearance of Sophie, Darklands‘ heroine, “She was a little plump and thought of herself as a mite homely and yet she had strength that she discovers along the way.”

Was I purposefully going against the grain, she asked. This was my reply:

There are at least a dozen different answers I could give to this. Like how I was a gawky adolescent with no self esteem. Like how billions of advertising dollars are spent convincing attractive young people that they are not attractive enough, and their lives will be richer, happier and more fulfilled if they only buy this or that product to make themselves more beautiful…

But I’ll give you this answer: Many years ago I nervously gave one of my first stories to a friend to read. She was far kinder than it deserved, but what I chiefly remember is her asking quite pointedly, ‘How come interesting things only ever happen to beautiful girls?’ A very good question! I have given far more thought (or maybe far less thought?) to my characters’ appearances ever since.

Plus, I just like geeks.

Well, who doesn’t?

* I have since thought of one geniune female role model I had as a kid – Pippi Longstocking, who is just ace 😀 In fact, she’s so good, I think I’ll have to do a post all about her another time.